Goals or Objectives? Mission Statements or Vision Statements?

If your meetings with consulting clients use terms like vision and mission statement, goals and objectives, and strategy and tactics, then I bet some people are using these words wrong. This can throw off your meeting and result in strategic confusion.

Start your client’s strategy meetings with some discussion about the differences in these terms.

Do You Know the Difference? Goal, Strategy, Objective, Tactic

Forbes, the US business magazine, has a good article on these four often misused terms. To quote the article,

·         A goal is a broad primary outcome

·         A strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal

·         An objective is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy

·         A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy

The author, Mikal Belicove, in the same article gives these examples from Intel’s Core processors,

Goal: Make our Core PC microprocessors a category leader in sales revenue by year X.

Strategy: Persuade buyers that our Core processors are the best on the market by associating with large, well-established PC manufacturers.

Objective: Retain 70 percent or more of the active worldwide PC microprocessor market, according to Passmark’s CPU benchmark report.

Tactic: Through creative that underlies our messaging, leverage hardware partner brand awareness to include key messages about the Intel Inside program.

When I read this article my mind jumped back to numerous boardroom discussions where people misused these terms or used them interchangeably. It causes confusion about the level of discussion in a meeting. “Are we working on long-range corporate strategy? Or are we discussing the problem you are facing this week?” When you need to communicate across email and webinars to hundreds or thousands of people the confusion gets even worse.

How often have you heard misused terms like, “Our strategy is for the first marketing campaigns to target our top customers.” Wrong! You just described a tactic.

Your strategy is to “Increase revenue from customers in our highest RFM (Recency, Frequency, Money) quadrant.”


Use the word “goal” in a discussion and within a minute someone will throw in the mnemonic “SMART Goals.” The idea is that goals should comply with the SMART acronym. I don’t disagree with the SMART part, my problem is with “goal.” The word should be “objective” and not “goal.” (Just because we hear the term “SMART Goal” frequently, does not mean it’s right.)

Click here to learn more about SMART (S Specific, M Measurable, A Attainable/Achievable, R Relevant, T Timely).

SMART is a good acronym and mnemonic. I’ll give you an expanded definition in a related <link> blog, but we need to get the terms right. Are we talking about GOALS or OBJECTIVES? I’ve compiled a few attributes about these two words from www.diffen.com.

Goal Objective
(from Diffen.com)
“I want to achieve success in the field of genetic research and do what no one has ever done.” “I want to complete my thesis on genetic research by the end of this month.”
Reason Achieve a purpose Complete one or more objectives to achieve a goal
Scope Broad and high level Narrow and achievable by completing a task
Measurable Difficult to measure Well-defined and measurable
Time Frame Long term Mid- to short-term

* Definitions are compiled from multiple sites including Diffen.com


In any discussion about strategic planning or business building you will hear two other terms used as though they mean the same thing, Mission Statement and Vision Statement. These are also very different, but often used interchangeably.

Mission Statement Vision Statement
Overall How you will get there?
“What do we do?”
Where will we be?
“Where do we want to be?”
Time Frame Present Future
Activity Critical processes
Levels of performance
Inspiration and motivation
External changes
Statements What do we do?
Who do we do it for?
Why do we do it?
What do we want to be?
When will we be there?
How will we get there?
Context Alignment and direction
Tactical planning and framework
Motivation and inspiration around a common future and purpose

* Definitions are compiled from multiple sites including Diffen.com.

Do This At Your Next Meeting

Here is something you might want to do if you hear misused terms in your strategy/tactics meetings. Stick on the wall a large easel pad-sized self-stick Post-Its with these misused terms. Then ask what they mean. Underneath the top sheet have the definitions. I’ve done it. It’s always a source of discussion and ends with everyone aligned at the right level of discussion and using the correct terms.

Use Post-It self-stick wall pads to keep key ideas in front of everyone.

Use Post-It self-stick wall pads to keep key ideas in front of everyone.