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Strategy Is Not the Same as Goal Setting

One of the outcomes of developing a viable strategy is defining goals. Without having clearly defined goals and carefully chosen tactics that support those goals, you obviously won’t be able to gauge your progress and make adjustments to your strategic plan. That being said, I’ve seen too many people confuse strategy with goal setting. They are not the same thing and it’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Strategy is an exercise in problem solving. While the problem may be as varied as the development of your platform, the launching of your book, the way you will gain market share or the way you will differentiate yourself and your content in the market place, these are all problems that a well thought out strategy is focused on solving.

Goals that support the strategy are critical, but goals do not solve problems. Goals are a measure of progress. Goals support the strategy.

When a potential client tells me what their current strategy is, what I often hear is a list of activities, a description of various tactics, and a summary of how they are progressing against their goals. My response is typically something along the lines of, “What problems in the marketplace are you and your work uniquely qualified to solve and why do you believe that to be so?” Then I will ask them again to tell me what the strategy is, and if it can’t be articulated clearly and concisely we both quickly realize that there probably isn’t one in place. Activity is activity – not a strategy.

For example, if the problem is getting the body of work out to a broader audience, several strategies can be designed depending on the unique strengths of the thought leader and his or her organization. They may choose to license their content to others, to build a training company, a consulting firm or a tools-based company, or they may choose to partner with other authors or organizations.

For each of these strategies a set of specific goals can and should be created to measure the progress and make the necessary tweaks, but the strategy of partnering or licensing is a way to solve the problem of getting the work out to a broader audience. The goal of researching a list of potential partners is just one of many tasks that need to be accomplished and support the strategy.

So, what’s the point you may ask? Fair question. The point is to have a strategy that has the best chance of solving your specific problem, have goals that are aligned to it, and to not confuse the two as they serve very different purposes.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Hi Peter:
    Nicely articulated.
    I saw Steve Blank at NYU last night. I recommend you find his lecture series on Customer Development on YouTube. It’s terrific and minimally you will enjoy it!


  3. This short, concise article on goal-setting as an exercise and outcome of strategic planning may not hold much meaning for the non-planner. It speaks volumes to me as a strategist who looks for ways to break this down to clients to deepen their understanding of this distinction.

  4. A nice and to the point article. The Strategy is what and how you want to be in few years whereas the goals are merly the objectives in short term say a 1-3 years. The strategy talks about growth and products/markets whereas goals describe how to achieve things.
    Mahdi AlBogami, CEO, Saudi Kayan- a SABIC 12.5B$ at Saudi Arabia.

  5. Well written article, although I beg to differ on one point. Goals do not support the strategy. If we accept that the goal is what we are aiming at, and that the strategy is the overall plan to get there, then the strategy is there to ensure goal achievement.

    The piece that I would respectfully add to your article, is that the process of goal setting and strategic planning that takes place in most companies is flawed, to the extent that the overall purpose (of “why”) is often ignored or by-passed. Without that, there is no basis against which to set goals nor formulate strategy.

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