Strategy v Tactics v Objectives

Big Red Car here.  Oh boy what a Sunday we had yesterday.  I hope you got out and about before the clouds moved in as it was glorious!

The Boss took the local American Institute of Architects Home Tour.  It was great fun to see a cross section of exquisite remodels and new homes.

So The Boss had a coffee with a brilliant young CEO last week and he was whining a bit — those brilliant young CEOs will whine a bit from time to time — that it was difficult to differentiate strategy from tactics and objectives.  This is not unusual and happens all the time.

Remember we are looking at a continuum that starts with Vision and ends with Culture.  Take a look at this earlier blog post to set your mind right.

Vision, Mission and All That Jazz


Strategy is the high level plan — the view from 30,000 feet — that is going to convert your Vision for your startup or enterprise into a reality.  In many ways it is aspirational and sets the framework to develop your tactics to make it a reality.  The framework for the execution of strategy is longer than for tactics or objectives.

This is the Big Picture.

In World War II, the Allies had a strategy to open a second front against the Germans by landing in France and thereby diluting the German forces who were decisively engaged in Russia and Italy.  By dividing the German forces and spreading them thin, the Allies (including Russia) would be able to focus superior combat power on the diluted German defenders and destroy the German Army.  The Germans had already been run out of North Africa by this time though they were still lodged in North Africa when the strategic planning began.

‘Invade France by means of a major cross-Channel landing, decisively engage and destroy all German forces west of the Rhine.”


Tactics subdivide the strategy into more bite sized individual objectives which are then assigned to thematic divisions of an enterprise.  So a strategy might entail a set of leadership, management, finance, marketing, technical, community and quality control tactics.  You can call them tactics or tactical objectives.

Headquarters sets the strategy and the operating units undertake tactics to achieve that strategy.

“Conduct a cross-Channel landing on five invasion beaches — Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, Sword — while employing paratroopers to seize vital intersections and important features to prevent rapid reinforcement by local German Army elements.  Develop a beachhead within three days that cannot be dislodged by German forces in the counterattack.”


Objectives subdivide the Tactics into individual actions which will then be “assignable” to individuals or operating units.

“The 101st Airborne Division will conduct an airborne assault at midnight D-Day (H-Hour minus 6:30 hours) in support of the main landings on Utah Beach at 6:30 AM (H-Hour).  The 101st will seize and retain control over a set of individual landmarks — then further enumerated in the plan — which will prevent local German Army units from counterattacking the invasion beaches.  The 101st Division must hold these positions until D +3 and thereafter link up with the invasion forces coming in from the beachheads.”

This objective is then further subdivided into a coherent set of further subdivided individual objectives assigned to Brigades, Regiments, Battalions, Companies and Platoons.

“Charlie Company, 326th Combat Engineer Battalion, will assault, seize and destroy the bridge at location Alpha.  Charlie will seize the bridge immediately upon assault and will destroy the bridge no later than 03:00 AM and will thereafter defend the crossing site against German counterattacks mining all approach routes as soon as practical.  Charlie will hold the bridge site until D + 3 and thereafter will be relieved.”

The Charlie Company Commanding Officer will coordinate every element of the jump with his Platoon Leaders in exquisite detail and will arrive at a plan of attack including blowing the bridge up and then go execute it.  Once complete, he will develop a plan to defend the bridge site for the next three days thereby denying German Panzers from counterattacking the landings on Utah Beach.


Strategy:  The United States of America will provide universal, affordable health insurance coverage for each of its citizens on or before 1 October 2013 in implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Tactics:  Health care coverage will be offered through a series of State and a National exchanges whereby citizens may review, assess and choose types of coverage at varying prices.

The program will allow citizens to retain their current health insurance plans, their current medical professional relationships and will reduce average family premiums by approximately $2,500 per household.

Objectives:  Develop a state of the art eCommerce platform — a website — whereby customers may review, assess, choose and sign up for specific health care insurance plans from individual insurance companies at definitive prices.

The website will be extremely user friendly, easy to operate and exquisitely tested to ensure a flawless rollout on 1 October 2013.

In purchasing the services to build the website the RFP will contain a bonded completion guaranty as well as a performance based compensation structure.  The contractor will receive no less than half of their compensation based upon the successful launch and performance of the website.

The website will be completed no later than 1 October 2012 and will be tested for six months by 1,000 geeks, blue haired grandmothers from Florida (the kind of folks who cannot operate a ballot without creating a chad) and six orangutans.

The website platform will be demonstrated and trained to “navigators” upon completion of the testing concluding 1 August 2013.  Training materials — web based information, an interactive PDF and printed materials and a webinar will available to navigators to assist folks signing up after 1 October 2013.

During the time period 1 August to 1 October 2013, the website will be in a demonstration mode and individual users will be invited to become Beta testers by directly engaging with the site.

The launch will be conducted on 1 October 2013 with fanfare, training and a demonstration of the site by the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  She will sign up for health insurance in real time.

The schedule for development of the website will be a public document, progress will be reported publicly and those involved will certify the attainment of each objective publicly and to the President of the United States.

 Not to belabor the obvious point but had this effort — Obamacare — been planned and executed in this fashion it is quite possible it would be working flawlessly right now.

Failure to adequately plan and to convert your Vision to Strategy, Tactics and Objectives invites failure into the equation.  Conversely, when well done, it turns failure away at the door.

It is hard to do this type of planning effectively particularly in a startup environment but do not buy into the nonsense that the Internet startup eco-system precludes such high quality thinking.  It does not.

Last word — when you developed your Objectives and assigned them to individuals, this begins your Performance Appraisal system whereby you assess performance based on the attainment of objectives rather than less exacting and qualitative standards.

It is hard work but you can do it.

But, hey, what the Hell do really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.