Strategy, Tactics or Goals: Which comes first?

Strategy, Tactics or Goals? Which Comes First?

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, there is a lot of advice offered to business owners and nonprofit leaders about developing goals for the coming year. The mere mention of setting goals causes a flurry of emotional responses. Some people love to set goals while others react to the whole thought of goals, implementation, measuring progress, and accountability with anxiety or a glazed look in their eyes.

Determine Your Overall Strategy First

One of the pitfalls I see happening is people attempting to develop goals without having a clear overall strategy. Before beginning to develop goals for your business, nonprofit, or yourself, first determine your overall strategy. (The previous post lists nine different strategies to consider before creating the goals for your business.)

In the years I have been facilitating strategic planning, people often want to jump directly to tactics. They want to solve problems, take action, and feel like they are doing something. While goals and tactics are part of the strategy process, jumping into those before you identify your strategy may not produce the results you desire. Goals and tactics usurp resources – financial, human, time, and even goodwill. Before investing in any of those, get clear on your BIG WHAT – your overall strategy.

Strategy Is the Big Idea

For this post, I am referring to strategy as your big, overarching idea. It is what you want to accomplish. It is not the specifics of how you will accomplish it. Here are a few typical examples: A football coach’s strategy is to win the game. A business owner’s strategy may be to grow the business. A nonprofit leader’s strategy may be to make more impact in the community served. An individual’s strategy may be to increase harmony in all aspects of their life. A chess player’s strategy is the approach to winning the game.

Strategy, Goals, Tactics

To make it simpler, think of strategy, goals, and tactics from this perspective:

  • Strategy is the big overall WHAT that you want to achieve. It guides decision-making and resource allocation. It is the set of goals you want to achieve. (Ex. Grow, stabilize, retrench) 
  • Goals are broad, desired outcomes that lead you to achieve the BIG WHAT you want.
  • Tactics are specific, measurable action steps that move you toward achieving your goals.

Steps to Achieve Your BIG WHAT

The steps to develop your strategy and then achieve it are:

  1. Analyze information from your market research.
  2. Spend some time thinking strategically about where you want your business to be in the future. 
  3. Get clear about your strategy. For example: Is it to grow your business? Or is it to maintain your market share while you build/refine systems to better serve your customer? Or is it to grow your business while also growing your personal life? 
  4. Determine which key strategic initiatives you need to address to move to the future you desire.
  5. Create one goal for each key strategic initiative.
  6. Develop the steps in an action plan to achieve each goal. (tactics)

What is your strategy?

Strategy Tip:

  • Do not let figuring out the perfect definition of any of the terms hold you back from developing your overall strategy, goals, and action plan.
  • Use the term that is meaningful to you and your team.
  • Figure out your BIG WHAT. Then create the goals and action steps to achieve it.

Closing Thought

“If you don’t have a strategy, you are part of someone else’s strategy.” — Alvin Toffler

Grow your business using strategic planning. Strategic planning can help you develop the clarity to stay focused and take action. In this guide, you will discover the reasons smart companies use strategic planning, tips to make strategic planning work for your business, and how to build a sustainable business.

Judy Whalen
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