Vision is the lifeblood of any march toward the future. Without it, the status quo offers a comfort zone that is difficult to give up — especially when things have been pretty darn good for a very long time.

Before we go further we should clarify terms. A Vision is not about a 100-word so-called mission statement, manufactured out of necessity and rarely considered once posted on the firm website.

For a community, tribe or enterprise, Vision is the palpable idea that transcends both discouragement and exuberance, providing perspective in victory or defeat. In challenge and opportunity it is the GPS that provides context, and is always focused on the destination.

A strategic Vision is, simultaneously, a cornerstone and a launching pad. In the hands of capable leadership even the most aspirational articulation becomes accessible, and is the DNA of a shared adventure or pursuit.

Vision stimulates movement even when circumstances conspire to paralyze. It is what sustains…even in the midst of  scarcity — real or perceived. A shared vision infects every facet of an organization, giving rise to energy, creativity, and innovation necessary for the march into the future.

Vision is what provides appropriate perspective — on the past (the way we’ve always been successful), on opportunistic exuberance, and on identifying and mitigating the risks of a journey.

And as the writer of Proverbs observes, where there is no vision, the people parish.

Want to quickly test the health of an organization’s Vision?

Wherever morale is perpetually low and progress slow…where turf wars dominate conversations related to change…when revenue is not only the measure of success, but the definition of meaning…when managing the commotion of daily operations comes at the expense of a discerning eye on the future…check the status of your firm’s shared Vision.

While it does not appear anywhere on the balance sheet, Vision is a hidden asset — one essential to navigating a volatile marketplace.

What does Vision in the context of a professional services firm actually look like? Here are four ways in which a Vision helps an organization insure it is asking the right questions today, in preparation for market transformations tomorrow.

1. Vision fosters the only available view of the future. Will we be relevant tomorrow? Are there issues on the horizon (or already beating down on today’s reality) that will challenge our operational models? Where will the market be next year? Three years from now? And what must we be thinking about and doing in order to be present and prepared as the market arrives?

2. Vision forces a laser-like focus on clients. Will the relationships that are central to our productivity and profitability survive the issues that will inevitably test loyalty — competition, succession, convergence, globalization, to name a few? What must be done to insure quality communication and collaboration…the kind that nurtures relationships?

3. Vision hones organizational self-awareness. A functioning vision is accessible to the entire organization. And since it is not the property of any single group or class, it can better equip any team to  side-step illusions of grandeur or inferiority, and see things as they are. At a daily operational level, this makes it possible to accurately assess strengths, weaknesses and challenges, minimizing costly misteps.

4. Vision provides the Answer To Why. This is an almost always overlooked cornerstone of stability in consequential moments. Far from being intangible, a Vision is the frame of reference for priorities, and the gauge for how ultimate success is measured. Is this aligned with why we do what we do? How does this personnel move, merger or growth “opportunity” connect to the Vision we share? A Vision brings the answers to critical questions into focus.

Because it often comes at the expense of the interests of vocal individuals or groups, and because it inevitably infers change, those concerned with merely managing daily commotion often find it easier to scoff at the idea of Vision, allowing it to take a back seat to more “pressing matters” in the name of leadership, or collegiality, or consensus. But no matter how it might be rationalized, this practice marks the beginning of the end of an intentional and strategic march into the marketplace of tomorrow.

Without a clear Vision, an organization is subjected to decisions-in-a-vacuum. On the other hand, a clearly defined strategic Vision provides a framework for decisions, a roadmap for operations, and an answer to that pesky question posed by clients, targets, staff and shareholders alike — why we venture into each new day to do the things we do.