Goals, Strategies, and Tactics

July 19, 2017

Dear Strategy:

“When defining your strategy, how do you keep from descending straight into tactics or ascending to goals?”

Well, I have to admit that there’s something about this question that bothers me a little. That is, the implication that tactics and/or goals are not actually part of a strategy. Of course, that’s no fault of the individual who asked the question. In fact, this is a problem perpetuated through that reprimanding little phrase delivered all-too-often to product managers around the world: “You’re being too tactical!”

Being tactical, as it turns out, isn’t quite as evil a thing as some managers may have you believe. After all, being tactical means that you’re taking action. It means that you’re making things happen.

But what happens when you’re implementing tactics without any overarching plan to guide them? Well, then your tactics become random and without purpose or direction – or at least that’s how they will appear. And that’s where the criticism usually comes from.

Now let’s talk about the goals part. The problem here usually comes when high-level goals are set without any real plan (and therefore chance) to achieve them. This is the famous “top down” method of goal setting that we all know and love: set a goal that can’t be achieved and then bark at the organization to “make it happen.”  Contrary to what you may have been led to believe as a budding new manager, this formula never works. I repeat – NEVER WORKS.

So, the answer to both of these little problems, if you haven’t guessed it already, is to put a plan, or strategy, right in the middle of these two layers: Goals – Strategy – Tactics. Your goals are what you realistically want to achieve, your strategy is how you realistically intend to achieve it, and your tactics are the individual actions that will enable you to carry out your plan.

Goals without strategy are nothing more than dreams.

Tactics without strategy are nothing more than random actions.

So, in this case, the strategy is the missing element. And having that strategy, in a clearly defined format, is the answer to the question.


Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 007




Bob Caporale is the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.

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