Goals & Objectives / Strategies & Tactics

David C.  Hay
David C. Hay President, Essential Strategies, Inc. Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by David C. Hay

In its February meeting, the Business Rules Group discussed part of the document to be produced later this year, and then had a special session discussing the area of the model that concerns ends and means. Specifically, we worked very hard to refine the definitions of, on the one side, the ends -- the vision, goals, and objectives -- and on the other side, the means -- the mission, strategy, and tactics.

As the discussion progressed, the issue came up that surely there has already been a great deal written on these subjects. It turns out, however, that the people who investigated it found very little that was either generally accepted or definitive. The conclusion was that, if we can actually arrive at something coherent, we may indeed be in a position to contribute to the body of knowledge.

The area of the model at the beginning of the discussions is shown in Figure 1. Note that an END may be either a VISION, a GOAL, or an OBJECTIVE. The idea here is that these are types of things, in varying detail, that we are trying to accomplish. Correspondingly, a MEANS is either a MISSION, a STRATEGY, or a TACTIC. That these should be components of the model was significantly questioned. The question was, what do we mean by each of the terms, and can we come up with meaningful, distinguishing examples?

Figure 1 -- ENDs and MEANS Area of the Motivation Model

Vision and Mission

From the beginning we were satisfied that vision and mission were the appropriate heads of the ends and means hierarchy. VISION is an overall image of what the organization wants to become. It usually encompasses the entire organization and is long term in its perspective. MISSION is a correspondingly long-term approach to achieving the vision. Neither VISION nor MISSION is very specific -- it is something broadly stated, in terms of the overall functioning of the business.

A good example of VISION and MISSION was found with the Casey Family Program of Seattle. Their vision is that no child should go without care. Their mission is "to provide planned, long-term out-of-home care to children and youth, with long-term family foster care as its core." The difference is between the world as they would like it to be and the specific kinds of actions they can take to make it that way.

Strategy and Tactics

The discussions became heated, however, when we were discussing STRATEGY and TACTIC with respect to GOAL and OBJECTIVE. While we agreed that END was something we were trying to achieve, and MEANS was how we want to achieve it, the examples we came up with were confusing. In fact, some of the conclusions we reached also apply to VISION and MISSION, but we did not address them as specifically as we did the other kinds of ENDs and MEANS.


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One significant question that arose was about timing and change of state. Is it the case that STRATEGY and TACTIC are about moving to a new state for the organization, or can they also apply to ongoing operation (maintaining the status quo)? The idea of the GOAL that a STRATEGY is supposed to address suggests that it is something other than the present state. On the other hand, the idea of STRATEGY does suggest that it could also be applied to maintaining the present state. Similarly, a TACTIC could be to achieve an OBJECTIVE such as "Don't lose market share."

The conversation moved to the recognition that all states are simply snapshots in time, and that organizations are always operating in a dynamic environment. The distinction between steady state and moving forward isn't that great. The issue was not officially resolved, but it sort of quieted down when several people expressed the view that this model applies to an ongoing operation as well as it does to a company re-inventing itself. Strategy and tactics imply a change in state, this could be a small change, such as a correction to get back on course to a goal.

Qualitative / Judgment Words

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After considerable discussion of what kinds of statements could be strategy and which could be the goals that the strategies are to address, it was finally realized that qualitative, descriptive words apply only to vision and goals.

For example, "to deliver pizza expediently" is a goal, not a strategy. The strategy is "to hire 10 more delivery people." A candidate list of these 'ends words' is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 -- ENDs Words
  • fast(est)
  • responsive
  • effective
  • closest
  • efficient
  • clean
  • profitable
  • reliable
  • expedient
  • courteous
  • convenient
  • friendly
  • premier
  • professional
  • low-cost
  • durable
  • best
  • biggest
  • leading-edge
  • quickest

It is clear that these words are not descriptions of the STRATEGY an organization is going to carry out. It turns out that they aren't very good as descriptors of OBJECTIVEs, either. When you get down to the level of detail of an OBJECTIVE, it is important to specify the OBJECTIVE as a quantity. For example, "we will deliver pizza in 15 minutes or less."

Guidance Component and Approach Component

Another question that came up was the difference between a TACTIC, a BUSINESS POLICY, and a BUSINESS RULE. In the model, a GUIDANCE COMPONENT (a BUSINESS POLICY or BUSINESS RULE) guides one or more APPROACH COMPONENTs. For example, a BUSINESS POLICY that "pizza will be delivered in one half hour or less" may guide the TACTIC of "hire more delivery people." And this BUSINESS POLICY that "pizza will be delivered in one half hour or less" differs from the OBJECTIVE to "deliver the pizza in one half hour or less" by the fact that in the former case the business knows that it is in the position to do it, while in the latter case, it is simply setting out to do it, without knowing whether or not it can.

Some in the Group contended that there could be circumstances where a BUSINESS POLICY or a BUSINESS RULE could itself be a TACTIC. In other words, one way to achieve certain things is to establish certain policies and rules. This doesn't seem right to your correspondent, but it was not definitively resolved.

However, it was decided that a BUSINESS POLICY can give meaning to those qualitative words listed in Table 1 -- what do we mean by "fast" or "reliable"? The BUSINESS POLICY defines such words.

Another question that came up was whether a particular BUSINESS POLICY can be directly related to an END (OBJECTIVE or GOAL) or whether this relationship is indirect -- in other words, a policy can only guide a TACTIC or STRATEGY that, in turn, addresses an END. It was argued by some that a BUSINESS POLICY can be defined to address an OBJECTIVE, just by its existence. It is not necessary to invoke a TACTIC. Others said that a BUSINESS POLICY doesn't really do anything. The only way you can achieve an OBJECTIVE is to do something (a TACTIC). A BUSINESS POLICY itself doesn't do anything -- it can only tell you which TACTIC to use.

Course of Action (New Name for Approach Component?)

In the course of the discussions, a new term came to be used frequently. A COURSE OF ACTION is a plan for doing something significant to carry out a STRATEGY or a TACTIC. It turns out that it is in fact another name for an APPROACH COMPONENT. It contains the idea not of the actions that constitute the STRATEGY or TACTIC, but rather the plan to acquire the resources required to carry out those actions. Ultimately, a COURSE OF ACTION was defined as "an approach or plan for configuring some aspect of the enterprise, in order to achieve ENDs."

In this context, then, a STRATEGY was defined to be a "course of action that is longer term and broader in scope," while a TACTIC was defined to be a "course of action that is shorter term and narrower in scope."

Feedback Model

An alternative approach to modeling the behavior of an enterprise (or any complex system) is to view it in terms of a feedback loop. This is the way process manufacturing is treated, but the structures are appropriate for analyzing any complex system. The principles of cybernetics were first articulated by Ross Ashby in the 1950s in his Introduction to Cybernetics.[1] They were then applied to enterprise-type systems by Stafford Beer in his The Heart of Enterprise.[2]

The idea is that any complex system is controlled through the use of "set points." These are reference values of a variable that is measured in the course of the system's operation. These measurements are continuously compared to a pair of set points (high and low), and if the value goes outside the range, an action is taken to correct it. As long as the measurement is within the set point values, nothing is done.

In this conversation, the set point could be compared with an OBJECTIVE. That OBJECTIVE might represent a future state, or it could represent the continuation of a desirable present state. It is important to note that an OBJECTIVE must be measurable. It is defined specifically in terms of a desirable value of some variable. The TACTIC then is the mobilization of resources to move (or maintain) the value within the desirable tolerance.

Fundamentally, every OBJECTIVE has two attributes:

  1. what is to be measured (along with its unit of measure), and
  2. the high and low values that define when it has been met.

Note that the same structure can apply at the GOAL / STRATEGY and VISION / MISSION levels. The concept of "set point" is much softer there, however. It simply represents a qualitatively desirable state, without the numeric quantification.

We would like to hear your ideas and experiences with these concepts. Please visit our website, and drop us a note.


  1. W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics, John Wiley and Sons (Science Editions), New York: 1956.
  2. Stafford Beer, The Heart of Enterprise, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK: 1979, page 97.

Standard citation for this article:

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David C. Hay , "Goals & Objectives / Strategies & Tactics" Business Rules Journal Vol. 1, No. 6, (Jun. 2000)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2000/b009.html

About our Contributor:

David  C. Hay
David C. Hay President, Essential Strategies, Inc.

A veteran of the Information Industry since the days of punched cards, paper tape, and teletype machines, David C. Hay has been producing data models to support strategic information planning and requirements planning since the mid-1980's.

He has worked in a variety of industries, including, among others, power generation, clinical pharmaceutical research, oil refining, forestry, and broadcast. He is President of Essential Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm dedicated to helping clients define corporate information architecture, identity requirements, and plan strategies for the implementation of new systems. He is the author of the book Data Model Patterns: Conventions Of Thought, recently published by Dorset House.

He can be reached at davehay@essentialstrategies.com, http://www.essentialstrategies.com, or (713) 464-8316.

Read All Articles by David C. Hay
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