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To solve strategy challenges, starts with knowing what strategy is

Editor’s Note: In this article, Rich Horwath reveals that the challenges of creating a strategy come at all levels of an organization, and that often, what people think of as strategies are actually goals, tactics or objectives. He explains steps that you (and your managers) can take to forge a path to the business results you seek.


The root of most strategy challenges is simple–too many managers don’t know what strategy is. And if you think this is a problem plaguing only new managers at lower levels of the organization, think again. During my work as a strategy consultant, I’ve collected dozens of so-called “strategies” from CEOs that aren’t strategies at all, including:

  • Become the global leader in our industry.
  • Use innovation to build customer-centric solutions.
  • Grow our audience.
  • Execute integration and capture synergies.
  • Strengthen the core business and reduce costs.

These so-called strategies are actually goals, tactics, or objectives. And the distinction is important.

Goals and objectives

Goals and objectives are what we’re trying to achieve. A goal is what we’re trying to achieve in general (“win the national sales contest for our region”), and an objective is what we’re trying to achieve specifically ( “achieve $25 million in sales by the end of the third quarter”). Objectives tend to use the acronym SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

The root of most strategy challenges is simple–too many managers don’t know what strategy is. And if you think this is a problem plaguing only new managers at lower levels of the organization, think again. During my work as a strategy consultant, I’ve collected dozens of so-called “strategies” from CEOs that aren’t strategies at all, including:

  • Become the global leader in our industry.
  • Use innovation to build customer-centric solutions.
  • Grow our audience.
  • Execute integration and capture synergies.
  • Strengthen the core business and reduce costs.

These so-called strategies are actually goals, tactics, or objectives. And the distinction is important.

Goals and objectives are what we’re trying to achieve. A goal is what we’re trying to achieve in general (“win the national sales contest for our region”), and an objective is what we’re trying to achieve specifically ( “achieve $25 million in sales by the end of the third quarter”). Objectives tend to use the acronym SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Stop making things up

Terms like “strategic imperatives” or “business drivers” are not foundational planning terms. And because they are not foundational concepts, they can be interpreted in lots of different ways. This can lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misdirection. When planning, use real words, not made-up ones.

Stop pretending

If a leader in your company passes down a strategy that isn’t really a strategy, stop pretending it is. Correct it! Choose the right forum and appropriate time to talk to leadership about how to modify their statement to more accurately reflect a strategy.

Only when your team has a common language for strategic thinking and planning will you be able to forge a path to the business results you seek. Take the steps above to create that shared understanding, and you’ll be on the road to success.

This article was adapted from StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan.

Article republished with permission from QZ.com.


rich-horwathBy Rich Horwatch, CEO, The Strategic Thinking Institute

Rich Horwath is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author on strategy, most recently of StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan. As the CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute, Horwath leads executive teams through the strategy process. He is a former chief strategy officer and professor of strategy.

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