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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

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

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