The Difference Between a Vision and a Goal

As a part of your personal or business development activities, you have likely participated in both vision setting and goal setting activities. You may even blur the two together in your mind. However, when it comes to helping you achieve success and move yourself forward, it is important to understand the difference between a vision and a goal.
There are many different definitions of visions and goals floating around on the Internet and in personal development tool guides. Many of these definitions focus on one element of the nature of a goal or a vision, allowing room for interpretation. However, the main differences between the two fall into four general categories.

Abstract vs. Tangible

Visions are inherently more abstract, while setting business goals is more absolute. For example, the statement “I will improve the world around me” is a vision mission statement, because it expresses an abstract ambition. On the other hand, “By the end of this month, I will identify two charities that help feed hungry children in my community and donate time to both to improve the world around me” is a goal, because it represents a tangible and measurable activity.

Guideline vs. Milestone

Visions generally serve as guidelines on your path to success, while goals serve as the milestones. For example, the vision mission statement “I will live in such a way as to inspire others to follow in my footsteps” is a behavioural guideline. On the other hand, “I will sponsor the studies of two college students with an interest in a career path similar to mine over the next five year” is a milestone you can measure.

Strategy vs. Activity

Visions express your strategy, while goals describe your activities. For example, “I will live a life of professional integrity” is a vision mission statement, as it is an expression of your personal life strategy. On the other hand, the statement “I will maintain membership in a business ethics organizations and work with a peer mentor to keep myself accountable to my personal ethics statement” expresses your activity, making it a goal.

Inspirational vs. Actionable

Visions tend to be more inspirational, keeping you motivated, while goals are actionable items that move you toward your target objective. For example, “I will be a sales leader for the Western region” is an inspirational statement that can keep you motivated to make additional cold calls and get to work early each day, but it doesn’t give you any pointers on what to do each day. On the other hand, “To be a sales leader, I will identify 10 new prospects each week over and above my current numbers” is an outcome-oriented goal statement of what you need to do to hit your target.

Concluding Thoughts

While setting business goals and visions can be beneficial to you, they offer you different things. If all of your goals are really vision mission statements, how can you truly measure your successes? Visions are simply less concrete. On the other hand, if you operate with a series of goals but feel you are lacking overall direction, developing a guiding vision mission statement can help put you back on the track to achieving your objectives.
Take some time today and look at your vision and goal setting activities. What form are they really, and what form do they need to be to move you forward?