Don’t Confuse Strategies with Goals and Tactics (Part II)


In Part I, we examined what triggered this blog post, how people often confuse Goals with Strategies and why this matters so much.

Next let’s look at tactics.

A tactic is a reusable method that can support execution of a strategy. They are reusable because the same tactic may support multiple strategies.

Tactics require knowledge of real work on the ground; a closeness to customers, employees and the market

Tactics are not complete strategies themselves – where strategy is big picture, tactic is down in the detail. Tactics require knowledge of real work on the ground; a closeness to customers, employees and the market.

To achieve any big goals it is essential to have a clear strategy and rapidly get to specific tactics. This is what will guide the whole business in achieving the goals and making them real.

Having a library of sharp and battle-hardened tactics is also an important part of any businesses’ toolkit, allowing rapid responses to changing circumstances.

Let’s refresh our memory of Omyang’s “strategies” (really goals) in Part I:


Strategy: Be the market share leader in terms of sales in the mid-market in our industry.

Strategy: Maneuver our brand into top two consideration set of household decision makers.

Strategy: Improve retention of top 10% of company performers.

Strategy: Connect with customers while in our store and increase sales.

Strategy: Become a social utility that earth uses on an daily basis.

Here are his corresponding “tactics”:


Tactics: Offer lower cost solutions than enterprise competitors without sacrificing white-glove service for first 3 years of customer contracts.

Tactics: Deploy a marketing campaign that leverages existing customer reviews and spurs them to conduct word of mouth with their peers in online and real world events.

Tactics: Offer best in market compensation plan with benefits as well as sabbaticals to tenured top performers, source ideas from top talent.

Tactics: Offer location based mobile apps on top three platforms, and provide top 5 needed use cases based on customer desire and usage patterns.

Tactics: Offer a free global communication toolset that enables disparate personal interactions with your friends to monitor, share, and interact with.

Now we can see that these are actually strategies masquerading as tactics. They give us a big picture route to the goal but they fall short of a detailed route. There’s a huge of amount of detailed work sitting behind these short statements that needs to executed effectively and efficiency for any chance of success.

This is crucial. If we expect an entire organisation to take a new path then they need much more than simply goals and high-level strategy.

A clear definition for Goals, Strategies and Tactics

Forgetting to have any real tactics is the most common path to failure. Leaders simply cross their fingers and hope that people will somehow magically deliver success.

Now, here’s the thing about tactics – the best tactics come from the coalface, from people on the ground within organisations who are fully in touch with the detail of how the business works, what customers need and what is changing in the marketplace.

Not only that but tactics can help shape strategy in the first place, opening up new possibilities that would have been otherwise overlooked.

If we would only properly explore detailed tactics with people top to bottom throughout our organisations we’d create far better strategies.

Clear thinking and execution always requires careful attention to language and communication

Engineering tactics top-down is like government ministers currently trying to solve the flooding problems in Somerset – you’ll get a lot of hot air, noise and credit-taking but the real solutions will be quietly designed and implemented by local people and local engineers.

In the comments, Owyang asserts in response to similar criticisms to mine that he is trying to simplify by combining “Mission/Goals/Strategy”.

That’s a mistake which simply breeds confusion. We should never over-simplify. Clear thinking and execution always requires careful attention to language and communication.

By the way, one of this discussion is the same as talking about Vision or Mission – they are different in several important ways and I’ll talk about them in a separate post.

Good luck with your Goals, Strategies and Tactics!

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Posted in Decision-Making, Leadership, Strategy.

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