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December 11, 2009
Objectives, goals, strategies and tactics
It's that time: time to create strategic plans for next year.
Most people use some form of objectives, goals, strategies and tactics for their plans, but get a group of 10 people into a room and you might have 10 different definitions of what those terms mean? That's why agreeing on their meaning is vital to your plan. Term agreement is a lubricant to productivity.
With that in mind, here's how we define the intention, purpose and usage of "objectives, goals, strategies and tactics" when assembling a strategic plan.
An objective is a high-level achievement. The simpler the better, like "Improve customer loyalty" or "Grow our market share." They can also be mountain-tops of company success: "Make our brand a word of mouth success story." They could be trying to solve a nagging, systemic problem or doing something big, like entering a new market. Objectives are a rally point for leaders who manage day-to-day efforts: "Will the idea being pitched to me help us reduce our churn?" or "Will this project help us develop a new market?" For us, objectives sit at the top of the strategic plan, and an ideal plan has no more than a handful of them. Anything more can be overload -- for leaders and the people who work for them.
In our framework, a goal is anything that's measured. Goals can be revenue, profit margin, members in a community, certifications delivered, a Net Promoter Score number, etc. Goals determine how you fulfill an objective. Multiple goals can, and should, support a single objective. A goal of "Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 59" can support multiple objectives like "become a word of mouth success story" and "deliver best-in-class service." Just like in sports, a goal is based on numbers.
A strategy is a way to describe a series of tactics, or very specific actions. In sports or war, strategy is often described as an action: Increase troop levels in a region. Do man-to-man coverage. The commonality is action performed by a team or group of people. Each strategy description begins with a verb to signify that something is being done. Example verbs include: create, hire, develop, launch, etc. Each strategy is supported, typically, by a series of specific tactics that may or may not be linear in execution or time. Every item in our strategic planning framework begins with a verb.
A tactic is a very specific action, like creating a new program or improving an existing one. In our framework, a tactic might be "Launch a online listening program" or "Form a customer advisory board for the manufacturing group." Each tactic has an owner who may rely on the work of multiple people in direct or dotted-line reporting relationships to make the tactic work. Each tactic typically has its own plan, too, whether laid out in a spreadsheet or a Gantt chart. Tactics are best, too, when they are preceded with a verb. Specificity is the driver to improvement.
Later: Afterward, Beth Harte raised this point: Who should own the definition of terms like objectives, goals, strategies and tactics? If you believe language is a reflection of culture, and that culture is largely driven from the top, then I would suggest definitions come from office of the CEO and/or COO. It's from there that planning terminology, and even the planning process, should be taught clearly, succinctly and repeatedly. Beth thinks definitions could be owned by an outside association. If you have an opinion, hop into the comments.
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Great stuff! Really needed this
Thx a lot
I write my goals down in a 2010 goal setting booklet downloaded from http://www.isetmygoals.com/goal-setting.html. It is always in my wallet and I review it regularly. It keeps me focused on what really matters to me.
Enjoy and success!
Rogier -- Glad it helped.
Thanks for taking time to chat with me via Twitter this afternoon! I wanted to stop by to continue the conversation.
Like I mentioned to you, from a marketing & PR perspective I've been taught, used and have taught (I'm an adjunct prof. too) that the Goal was the qualitative, non-measurable item that we strive for (i.e. to increase sales, to grow business, etc.) and the objectives were the quantitative, measurable items (i.e. increase sales in target market A by 30% within 6 months).
I write my plans like this:
Goal (one per plan)
Objective 1 (measurable)
Tactics for Strategy 1a
Tactics for Strategy 1b
Objective 2 (measurable)
Tactics for Strategy 2a
Tactics for Strategy 2a
That way I can measure if the tactics helped to meet the strategy and strategy helped to meet the objective and if the overall objectives helped to meet the goal. (Mainly for ROI.)
What strikes me as very interesting and worthy of discussion is which is right or as I asked you...who determines which is right. Is it marketing? Is it PR? Is it the agency? Or, is it management, like you suggested?
I think one of the issues is that often we are taught in college/university by profs who teach it one way and then we learn on the job by managers who do it another way... Potentially there isn’t a standard. Should there be one? If so, again who decides? The AMA? The PRSA? The IABC?
The thing I love about social media is that it allows all of us marketing/PR practitioners to finally have these open dialogues about our industry and best practices, where in the past it was internal or guided by the agencies we hired. I can’t think of anything better to help move our industry forward...
If anyone is interested to see my thought process, I have a bunch of presentations on the topic: http://www.slideshare.net/bethharte
Looking forward to more discussion around this really important topic, thanks Ben!
Community Manager, MarketingProfs
Sorry...that was to say "leave my comment." :)
Must be something inthe air. I just got a request for a 5 year goal template that I hd mentioned online some time back.
Do make the goals, whatever they are well formed outcomes.
Business needs good goals, and so do people.
Make it fun!
Interesting discussion here - thanks to everyone who is throwing in. When I originally read the post this morning, the definitions resonated with me for the most part. Beth's comment got me to step back a bit and really think about how I frame these conversations, and I realized that I have used the terms goals and objectives interchangeably in the past, but I tend to favor Beth's definition and rationale.
In terms of whose definition is 'right,' it's tough, but I have an idea. While I agree with Ben that the definitions should be consistent with the leadership inside the organization, what if as Beth suggested there was a 'crowdsourced' definition shaped by professionals via social channels that could be communicated back to the leadership of an organization if an 'industry standard' emerged that was not in sync with the existing thinking? Too blue sky?
Either way, I think the more important point is that the people involved in planning and measuring any specific program need to be on the same page. As long as within the agency and client teams it's understood, it's probably fine either way. Thoughts?
This is an excellent discussion - I definitely learned something today!
Thanks again all.
In addition to the need for common understanding of terms, teams also need to establish three key truths before they start strategic planning; market, internal, and motivation as I discuss in my blog: http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/third-part-of-truth-motivation-are-you-willing-to-go-the-extra-mile-like-chic-fil-a/
Once the Truths are understood, planning can begin.
Mark Allen Roberts
Much needed clear cut definitions, great post. thanks
Thanks for the Chrismas presents in these posts everyone. Ben...really helpful stuff. Thanks!
This is a powerful framework, and one that is (with some variation) part of brand management training at a number of packaged goods firms. I adopted it after being exposed to it at Lipton in the late '90s. One thing I have seen, though, is that some approach this as something that can be filled out all at once. In my estimation, the most commonly slighted step is that of getting from goals to strategies. Having a framework like this doesn't eliminate the need to understand the customer, their needs, and how your brand can uniquely satisfy them, for example, and you need this understanding in order to develop meaningful strategies.
The other thing I've noticed is that in some firms this is communicated as OGSM with the M standing for "measures." One of the other strengths of the framework is to link measures to goals, hence aligning measures to overall corporate objectives nicely.
Thanks for the post - it's a solid framework for determining if your tactics are likely to add up to anything of value if well-executed.
You've really defined these well it's such a problem at the beginning of the year helping clients learn the difference between strategies and tactics...since it sets the benchmark for measuring success as well it's an important distinction.
.., this is a must read article for church leaders... thank you for the post... i think the strategy can really help me...
To this excellent list I would add "Visions."
The point about visions is that they can, if well developed, become charismatic. Then they draw people towards them.
The secret is to believe in what you are doing.
Goals as mentioned required being achievable and on target to what you wishing to achieve as part of the strategic plan. Yes, I agree with my past experience that objectives require being clear and are better when simplified. Basic, although useful points for strategy. Here is something additional:
Many people including me before my handful of graduate qualifications get a plan and strategic plan mix up for developing an organisation. A strategic plan runs from 5 -10 years and provides a vision, mission and objectives you wish to meet at a certain point in the future. An annual plan is a map and details how you are going to achieve the strategic goals of the company, showing tasks and timelines over the year. Easy to mix up if you do not know. One key question is how you are going to achieve your goal?