Goals, Objectives, Strategies… What the heck is the difference?

This blog is part of an ongoing series on Strategic Planning. Check out the previous posts:

1) What Strategic Planning 'Isn't' 

2) Struggling to implement your strategic plan? You're not alone.

3. Who's on First? Mission or Vision? And Where do Values Fit?

Does this sound familiar to you? Your company’s Director of Communications is so pumped to share how excited she is to share with everyone “how gratifying the team synergy will be when everyone breaks down the silos and kicks it up a notch to achieve the next level by utilizing the latest learnings to maximize the company’s impact on the market”.

Right?!? It’s time to go to the buzzword carnival, a place where some “clear” messages sometimes go to die. There are so many terms that are used in strategic planning that it can be difficult to make sense of them all and keep things in order.

How do you keep things straight?

Start by agreeing to the terminology you will provide consistency and clarity. Define the terms as you are using them in your organization and include them as an appendix in your strategic plan for easy reference - a glossary of terms.  

Here are some of the terms, defined for your reference. I will promote keeping it simple stupid – the KISS method – we live by this adage… after all, why use utilize when you can use use.

  • Pillars are the core elements of your plan. They can be used to group some goals. If you follow the Balanced Scorecard strategic planning methodology, you may have pre-determined Pillars.
  • Goals are the results toward which effort shall be directed. They should be achievable within the organization’s strategic plan timeframe (i.e. three years)
  • Strategic Directions are (for me) the same as goals, simply a different term.
  • Objectives are specific outcomes. They should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). If you achieve the objectives, you should accomplish the goals.
  • Measures are the methods you use to evaluate the objectives. I like to see the measures clearly defined so there is no confusion on how to come up with the Objective’s target.
  • Strategies are broad activities required to achieve an objective and create momentum. If you follow the Driver’s Model (Leadership Strategies), your strategies will be derived from the Critical Success Factors and Barriers.
  • Initiatives are activities that you have grouped together.
  • Milestones are milestones. I can't add to that.
  • Tasks or Actions are the detailed sub-set of activities for the Action Plans
  • Deliverables are the tangible outcomes.
  • Action Plans detail the specific steps to be taken to implement a strategy. 

Define everything. Be explicit. Be consistent. Create a glossary of the terms and include it with your planning documents.

About the Author

Josée Lemoine is the Founder of Pivot Advisory Services providing strategy planning and facilitation services to organizational leaders who want to achieve their Vision faster.



World Strategy Week. 5 Days, 5 Blogs.

Monday – Struggling to Implement Your Strategic Plan, You Are Not Alone.

Tuesday – Mission, Vision and Values, Where Do Values Fit In?

Wednesday – Strategies, Goals, Objectives, Action Plans, What’s what?

Thursday – Key Performance Measures, Data, and Scorecard – Does it Really Help?

Friday – The Strategic Planning Journey. A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Success!


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