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What’s the difference between a goal, objective, strategy, and tactic?

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Business planning uses it fair share of jargon, but you would think that such simple terms like goal, objective, strategy, and tactic would be relatively simple to define and use. Proper use and implementation of these items are critical to the long term success of an organization. It’s amazing that there does not seem to be a single definition or understanding of each element. For success, everyone in the organization must be on the same page. To help clarify what each element means I will be using sports analogies as well as business examples. Sorry to you non sports people, but sometimes giving an example outside of the standard helps clarity.

Reaching your goals means building a strong foundation of objectives, strategies, and tactics.

Reaching your goals means building a strong foundation of objectives, strategies, and tactics.

When developing a goal, remember objectives, strategies, and tactics are the foundation that support and allow you to reach your goal. Unlike building a real pyramid, starting with the base, you start at the top with your goal and then you develop your objectives, then your strategies, and then finally your tactics. You move from the general to the specific.

Goals and objectives are usually the terms that are confused and used interchangeably. The goal is the overreaching success your organization is striving for and are more general than objectives.

Your goal should help clarify the mission you have for your organization.

Objectives are the devices used to measure the success or failure of the organization. The key word here is measurable. If your objective is not measurable you have a goal, not an objective. You will probably have multiple objectives linked to a each goal.

Strategies are the “how” to meet your objectives. Strategies start with words like employ, implement, develop, and add. Strategies are not as specific as tactics.

Tactics are where the rubber meets the road. Tactics get you one more level of specificity, as to what you are going to do to implement your strategies. After you develop the tactics you want to employ, you will need to develop action plans which are the, who is going to do what, to get your tactics executed. Action plans should include specific dates for each action to insure they are easy to follow up on.

Sports Example:
If you are an NFL team your goal could be to be the best franchise in the NFL. So your objective to reach that goal could be to to win the Super Bowl. Vary measurable, maybe not realistic. Another objective could be to increase your customer satisfaction at games by 10%. Again this is measurable, which is key.

Now you need to figure out how you are going to achieve your two objectives. The coaching staff says, “All we need to do is go to use a hurry up offence and switch to a three/four defense. This gives the organization two strategies to help reach the, “win the Super Bowl,” objective. There could be more objective, but to keep this simple I am using two.

Now the tactics , or  the how to reach the two strategies. The coach’s could use tactics like: use a run/pass quarterback, add additional tight ends to game plan, find athletes that run the forty in 4,5 seconds or less, switch to a press defense in the secondary, add tougher cardio conditioning program, etc.

Strategies to meet its objective of increasing customer satisfaction by 10% at games  could be enhance the in-stadium experience of the fans and be more family friendly at the concession stand.

The front office’s tactics for its strategies could be: have a cushion night, have special recognition for groups, add an additional jumbo-tron, create special family meals for the concession stand, add more healthy snacks to the concession stand menu, etc.

Business Example:
If you are a craft beer company your goal could be to be the leading seller of craft beer in its market. The objective to reaching the goal could be increase sales by 25%. As you can see, again, this objective is measurable.

To reach its objective the craft beer company could use the following strategies: add a new dark beer to the company’s line, expand its current sales territory, expand the types of outlets the beer is available, etc.

Potential tactics for the beer company: Add new dark beer offering to the line, become guest beer at local restaurants, make half barrel kegs available for distribution, use buy one get one free sales tactic, develop sampling program, print coasters for bars to use pushing your product, etc.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well now I know what these things are now, but how do I decide what goal, objectives etc. my organization should be working towards?” The simple answer is your situation analysis will shape these… A topic for another post.


Written by John Marrinan

September 29th, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Using Your People to Help Make Decisions

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Get your people involved
Good management practice is to get your people involved. Use them to help make decisions. This makes a lot of sense. It is impossible to know everything about all things. Use their expertise, get their input.

Don’t be a politician
The problem today is there is also the tendency for managers to be to be very political. Managers ask for input when they have already made decisions to give illusion that they are interested in what their employees have to say. People are not stupid, they will figure out you are only talking to them as window dressing. What this leads to is people not really investing when you really want their input and simply dissatisfied employees.

Leadership is knowing when to ask
Leadership is understanding when to ask employees their input and when to just make the decision. When you have a new group, that does not have the experience needed to give the needed input, then by all means make the call. If time dictates a decision must be made now, then by all means make the decision.

Tell employees about decision
The key when making decisions, without input, is to then quickly get back to your employees and let them know what is going on. The worst thing that can happen is your employees get information, about the decision, second hand. The information may be incomplete or false, leading to bad decisions by employees. When there is no information people will fill the vacuum with their own information. Made up information almost always creates an even bigger problem. If you find you are always making the decision, then you need to reevaluate how you make decisions, because it means your planning process is flawed.

Don’t abdicate the decision
Once you have asked your team their input, remember you are still the boss and it is your decision. Do not abdicate just because your people do not agree with your position. Just make sure to let people know you heard what they had to say, repeat what they are telling you. Then tell them you appreciate their input, but this time you do not agree. However, if you are always overruling your team, my guess is you are not really listening and you are really a politician.

Written by John Marrinan

October 14th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Without Steve Jobs does Apple need a mission statement?

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It may be hard to believe that a company, as successful as Apple, does not have a published mission statement. You will never see a book on business planning that does not start out talking about how to be a successful a company must have a mission that is concise and easily understood by its employees. A well thought out mission statement helps execute the business on a daily basis. The usual example is where would the railroads be today if they realized they were in the “transportation” business not the railroad business.

Steve Jobs did not have a formal mission statement at Apple. Steve Jobs was an unusual individual that had an uncanny sense of what the market wanted. He did not believe in focus groups or surveys because he thought the consumer didn’t know what he or she wanted. It was up to Apple to tell them what they wanted. Most businesses lack Steve Jobs’ clarity of vision.

Since Steve Jobs was able to set himself up as the ultimate arbiter of what went on at Apple it didn’t matter that the rest of his organization had a written mission. It would be interesting to see where Apple would be if Steve Jobs had stayed with Next.

Without Steve Jobs, Apple will need a defined mission. It is unlikely that there will be a single individual that will be able to gather and hold the power over the organization the way Steve Jobs did over Apple. Steve Jobs acted his entire career at Apple as the entrepreneur does when he starts a business. The entrepreneur has a single vision of where the company must go to succeed. Steve Jobs had an uncanny sense to see where the personal computing world was going.

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Written by John Marrinan

November 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Can Benchmarking Help My Business?

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Everyone is always trying to keep score.  In business we generally use sales and profits as the most basic indicator of how a business is doing. If these indicators are up, we are happy, negative the opposite.  But how do we get even better if we are up or how do we attack the problem if the company is down?  Benchmarking is a good answer.  You can benchmark your business internally, versus other businesses in your industry as well as versus other business outside your industry.  The benchmark information will give you the clues you need. 

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Written by John Marrinan

October 5th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Management By Wandering Around (MBWA)

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Is the idea of management by wandering around (MBWA), first presented in 1982 by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their book, In Search of Excellence, still a valid concept?  Today we have so much more data and information at our fingertips through internal and external sources.  Can we find everything we need right at our desks?  Yes, you can find the baseline information.  But no, you cannot make the best decisions for the organization. Without real world experiential data you lack the information necessary to get the real texture of what is going on in the business.

Without texture or context you have only half the answer.  It is like trying to make a decision on buying a car without seeing it. You know it will take you down the highway, but will you be comfortable with the trip.

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Written by John Marrinan

September 16th, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Working With Inexperienced Employees

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Everyone hires what they believe to be qualified employees. We spend hours creating elaborate job descriptions, listing all the qualifications needed to get the job done.  We spend hours crafting the best interview questions for the interview process. Then we advertise for candidates from the best apprentice programs, technical schools, junior colleges, colleges, universities, and competitors. We may even pay to have each potential employee tested, so we know as much as we can about the individual, to make the best hiring decision possible.

The organization make a hire.  But then what?  We may have a new employee orientation program to get them up to speed about the organization.  Orientation programs can only go so far. We then put the new person on the job and promptly ignore them and wonder why the person isn’t working out as we hoped.

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Written by John Marrinan

September 15th, 2009 at 10:43 pm


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What is leadership?  If you go to and look at the definition of leadership you recognize very quickly that to understand what leadership is you must understand what it means to lead. takes a combined fifty stabs at defining lead as a verb and noun. To list a few as a verb it defines lead  as to go before or with to show the way;  to conduct by holding and guiding;  to influence or induce;  to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.; to command or direct. As a noun lead means the first or foremost place; position in advance of others; a person or thing that leads.

What does it mean to be a leader?

In simple terms, to define what it means to lead, we could use the old Calvin Coolidge adage, “The buck stops here.”  The key is not just understanding what it takes to lead, but how it is accomplished. It means sometimes leaders are going to make decisions that are not popular.  For example, today, if we look into politics, leadership is starting to mean do what the latest poles show us. Maybe in a political sense this is okay because politicians are supposed to be representing the people.  However, this assumes that a pole will show what is better for the greater good rather than the poled population.

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Written by John Marrinan

September 7th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

Does My Company Need a Strategic Plan?

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The short answer is yes.  The better question is what kind of strategic plan does you organization need? If you are a small business that is not competing in a dynamic environment and you don’t want to grow you probably do not need a big drawn out written document.  With this type of business the owner is the individual living the business and carrying out its day-to-day operation. It is very easy for him or her to keep the plan in their head. 

Planning process forces you to think about your business from the ground up

Any business, large or small, that is in a dynamic market positively needs to spend the time to get a plan on paper.  A business plan forces an owner to sit down and think about the business from the ground up, to think about where the business is going in the future and how to get there.

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Written by John Marrinan

September 3rd, 2009 at 8:26 pm


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This blog will present situations, ideas, and information that will help business people make good common sense decisions based on solid experience that will stand the test of time.

The ideas presented will be based on my over thirty years business experience in marketing, management, and creating new businesses.  I have have been to the “school of hard knocks” and worked in for profit, not-for-profit and the education environment, so hopefully I will be able to preset what I call “business sense” to everyday business problems.

Please join me as we move forward!

John Marrinan
Contributing Editor

Written by John Marrinan

August 23rd, 2009 at 1:15 pm