You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means – Inigo Montoya

I have worked with a lot of executives and entrepreneurs.  Eventually we start talking about their company’s strategy.  Their strategies frequently talk about being the best or the biggest.  Perhaps their strategy is about penetrating more markets or expanding into new demographics – yes, we are talking about you, Millennials.  The problem with these strategies is that they aren’t strategies.  They are worthy goals and objectives.  They something worthy to work toward.  They just are not strategies.

If you think of goals as “where do we want to go,” then strategies are “how are we going to get there.”  Your goal may be being the best candle maker in the world.  Your strategy then needs to be how are you going to be the best and even how are you going convince the consumer that you are the best.

On one side people confuse goals with strategy.  On the other, people frequently confuse tactics with strategy.  Tactics are the short term, yet incredibly important, tasks that are necessary to execute the strategy.  Sticking to our traveling concept, our goal may be getting to New York.  Our strategy is to fly.  Our tactics are researching plane tickets, buying them, getting someone to housesit, etc.  There is a real danger with confusing tactics with strategy and goals.  In one company, we were attempting to reach people who had never used the brand before.  Our strategy was a friend refer friend program and one of our tactics was a free sampler.  After I left, the program had been edited for expediency and giving out the free sampler was written as a goal.  Tactics were designed around giving out the sampler and the company gave out their entire stock of samplers.  They felt it was a raging success because they accomplished their goal of giving out samplers.  Unfortunately, once the data was reviewed, nearly 90% of the samplers were given to existing customers.  They succeeded in the tactic but failed in the goal.

A third damaging misconception is that strategy and culture are two separate independent things.  Ok, to be fair in some failing companies they are.  In healthy companies, strategy and culture are overlapping and mutually supportive concepts.  A strategy of innovation can not exist without a culture supporting risk taking, thoughtful challenging of status quo and imagination.  A strategy involving powerful customer experiences can not exist without a customer first culture.

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