An Executive’s Guide to the Ultimate Foursome

THE BIG IDEA: Goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics are four powerful tools for providing organizational direction and achieving results when chief executives can clearly differentiate between each of them and know how each one relates to the whole.


On the third move of a chess game, nine million positions are possible.

This is only a board game. Imagine how many more options you and your team face in the normal course of business.

New campaigns, new markets, new customers, new product launches, repositioning … your options are endless. In this confusion, you can sink into a vast ocean of to-dos, of action for action’s sake.

When this happens, you start confusing motion with progress, busy-ness with business.

We live in get-it-done-now world. The temptation will always be to become tactical first and fast, to focus on getting things done ASAP.

If this cycle is not understood correctly, you can unknowingly trap your teams in endless meetings and empty tasks with only marginal progress on the horizon.

In order to avoid this maze of confusion, infuse your thought process with four simple distinctions: goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics.

  1. A goal establishes your target—the end picture of what you want to achieve.
  2. A strategy sets your basic guidelines and approaches to realizing the goal.
  3. An objective is a key result you set in order to execute a strategy.
  4. A tactic is an action step or tool used to achieve an objective associated with a strategy.

These four elements are great companions in leading your organization because they give you the cohesion to keep everyone on your team moving in the same direction.

Goals: Establishing Your Desired End Picture

The team whose coach says, “We are going to make it to the super bowl,” makes it to the big game … then loses.

The team who wins never intended to just get there. Their coach said, “We are winning the whole damn thing!”

When setting goals you have to state exactly what you want.

Southwest Airline’s primary goal is to operate a low-cost business in order to offer low-cost fares to their customers.

Walt Disney World’s primary goal is to make attendees (of all ages) of their parks happy.

Strategies: Determining the Best Approach

Once you know the end picture, you need to develop your strategies.

Your strategies are how you grow and manage your business. There are three core categories of business strategies: operations, marketing, and innovation.

There are countless strategies in each of these categories. We conjured up 52 of them for marketing alone.

Strategies developed in each of these key areas should help the business realize its primary goal.

Everything you and your employees do—every single activity that influences the business and affects your customers—should push a defined strategy forward.

All employees need to clearly know, understand, and internalize these key strategies so they are empowered to make decisions and take actions that will move the organization closer to the goal.

One of Southwest’s key operations strategy is built into its goal: operate a low-cost airline. Only if they can operate a low-cost airline can they hope to offer low-cost fares, which they have been doing successfully for over 30 years.

Disney’s key operations strategy is to create a magical experience for every customer who enters their theme park.

Objectives: Defining the Critical Results

To execute your strategies effectively, there are certain conditions that must be in place for your end goal to be realized. Your critical objectives are these conditions.

Southwest realized that they make money when their planes are in the air; they spend money when their planes are on the ground. They created an objective to get off the ground fast.

But to make objectives actionable, they need to be specific and measurable. You need to be able to clearly determine if the objective is achieved or not.

Southwest invented the “10-minute turn” to get their planes in the air quickly. Their objective was to get off the ground in under 10 minutes. Today, with larger aircrafts, their turn time is now 25 minutes, but this on-going objective still helps them keep fares low.

Disney executives realized that every employee of the park will likely interact with customers at different times. And these chance encounters either help create magic or kill it. In order to create a magical experience for every customer who enters their park, they set an objective that every employee must help create this desired experience.

Tactics: Deploying Effective Actions

Having a strategy won’t automatically make the tactics apparent, but understanding your critical objectives will help make these choices clear.

Executives who solely focus on tactics too easily abandon the overall strategy and its objectives when a tactic fails. They confuse a tactic with the objective.

When a coach loses a game, he doesn’t change the objective of winning the championship. He simply changes his approach after learning what he can from his prior failure.

Tactics often fail. You still have to spend endless hours testing and retesting, refining and thinking about your tactics.

Southwest deploys numerous tactics to execute their low-cost strategy. For example, it only flies one type of aircraft: three models of the Boeing 737, which creates efficiencies in training and maintenance. Their open seating initiative helps passengers flow onto the aircraft faster, reducing Southwest’s turn time (how quickly they get back in the air). A faster turn translates to a more profitable airline.

One of the most effective tactics Disney deploys to help ensure that their customers experience a magical day is their employee training. Disney University is a three to four week training that every Disney employee in their park system must go through, whether you’re a janitor or a park executive.

Leading with Vision

If you want to steer your business toward a new, compelling, and sustainable future, you first need to have a clear vision in mind.

You can’t expect anyone to understand your vision unless the direction is clear within yourself.

Goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics provide a top-down approach to leading and managing your organization. They are four invaluable friends on your journey to growth and outperformance.

May this New Year bring you inspiration, passion, and clarity for the adventure that lies before you.

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