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Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, and Execution

Pick five of the most loaded words in business, and I would argue those five words are vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and execution. Everyone seems to have different definitions; often, those definitions are easily mixed up. Why is it important to understand these terms? When we clearly understand the meanings of vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and execution, we are better able to delegate who should accomplish what. We plan better, we execute better, and we achieve more.

Defining Vision, Mission, and Others

Let’s define these terms in a broad business context.

  • Vision: what the world looks like when you’re done accomplishing your mission.
  • Mission: why you want to change about the world.
  • Strategy: a formula: goals x methods, limited by time and resources. What you plan to do to change the world in more concrete terms.
  • Tactics: What specific methods, tools, and techniques you’ll use to accomplish your strategy.
  • Execution: How you’ll use the tactics you’ve chosen, including timelines, deliverables, prerequisites, etc.

These are accurate but abstract. How do we translate this into terms and meaning that’s more concrete, that everyone in our organization could understand?

Example 1: Dinner

Suppose it’s suppertime. We’re hungry.

Our mission – what we want to change – is to not be hungry any longer. Our vision – how things will look when we’re done – is to be satisfied by a delicious meal.

Our strategy – goals x methods, limited by time and resources – is to not be hungry without breaking our budget, and relatively soon. Do we go out, or do we stay in and cook something? If we have lots of food in the pantry and no cash, we’re staying in. If we have no food in the pantry and lots of cash, we’re probably going out. If we have neither food nor cash, we must find a way to obtain one or the other.

Let’s say we stay in. We’re now in tactics. What should we cook for dinner? We decide to cook up a casserole. What ingredients will we need? What dishes? We make sure we have all the utensils, all the food we need. How do we cook a casserole? After all, we can’t just throw everything in a dish.

We need a plan of execution. Some ingredients might need to be thawed as a prerequisite. We want to know what the end state should be, as a deliverable. We’d really like to know how long it will take, so we can set expectations about when we will sit down to eat.

Once we’re done, we validate with an after-action review:

  • Did we execute well with our tools and ingredients?
  • Did we choose an appropriate tactic, a dish that we enjoyed?
  • Did we achieve our strategy, reaching our goal while staying within time and resources available?
  • Did we accomplish our mission of no longer being hungry?
  • Did we reach our vision of being satisfied after a good meal?

If we clearly define vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and execution, we’ll accomplish each discrete piece as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Example 2: GPS

Another concrete example that many people will relate to is the use of a GPS. Typically, in marketing we’re so obsessed with the how that we neglect everything else. We have a new GPS, a new app, a new shiny object, but that’s it. A GPS with no reason to go anywhere is useless.

  • So, our vision would be to enjoy being somewhere other than where we are, like a vacation spot. We see in our mind’s eye the sandy beach or the mountain top or the luxury resort.
  • Our mission is to travel to that place.
  • Our strategy is to travel to the resort in a manner that is both cost-efficient and expedient: the right balance of time and money.
  • Our tactics might include evaluating our travel options. We might drive, fly, or take a train. At this stage, we might select our GPS based on features that support the overall plan.
  • Our execution is where we would use our GPS, how we reach our destination.

This is a critical distinction: we’re not choosing our destination based on how much we will use our GPS, or how much fun our GPS is to use. We choose our destination first, determine the strategy for arriving at that destination, and only then dig into the travel options which may include our GPS. Our tools and technology don’t dictate strategy, mission, or vision; the reverse is true.

Feel free to use these definitions and examples in your own work.

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