I often start working with a business because of their frustrations regarding the rate of positive change taking place. When I look into this situation, I can often find a blurring between their vision(s) and goals. This blurring has the effect in many cases of the business having plans that are confused, ineffective and procrastinated upon. This article offers some ideas on how to straighten this situation out, should it affect your business too.


Before I get into the details of my perspective of ‘vision versus goals’ to generate effective plans let me take one step back. It is critical to the success of your plans that you know what you want to achieve. This will inform your vision, which will in turn inform your goals and then your plans. Are you crystal clear about what you want and what your business needs? This is your starting point. If you cannot answer this question please take the time to articulate it. If this is something that you find yourself struggling with then please get a copy of my book What Does Good Look Like? and use the exercises it contains.


Now, here’s the point of this article. Goals and visions, in my opinion, are the same conversation as ‘cause and effect’. The goals are causes and the visions are the effects. Many businesses seem to treat the two as the same, goals and visions both being at effect. Goals need to be tangible activity-based objectives in order for them to be effective for the majority of us. Their effect needs to move the business towards the vision (and so you might need a few goals in order to achieve your vision).

business goals and visions
Distinguish between your goals and visions for maximum impact


I see businesses state their business goal (or, objectives) for their staff as results (at effect) not activities within their control (at cause). If the staff in question can’t link the two together then they run the risk of not achieving the results that the business needs. By being clear about the causal relationship between the goal and the effect required (vision) we can start to move these conversations in the right direction.


Let me give you an example from my working career to paint this picture a little more fully. In a previous role I ran the production of a factory that was, frankly, struggling to meet its customer requirements and was a nightmare to manage when I first took over. One particular function produced moulded products for our sister factories around the world. There were three other sites that did the same thing as us and our site was the worst.

Prior to my management of this function their previous leader had set them a goal of being the number one supplier and left them to it. The team clearly hadn’t performed as they were still the worst when I got my hands on them. I asked what had happened, what improvements they had attempted, and got a list of small things they had attempted in a quest to become number one. No real progress and certainly no tangible results.

Their original manager had given them a vision only. He had not given them clear goals that they could work on that should move them towards the vision. In our cause and effect world there were some really practical goals they could have already worked on that were in their control that would have moved them towards the number one slot. We started on our goals and they included:

  • Implementing a proper performance measurement process.
  • Improving the communication we provide to our customers.
  • Reducing the changeover times on the machines.
  • Analysing the quality problems of our products.
  • Simplifying our production planning process.
  • Implement more effective maintenance procedures.
  • Change curing cycle.


The result from these goals was that we delivered an ‘OEE’ (Overall Equipment Effectiveness rating) of greater than 85% (we started at 7%!) and bagged the global supplier top spot. There was nothing magic about what we had done; the team understood their goals and trusted that the results of these goals would move them toward the vision.

A Real Lean Manufacturing Story

If you want to find out more about the overall journey I undertook at this business, to become the number one global in-house supplier then check out my book On Time Delivery.

I hope that you can see how you can apply this thinking to your own business. Defining standards and visions of what good looks like is the critical starting point for achieving changes in performance. The goals that you develop should be within the control of the people that they are assigned to. They should also provide a crystal-clear path of how you get from A to B with your corporate objectives.


I recommend that you review your business objectives and be clear about whether they are goals or visions, based on my definition. If you find that the goals you have given to your team aren’t at cause and aren’t in their control to complete then it might be worthwhile tweaking them and seeing how their results improve.

Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their productivity and on time delivery performance. Giles is also the author of What Does Good Look Like? and the co-creator of the StreamLiner business improvement software program.