What is Vision? Definition, Nature, Characteristics

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What is Vision?

Vision can be defined as “a mental image of a possible and desirable future state of the organization” (Bennis and Nanus). It is “a vividly descriptive image of what a company wants to become in the future”. Vision represents top management’s aspirations about the company’s direction and focus. Every organization needs to develop a vision of the future. An articulated vision molds organizational identity positively stimulates managers and prepares the company for the future.

The first task in the process of strategic management is to formulate the organization’s vision and mission statements. These statements define the organizational purpose of a firm. Together with objectives, they form a “hierarchy of goals.”

A clear vision helps in developing a mission statement, which in turn facilitates the setting of objectives of the firm after analyzing the external and internal environment. Though vision, mission, and objectives together reflect the “strategic intent” of the firm, they have their distinctive characteristics and play important roles in strategic management.

“The critical point is that a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exists.”

According to Collins and Porras, a well-conceived vision consists of two major components:

  • Core ideology
  • Envisioned future

Core ideology is based on the enduring values of the organization (“what we stand for and why we exist”), which remain unaffected by environmental changes. Envisioned future consists of a long-term goal (what we aspire to become, to achieve, to create) that demands significant change and progress.

Definition of Vision

Vision has been defined in several different ways.

Richard Lynch defines vision as “a challenging and imaginative picture of the future role and objectives of an organization, significantly going beyond its current environment and competitive position.”

E1-Namaki defines it as “a mental perception of the kind of environment that an organization aspires to create within a broad time horizon and the underlying conditions for the actualization of this perception”.

Kotter defines it as “a description of something (an organization, corporate culture, a business, a technology, an activity) in the future.”

Several authors have given their definitions of organizational vision as per their findings and experiences, some of them are as follows:

Vision is a “clear mental picture of a future goal created jointly by a group for the benefit of other people, which is capable of inspiring and motivating those whose support is necessary for its achievement”. — Johnson

Vision is “an ideal that represents or reflects the shared values to which the organization should aspire”. — Kirkpatrick et. al.

Vision is “a picture or view of the future. Something not yet real, but imagined. What the organization could and should look like. Part analytical and part emotional”. — Thornberry

Vision is “the shared understanding of what the firm should be and how it must change”. — Shoemaker

Vision is “a picture of a destination aspired to, an end state to be achieved via the change. It reflects the larger goal needed to keep in mind while concentrating on concrete daily activities”. — Kanter et. al.

Vision is “an ambition about the future, articulated today, it is a process of managing the present from a stretching view of the future”. — Stace and Dunphy

Most refer to a future or ideal to which organizational efforts should be directed. The vision itself is presented as a picture or image that serves as a guide or goal. Depending on the definition, it is referred to as inspiring, motivating, emotional, and analytical. For Boal and Hooijberg, effective visions have two components:

  • A cognitive component (which focuses on outcomes and how to achieve them)
  • An affective component (which helps to motivate people and gain their commitment to it).

Nature of Vision

A vision represents an animating dream about the future of the firm. By its nature, it is hazy and vague. That is why Collins describes it as a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Yet it is a powerful motivator to action. It captures both the minds and hearts of people.

It articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, which is better than what now exists. Developing and implementing a vision is one of the leader’s central roles. He should not only have a “strong sense of vision”, but also a “plan” to implement it.


  • Henry Ford’s vision of a “car in every garage” had power. It captured the imagination of others and aided internal efforts to mobilize resources and make it a reality. A good vision always needs to be a bit beyond a company’s reach, but progress toward the vision is what unifies the efforts of company personnel.

  • One of the most famous examples of a vision is that of Disneyland “To be the happiest place on earth”. Other examples are:
    • Hindustan Lever: Our vision is to meet the everyday needs of people everywhere.

    • Microsoft: Empower people through great software at any time, any place, and on any device.

    • Britannia Industries: Every third Indian must be a Britannia consumer.

Although such vision statements cannot be accurately measured, they do provide a fundamental statement of an organization’s values, aspirations, and goals.

Some more examples of vision statements are given below:

  • “A Coke within arm’s reach of everyone on the planet” (Coca-Cola)
  • “Encircle Caterpillar” (Komatsu)
  • “Become the Premier Company in the World” (Motorola)
  • “Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade” (John F. Kennedy, April 1961)
  • “Eliminate what annoys our bankers and customers” (Texas Commerce Bank)
  • “The one other copy” (Mobil).

Characteristics of Vision Statement

As may be seen from the above definitions, many of the characteristics of the vision given by these authors are common such as being clear, desirable, challenging, feasible, and easy to communicate. Nutt and Backoff have identified four generic features of visions that are likely to enhance organizational performance:

  • Possibility means the vision should entail innovative possibilities for dramatic organizational improvements.

  • Desirability means the extent to which it draws upon shared organizational norms and values about the way things should be done.

  • Actionability means the ability of people to see the vision, and actions that they can take that are relevant to them.

  • Articulation means that the vision has imagery that is powerful enough to communicate a picture of where the organization is headed.
Article Source
  • Fred R. David, Strategic Management – Concepts and Cases, Pearson Education Inc., 2005.

  • Johnson Gerry and Sholes Kevan, Exploring Corporate Strategy, 6th Edition, Pearson Education Ltd., 2002.

  • Rao VSP and Hari Krishna V, Strategic Management – Text and Cases, New Delhi, Excel Books, 2003.

  • Richard Lynch, Corporate Strategy, Essex, Pearson Education Ltd, 2006.

  • Wheelen Thomas L, David Hunger J, Krish Rangarajan, Concepts in Strategic Management and Business Policy, New Delhi, Pearson Education, 2006.

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