Mission vs vision vs objective vs strategy vs tactics

Sent by Jonathan Stark on February 15th, 2020

There’s a lot of confusion out there about the differences between certain high level terms as they relate to your business.

Here are the ones that I see being used improperly the most often:

Mission / Vision

Mission and vision are two sides of the same coin. To use myself as an example:

My mission is to rid the world of hourly billing.

My vision is of a world in which professionals price their offerings instead of bill for their time. This world would be better for the professionals because they would be free of the “trading time for money” hamster wheel. This world would be better for clients because they would be able to make informed buying decisions up front, instead of praying that the person they were hiring was good at estimation and project management. In this world the wealth of all involved would increase because it creates the win-win dynamic of mutual profit.

Mission and vision exist on a long time scale, like at least 10 years but probably more. If you are changing your mission/vision more often than once per decade, then it’s unlikely that you’re going to have much of an impact.

BTW - not everyone knows what their mission/vision is. That’s fine. It’ll come eventually. You can still have a business objective, strategy, and tactics.

Objective

In the context of a business, an objective is a clear business goal. They generally change on a 1-3 year timeframe. For example, I tend to change/refine mine annually:

Alert readers will notice that my annual objectives are not unrelated. They each build on the previous. I was able to align them in phases like this because I have a long term mission/vision.

Without a mission/vision, your objectives might be longer term and/or less directly related to each other, and that’s okay. Having some kind of 1-3 year business objective is a lot better than not having one at all.

Strategy

A strategy is an intentional and focused approach to reaching an objective. There are typically at least three mutually exclusive strategies that you could use to reach any given objective.

For example, if your objective was to defeat an enemy on the battlefield, you could choose from a bunch of different strategies. Here are three:

I hope it’s obvious that these three strategies are mutually exclusive. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to run more than one of these strategies at the same time? It would almost certainly lead to defeat.

Strategies exist because everyone has limited resources. Therefore, you need to focus your energy. Your strategy is the articulation of that focus. Mixing strategies will lead to failure. A vague strategy will lead to failure. Having no strategy will lead to failure.

A great strategy is simple and clear and memorable. Without a clear strategy, all tactics seem equally viable. With a clear strategy, you can tell which tactics will be effective (and which will be a waste of time). You simply compare each possible tactic to your strategy and ask yourself how well they align.

Okay, so… how do you pick a strategy?

You just pick the one that you believe in.

To use myself as an example again, recall that my objective for 2020 is to help 10x as many people as I did in 2019. The strategy I have selected to achieve this is to write as much as humanly possible.

How do I know this strategy will work? I don’t! I have no guarantee that this strategy will work. I believe it will, but I could be wrong.

When picking a strategy, there is always a risk. There is never a guarantee. There is no proof. You must make a leap of faith. You have to make a big decision based on incomplete information. This is a core skill of being a leader, even if you’re just leading yourself. There is no way around it.

The lifespan of a strategy will be shorter the lifespan of your objective. For a three year objective, you might change strategy once or twice or three times. For me, strategies tend to last from 6-12 months because my objectives typically exist on a 1-2 year timespan. If you are sure a strategy isn’t working, you should change it. But don’t thrash on your strategy… changing strategy too often is a massive waste of resources.

Tactics

Tactics are the day-to-day actions you perform to execute a strategy and (hopefully) achieve your desired objective.

Tactics would be things like:

There is no end to the list of tactics that might grow your business. It’s the list of all the things you could do. A strategy will give you direction about which things you should do. Which is why having a clear objective and committing to a strategy are so important.

Operating a business without a strategy is like playing basketball with a blindfold on. You’ll work up a sweat but you sure ain’t going to score any points.

Recap…

Hopefully this message has helped to clarify some terms for you. To recap the most important points:

Did this message help you at all? Did you have any aha moments? Do you have follow-up questions?

Please hit reply and let me know!

Yours,

—J