Vision, Goals, and Strategy: What’s the Difference?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably found yourself attending various “vision sessions,” “strategy brainstorms,” and “annual goal settings” at least once or twice a year. These are usually led by well-intentioned managers who want to ensure their teams are aligned on what they want to accomplish– and that’s great! But seldom is the connection made between the concepts of vision, goals, and strategy. We usually know what we want to happen (e.g. more customers, higher profits, happy shareholders), but how do we get there?


First, let’s start with “vision”. A good vision paints a picture for you, your employees, your peers, and your shareholders of what the future will look like. In this vision, what are you customers experiencing? What value are they receiving from you? What are your employees experiencing? What do you see and hear and feel that tells you, “We have succeeded!”? This vision can include metrics, but it should also include behaviors and feelings. Immerse yourself in this future vision so that you know exactly where you’re headed and what it feels like.

As we say at Engaged Agility, “A good leader sets a clear vision and then creates an environment in which that vision can be achieved.”


Because a vision is usually broad, impacting the whole organization, it can be helpful to have smaller goals within that vision. Perhaps your vision involves ensuring generic medications are accessible for rural farm workers in Nebraska. That’s a pretty big vision! It would help to have separate goals for each group involved, declaring what they hope to accomplish in a certain amount of time. “Our marketing team will create ten new partnerships with local Nebraska pharmacies in the next two months.” The vision is unifying, helping everyone know what they are working towards. Goals help break down that vision into smaller, achievable pieces.


While the vision and goals remind us what we are trying to accomplish, a strategy sets out how we will accomplish it.  A goal is not a strategy, because– going back to our Nebraska example– we have not clarified how we will make generic medications available. We haven’t decided how we will partner effectively with the local pharmacies.

When building a strategy, consider the resources and capabilities we are leveraging. What does our organization do well? What sets us apart in the marketplace? We want to take advantage of our strengths, so our strategy should be built on the things we know we do well.

But we also want to push ourselves in new directions when necessary. Consider your vision. Where is the biggest pay-off within that vision? What is the thing our customers are going to get most excited about? Maybe our new advertising approach is going to wow them, so let’s put a lot of energy and support behind our marketing group. An effective strategy has to leverage something we have (resources, talents, reputation) in a way that moves us closer to our vision.

If you’re interested in learning more about how your organization can better align your strategy with execution, sign up for our Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) Class.

Take-Aways: A vision is a clear picture of the future that lets us know what will be different when we have succeeded. Goals help us break the vision into smaller, achievable pieces. Strategy leverages our resources to move us closer to our vision.

Questions: Agree? Disagree? What makes a good vision? A good strategy? What are some frequent mistakes you’ve seen in these areas?

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