Strategy, Objectives and Tactics

After a few days of marking exams, I have come to realize that most people don’t seem to know the difference between an issue, strategy, objective and tactics. So here is a primer on the nature of business strategy.

An issue or opportunity is determined through your analysis. An issue is either related to a weakness in the resources available to your organization, or a threat from the external environment for which you are not currently prepared. An opportunity is related to a strength in your organization that is currently not being leveraged, or a situation in the external environment that creates an opportunity which your competition is not pursuing.

A strategy is the set of choices that you make to invest your money, time and focus. It typically excludes other choices, and is focused at a high level. Usually a strategy is difficult to reverse.

An objective is the anticipated outcome of a strategy. It is measurable and usually has a time frame.

Tactics are the series of actions you plan to take to achieve your strategy. They are smaller, can be reversed and have less long-term implications than the overall strategy.

Here is an example of an issue/opp, strategy, objective and tactics.

Over 50% of executives in the municipal government sector in Ontario will be retiring in the next five years, leaving many municipal governments with unprepared leadership during a highly challenging period.


  1. Identify and develop high potential internal candidates to ensure a smooth succession over the next five years.
  2. Recruit the next generation of leaders to back fill lower positions.


  1. Ensure 100% of all executive positions are filled internally.
  2. Ensure that the organization achieves its long-term strategic objectives while undergoing leadership succession.
  3. Ensure that vacant positions due to promotions are filled with potential future leaders, as measured by leadership competencies and 80% retention rates.


  1. Identify leadership and knowledge competencies needed for each senior executive position.
  2. Identify current skills, knowledge and leadership competencies and evaluate the gap between current and needed.
  3. Identify current high potential candidates.
  4. Conduct evaluation of Hi Po skills, knowledge and competencies.
  5. Create leadership development plan for all high potential candidates.
  6. Identify organizational practices needed to support development, including formal performance evaluation, development programs, recruiting, retention and succession planning.
  7. Create a “coaching” culture.
  8. Identify development or “stretch” assignments for each hi po.
  9. Identify long-term competencies for hiring entry and middle level employees.

Okay, you get my point. So why does this matter? It matters because the choices that we make at a strategic level have a major impact on tactical choices. Often we jump right to tactics, without understanding the implications of our strategic choices. In my example above, my strategy makes a clear choice to focus on internal development of leaders, rather than look externally for leaders. That informed the tactics that I selected. If I had chosen to look externally for leaders, I would have had a much different set of tactics. But if we jump straight to tactics, the strategy is assumed. It is at the level of strategy that we need to have the debate about our direction.

By confusing strategy and tactics, we miss an opportunity to have a real debate about the direction the organization will take to address the issue or opportunity, and perhaps, to avoid a serious mistake. So embrace the strategic debate.



Categories: Strategy

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4 replies »

  1. Sharen … and excellent explanation of the differences and the reason we need to start by understanding the issues and opportunities first – then form strategies …. and at the lowest level the tactics. I like that you point out that Strategies are not easily changed but tactics can change as you determine what’s working (or not).

  2. Colleen,
    I follow your blog with interest. I am not quite in line with this posting. I think it helps to be clear on what a decision is. In every situation there are policy decisions (the givens), strategic decisions (what we have to choose now), and tactical decisions (decisions we can make later.) Issues are part of the information that surrounds the decisions. Objectives are values. See The Coach’s Guide to the Collaborative Design Process

    Good luck.


  3. I get your point. I guess the point I was trying to make is that many of my students just skip over the type of decision and move straight to tactics, which often results in bad decision making. I get your point, which is, if this is a tactical decision, treat it that way. Yup, I agree. My concern is that many people treat strategic decisions as if they were tactical.

    I’m not sure that I agree that objectives are values. Sometimes they are, or at least they show what the organization values. But, they also need to be about what we expect that we will achieve if we implement a strategy or tactic. Otherwise, we don’t know if we have accomplished it. They also help us focus our tactics to ensure that what we’re doing will really accomplish our objectives. For example, if our objective is to attract 20% more new customers than we did last year, a loyalty card is probably not going to help us achieve that objective.

    That said, I agree that there are different types of decisions, and that it is important to differentiate between these decision types.

  4. I really connect with your example. I wish this type of thinking prevailed when I worked for municipal government a number of years ago. It sure would have beat the He## out of “Carry on Regardless!” that we operated under.
    This is also a nice blueprint that I would like to take to a volunteer organization which is looking into an important expansion of services though the planning aspect seems to have been short circuited. It would be a valuable addition if they were to succeed.

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