Shep21's Blog….Leadership, marketing & customer service through the printed words of many

Defining objectives, goals, strategies and tactics December 29, 2009

Filed under: Business Planning — shep21 @ 3:15 pm

This is a great article on clearly defining O, G, S & T as a first step in strategic planning. Thanks to Ben McConnell at

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.


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