Vision, mission, strategy, tactics – what’s the difference?

A six-level pyramid: vision-missino-goals-strategy-tactics-actionVision, mission, goals, strategy.

Tactics and actions.

Do you know the differences, the nuances, and how to move from one to the next?

If you do, you’re well ahead of most people – including, I’m sorry to say, many C-level executives.

Yet strategic thinking is the unanimous number-one wish of those same senior executives for first-line managers and leaders.

Unfortunately, strategic thinking is completely off the radar for most of those first-line managers and leaders. No surprise: up until now, their (your?) career has been focused on executing tasks, and not on thinking about where those tasks fit into the bigger strategic picture.

And I get the struggle and confusion; it can be hard to discern the line between strategy and tactics – or, for that matter, between goals and strategy.

Here’s a quick guide through the pyramid, from vision at the top, to action on the ground.

Vision

Speaking of confusion, vision and mission are also frequently interchangeable (though they should not be!). If you look at what most companies post on their websites for vision and mission, would you really be able to tell which was which if they weren’t labelled? Often … not.

So here’s where we start.

The vision is an idyllic view of a future possibility, relative to the company’s work in the world.

It’s unattainable by any one person or even the largest organization.

For instance, my vision is of a world where people wake up looking forward to their workday because their jobs are meaningful, interesting, challenging, and even exciting.

Clearly, I can’t accomplish that by myself!

Mission

The mission is where this business will do its part in making the vision a reality.

I’m on a mission to make corporate life more fun. Not just livable; not just bearable: fun. Work shouldn’t suck. The corporate life shouldn’t be a rat race.

I can accomplish this within my sphere of action and influence.

Goal

The goal addresses the how of achieving the mission.

I have many options for goals that would address my mission, from corporate event planning to executive retreats to … well, I’m sure you see my point.

The goal I’ve defined is to train and support first-line managers and leaders, because they’re the ones who have the most impact on the most employees in the company, and they’re the ones who will become the senior leaders of the future.

(Note in case of confusion: yes, there are also goals that fall into the strategic, tactical, and action phases as well. This is the big, top-level goal.)

Strategy

My strategy to achieve this goal is to create accessible, affordable training and support programs for individual first-line leaders, and custom programs for corporations, and to make these programs available to the largest reasonable number of individuals and companies.

I hope you can see that there are other perfectly do-able and impactful strategies that I could choose instead. For instance, I could focus on going into large corporations to conduct long-term leadership training programs for emerging leaders. Or I could create weekend leadership retreats. Or I could create self-study programs. Or I could write a book. Or I could become an employee of an organization and influence it from within, instead of from outside as a consultant.

Tactics

Tactics are often broken down by category – for instance, product and service development and delivery; marketing; sales, operations; and so on.

Looking just at marketing, my tactics include developing and delivering a free online workshop every other Wednesday, in which the attendees learn something about strategic thinking (yes!), and I get a sense of whether they’d be successful in my group program. (To be completely clear, since this is a common confusion, this is a workshop, not a webinar … #notawebinar! … and you can learn more about it by clicking here.) I also have social media tactics, program delivery tactics, and so on.

The all-important key is that the tactics must directly support the strategy, which in turn must directly support achieving the goal. And of course the goal must support the mission, which must support the vision.

Action plan

We’re finally at the task level: what steps must be taken to support the tactics.

This is where most individual team members have lived for their entire career, up until being promoted into a management and leadership role.

And this entire top-down / bottom-up pyramid sequence should make it very clear why it’s such a challenge for them (for you?) to make the shift from task-oriented thinking into strategic thinking.

gljudson Strategic thinking