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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Vision, goals, and objectives: charting the path to success

In a previous post of mine (check it out here), I highlighted how having direction is one of the three basic pillars of leadership, but also of personal leadership. Having direction also means knowing how to direct one's actions and having a strategy to achieve a result. As I wrote last week, I realized, however, that it is necessary to give more depth to the concept of direction.

Therefore, the purpose of this post is to analyze three fundamental aspects that fall under the pillar of "direction": vision, goals, and objectives.

A person who has a vision of the future. The image of the future is the vision of a world in which cities are integrated into a rich natural environment.
Vision is your dream, the future you want to create.

What is a vision?

A vision is like a lighthouse in the distance that points the course and lights the way. The vision is your dream, the future you want to create by going even beyond what can be considered rational, and feasible.

It is a mental image of what you want to achieve in the long run. It is, therefore, a long-term aspiration whose function is to give meaning to what an individual, team, or organization can do. The vision provides a broad perspective, serving as a premise for what the future might look like if the vision is realized, like the trailer for a good movie.

As we will see later, unlike goals and objectives, which are specific and measurable, a vision is more abstract and intended to inspire and guide ongoing and future actions.

Let's take a practical example, referring to a hypothetical technology entrepreneur whose passion is to make technology more accessible to people around the world, particularly in underdeveloped regions.

His vision might be:

"Democratizing access to technology by bridging the digital divide and empowering under-served communities around the world."

The vision is thus future-oriented, aiming for a world in which technology is easily accessible to all, regardless of geographic or socioeconomic location. It is abstract enough to inspire, offering a high-level perspective on what is possible, but not so specific as to specify the steps to get there.

It serves as a guiding principle, helping to align daily goals, objectives, and activities, and whenever strategic decisions are made or goals are created, this vision is referred to as if it were a North Star.

The beauty of the vision is that it can inspire not only the person who creates it but also the entire team working on it. If you think about it, leaders who have been able to formulate and communicate their worldviews have also created movements.

A nautical chart, where a route is traced that develops in three intermediate stops to reach the final destination. The card is placed on a wooden table and a 3D ship moving along the route is visible on the card
A goal is a specific, measurable result that you want to achieve within a certain period of time

Goals: the intermediate stages

If vision is the final destination, goals are the intermediate stops necessary to reach it. They provide more details on how to get to that distant lighthouse. The goals are therefore medium-term, as steps to be completed to transform the vision into reality.

A goal is a specific, measurable result that you want to achieve within a certain period. Unlike a vision, which is abstract and long-term, a goal is therefore defined in a much more concrete way. In some organizations, these goals are defined according to the so-called criteria. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-related). It's a step in the direction of realizing the vision, offering a way to quantify success.

Based on the previous example of a technology entrepreneur, a goal related to his vision could therefore be:

“Distribute 10,000 affordable tablets with pre-loaded educational software to schools in disadvantaged areas within the next 2 years.”

In this example, the goal is:

  • Specific: Explicitly state what you intend to do: distribute affordable tablets with pre-loaded educational software.

  • Measurable: The number of tablets to be distributed (10,000) and locations (schools in disadvantaged areas) provide metrics to measure success.

  • Achievable: Assuming the entrepreneur has evaluated resources and logistics, the goal should be achievable.

  • Relevant: Aligns with the broader Vision of democratizing access to technology.

  • Timed: there is a deadline of two years.

A person with only the lower parts of their legs visible walking along a path, passing a milestone. The route develops inside a large park. The image is in the style of Claude Monet.
An objective is a clearly defined and actionable step toward goals

Objectives: Milestones along the way

Objectives are the milestones you encounter on your journey. They are essentially sub-goals that also function as checkpoints, ensuring that you are on the right path toward the goals and vision and allowing you to make a recalibration of strategy toward the final goal.

An objective is a clearly defined and actionable step toward the goals. They are usually short-term, specific, and timed.

Here, then, for the entrepreneur with a vision of democratizing access to technology and a goal of distributing 10,000 affordable tablets within 2 years, a relevant objective might be defined thus:

"Partner with at least three nonprofit organizations specializing in educational activities within the next six months to facilitate tablet distribution."

Objectives are also defined through the SMART criteria:

  • Specific: create partnerships with a minimum of three nonprofit organizations.

  • Measurable: number of partnerships formed.

  • Achievable: if resources and a process for selecting potential partnerships are available, it should be achievable.

  • Relevant: aligned with the goal of tablet distribution and the vision of democratizing access to technology.

  • Timed: within six months.

Objectives like this allow for a focus on the short term while maintaining alignment with long-term aspirations. They also make the effort to reach the desired end-state significantly more feasible. After all, one of the most frequently used techniques for not becoming paralyzed when faced with a large undertaking is precisely to break the effort down into many small, easy steps.

The interconnection between vision, goals, and objectives

Imagine you are the captain of a ship. Your vision is the final destination, the port you want to reach. The goals are the various routes to follow to get there. The objectives are the checkpoints along the way, where you evaluate the journey and make sure you are on course.

For a journey to be successful, all these elements must be aligned and synchronized:

  • Objectives must converge into goals.

  • Objectives must point toward achieving the vision.

Having a vision without goals and objectives is like setting sail without having your course plotted: you risk getting lost, becoming disoriented, and wasting resources and energy on activities that do not serve the purpose, with the disastrous result of no longer being able to reach the destination.

On the contrary, having goals and objectives without a vision is like wandering the vast oceans without knowing where you want to go.

It is the leader's responsibility to set and communicate a vision that inspires, goals that direct, and goals that make everyone on the team aware and accountable.

If you think you are not a leader, remember that this approach also applies in a personal leadership context: if you want to take control of your life, chart the course to the destination you want to reach!

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