Goals, strategies, objectives or tactics ... which one do you focus on as an SME?

In working with business owners and start ups, I have experienced that we need to differentiate between these notions as often times they are confused or substituted for one another.

A common example is that what is stated as the "goal" is actually an "objective". This can lead to confusion amongst your teams as they will have different interpretations of your meaning and importance so let's first establish a common language on what each means. The prevailing differentiation from a number of research bodies and companies is as follows:

  • A goal is a primary outcome. This is usually intangible, visionary, broad and possibly abstract.

  • A strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal. This entails an action generally and can be broad. There is usually more than one strategy for a goal.

  • An objective is a short to medium term outcome that is specific and measurable.

  • A tactic is a tool you use in implementing the strategy. This is very short term, action oriented and specific in nature.

And we could go beyond goal to a state of being as the even bigger picture, but that is for another time...

For example:

  • Goal is to for the industry to be sustainable for our grandchildren

  • Strategy is to move to sustainable packaging

  • Objective is reduction of new materials by 3000 tonnes by 2015

  • Tactic is to shift packaging to recyclable materials

Whether you have a goal or an objective or a tactic can depend on the scope of your role as well ie. what is an objective for a team member can be a tactic for their senior manager.

Goals and objectives and tactics work best when they are only an matter of building on each other as shown above in the example. Make "the line of sight" or link clear between how people's tactics feed into the ultimate goal. This means more than simply making the strategic plan available or presenting this en masse; this means having conversations in a group or 1-1 to discuss how their goals are tactics for your objectives and those objectives feed into the overall goal. This builds engagement and motivation from an achievement thinking perspective that enables productivity and commitment to the goal.

So where is it best to focus? The simple and complicated answer is that "it depends".

The critical point is to ensure ensure that ALL of these elements are aligned, and support, and build on each other to reach your final goal.

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