By David Ritter, CVA, MBA – Shareholder

How do goals and objectives differ? Can your team distinguish the difference between a strategy and a tactic? Does your organization differentiate its mission and its vision?

These are all fairly basic concepts on the surface, but when you ask a room of people, these terms are often misinterpreted. If you (and your team) cannot decipher the difference between these fundamental concepts, the strategic planning process can be a difficult endeavor and nearly impossible to complete successfully.

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We’ve all been in those meetings where words are taken out of context or misconstrued, leading to discussions going way off topic or nowhere very fast. This often takes place with some of the most fundamental concepts used in the strategic planning process. Instead of charting the course for your organization’s strategic focus, the meeting becomes an iterative (and often times spirited) discussion as to what the definitions of the fundamental concepts represents.

Before you move forward with something as important as planning your business’ future, consider getting back to the basics and gain a common understanding of the definitions used in the strategic planning process. Without it, there will be many false starts in the boardroom.

The Fundamentals

Consider these fundamental terms, including the provided explanations and characteristics, to use as a reference and help provide a structure in determining key strategic planning areas.

Vision Statement
Vision has a qualitative characteristic and is focused on the “ideal” or “dream” of the organization, which is founded on your company’s core values and future intentions. Often confused with the mission statement, which is focused on a more action-oriented quality, a vision statement has an aspirational characteristic.

Some well-known vision statements include:

  • “The happiest place on earth.” – Disneyland
  • “To create a better everyday life for the many people.” – IKEA
  • “Crush Adidas.” – Nike (1960s)

Mission Statement
This is the fundamental purpose of the organization – the “what we do and why we do it.”  The end goal of any mission statement is to provide overall focus for the organization.

Some commonly recognized mission statements include:

  • “We exist to power civilization.” – ConocoPhillips
  • “Helping people on their path to a better health.” – CVS Corporation
  • “We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.” – Harley Davidson

Organizational Goals
Goals are general statements created by your organization to accomplish its aligned mission and provide further clarity to its vision. While they are still qualitative in nature and similar to the mission in terms of “what” the organization does, goals specify the short- and long-term direction as to where resources will be focused.

It is important to remember goals are not the “how,” but rather the “what” and “where.”  Often organizational goals begin with a verb because they are related to a primary outcome. Common business goals may include:

  • Increase profitability
  • Improve sales-closing ratio
  • Increase customer retention
  • Develop internal communications
  • Implement new and convenient delivery channels
  • Improve employee retention and attract new talent
  • Align employee incentives with performance

Business Objectives
Objectives and goals are often misinterpreted as one in the same.  While goals identify the organization’s qualitative direction, objectives portray the quantifiable characteristic. By adding a measurable characteristic, the organization’s goals become objectives.

For example, your business might set the following objectives:

  • Increase profitability by 10 percent within the next two quarters
  • Improve sales-closing ratio by 5 percent by end of year
  • Implement two new and convenient delivery channels within 24 months

Strategies illustrate the approach toward achieving the measurable objective. They should be continuously modified to account for the changing business environment affecting the organization.

Some common strategic considerations include:

  • Product differentiation
  • First-to-market
  • Low cost and low price with high volume versus a high price with extraordinary service
  • Prevent new competitors by reducing prices or through economies of scale
  • Remove competitors through mergers and acquisitions

Frameworks for Developing Strategies

While developing strategies for your business, frameworks are often employed to help determine methods for achieving the objectives. There are almost as many frameworks as there are strategies to consider. Some common frameworks are outlined below.

Porter’s Five Competitive Forces

This method analyzes competitive pressures of supplier power, buyer power, competitive rivalry within its industry, barriers to entry and threat of substitutes.

The Four P’s

This method focuses primarily on how the price, placement (delivery channels), promotions, and products/services dictate the brand and product/service strategy.

SWOT Analysis

By analyzing the organization’s strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, you can determine strategies to:

  • Pursue opportunities that are a good fit for the company’s strengths.
  • Overcome weaknesses that will allow you to pursue opportunities.
  • Identify ways your company can use its strengths to reduce its vulnerability to external threats.
  • Establish a defensive plan to prevent the company’s weaknesses from making it highly susceptible to external threats.


Tactics are action items created to accomplish business goals and meet its objectives, and ultimately fulfill its strategies. To accomplish your business’ tactics, numerous action steps may be required for each objective outlined. Tactics typically include responsibility, resources and the deadlines for completion.

Putting The Basics in Motion

Approaching strategic planning from the basics will help your organization focus on creating a valuable plan in the boardroom. Ensuring the entire organization understands the differences of each component, and how each part builds off the other is an important first step. You may want to consider hiring an outside facilitator, like Doeren Mayhew, to help your business define each component, bring a fresh perspective to the table and keep the discussion on track to help develop a plan for success.

See what strategic planning service offerings Doeren Mayhew has available for your business to leverage. Contact us to get your planning started.