Thomas Watson, Jr. once observed, “Whenever an individual or a business decides that success has been attained, progress stops.” That rings true to me. I think that’s why vision statements are so important. Visions are larger than missions, and while the mission may be “achieved,” the vision is usually pretty far out there. It is an end to be always working towards but not likely to be achieved. Colleagues often call what I see as a “vision,” the “Yonder Star.” I like that too.
The other thing I like is the IBM Building in Endicott, NY, emblazoned with the slogan “THINK” above the doorway. I
drove by that building almost every day for many years. And I must say, calling on IBM as a sales engineer taught me that the company lived out Watson’s admonition to THINK as well as to never settle for “being done.” They defined success as always improving, always moving forward — continuous progress.
They demanded much from their vendors. And because my tenure calling on them spanned the time I was associated with two different vendors, I saw how even-handed they were, demanding continuous improvement for vendors and IBM’s teams. They expected their vendors to be part of the march toward achieving milestones and contributing to constant progress.
However, there is a balance that we sometimes missed between setting a lofty vision and setting unobtainable goals for our people to meet. As long as our employees recognize that we meant the vision to be aspirational, a journey rather than a destination, and the mission, strategy, goals, and objectives are to be achieved — and rewarded, things will be fine. Too often, though, I’ve worked with folks who confused the two and set such impossible goals that they demotivate the whole team and reverted to plodding along.
Values underpin vision. Vision allows us always to devise new achievable missions, strategies, goals, and objectives so that continuous progress is assured. Our organizations can take the time to celebrate reaching milestones on the way to the broader vision and, at the same time, recognize that they are only milestones and not an end.
[Updated 9/16/2017 Lightly edited in 10/2020 for our new website.]