“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” But if you want to be on the road to success, you have to have a strong vision, develop a strategy which will take you there and act on it.

A lot of buzzwords get thrown around in business today. Some of them are useful and productive, some of them are told just to make you sound good, and some can cause confusion. What can be especially confusing is when multiple words are used to convey related but separate themes. For example, entrepreneurs often talk about their vision in the same context as strategy and tactics. Or they define strategies that are actually goals and vice versa. Let’s take a look at each of the three: what they are, what are the key differences, and how they all fit together.

Vision

The vision is long-term thinking. It should say what you (your company) want to become. The vision should answer the “Why?” question, the core of every successful business. When you figure out your “why”, both customers and employees will understand your ultimate goal and their role in your ecosystem. The vision should present your ultimate goal. A vision must be sufficiently clear and concise that everyone in the organization understands it and can buy into it with passion.

Defining that vision requires a substantial effort. If the vision is not defined properly, a watered-down statement could drive people away, regardless of the ingenious idea that you have in your mind.

The vision is useless unless it can direct action.

To direct action, the vision:

  • has to be challenging yet achievable,
  • has to stay relevant regardless of the technology change,
  • has to resonate with your employees and customers,
  • has to be communicated frequently to all employees.

Example:

Let’s say you have a company which wants to become a number one transportation company to Mars (the idea might sound familiar). You want to settle the red planet and transport a number of humans from Earth to Mars. In order to share your idea and attract future passengers, you would have to develop a statement which reflects your vision. It might sound something like this: “To become the number one transportation company to Mars by establishing reliable and affordable means of transportation.

High-level vision illustration

This vision is challenging but achievable. You will most likely attract the best talent in the world solely because of the scale of the problem. Potential passengers will also jump right on the hype train. The story is interesting, never-been-done-before kind of adventure, but yet you’ve emphasized that it will be reliable (won’t blow up in the stratosphere). Also, it says “means of transportation” which doesn’t suggest the technology used. This makes the vision relevant regardless of the technology and doesn’t exclude future groundbreaking discoveries such as concentrated dark matter.

Strategy

If we had unlimited resources, unlimited time and no competition, every goal would eventually be achieved. But the reality is a little bit different. Insufficient team members, strong competition and creeping deadlines are pressing issues which we face daily. Strategy links the destination (vision) with the current reality. Along those lines, a proper business definition of the strategy would be to lead your available resources for obtaining a goal in the shortest time possible. By setting out your strategy, you’re leading your resources towards your ultimate goal. Your strategy is one or more plans that you will use to achieve your vision. A strategy looks inward at the organization, but it also looks outward at the competition and at the environment and business climate.

The strategy applies to the whole company, and answers the question “How will we reach our vision, given current market conditions, market predictions, competition, etc.?”

The strategy should set a course towards your north star (end goal), but at the level of details which allow the tactics to change and adapt.

The strategy should:

  • sketch the path towards the end goal,
  • set checkpoints and milestones along the way,
  • be restrained from too many details in order to allow flexibility,
  • touch the technical points, but leave the details for the tactics part,
  • identify objectives which teams can tackle.

Example continued:

Previously, we’ve established our vision: “To become the number one transportation company to Mars by establishing reliable and affordable means of transportation.”. Now, we want to develop our strategy for reaching this goal. The strategy is a little bit complex, and won’t fit into one sentence. So, in order to reach our ultimate goal we have to: “Develop a reusable rocket use as much as possible in-house production to reduce the overall costs. Solve the refuelling issue. identify the best trajectory, calculate the ETA for the trip and try to think of any contingency along the way. Work on the reliability, but also pay attention to the aesthetics — someone will be living there for at least six months.

The strategy defines a path to the ultimate goal

The strategy could sound something like that. I know, it could sound better, it needs a little bit of extra work. But important thing is that the vision is now broken down into several objectives — building a rocket, refuelling, trajectory, spacecraft entertainment, etc. This should be enough to fire up the imagination of your teammates. They will most certainly give their best to provide state of the art solution to each objective. This is where the talent will flourish and the people will thrive in such an environment.

(the scope of this Earth 2 Mars endeavour is far beyond the scope of this article, so let’s pretend that this childish story is enough to send somebody to Mars)

Tactic

You don’t execute directly on the strategy; strategy is turned into reality through tactics. The strategy made your vision more tangible, but it doesn’t have enough details for the team to execute it. And that is the way it should be. As a good leader, you should leave it up to your teams to decide the right tactics and how to execute them. The tactics are the domain of the technical leads, senior developers and every other person with hands-on experience. Just provide them with a clear and challenging vision, lay down the strategy to guide them via the shortest path and the team will make wonders. Seriously, they will kick ass.

Your tactics are the specific actions, sequences of actions, and schedules you will use to fulfil your strategy. The strategy is usually divided into objectives so that teams can incrementally achieve the ultimate outcome.

Tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy.

Tactic is:

  • a short-term implementation plan to deliver a long-term strategy,
  • a detailed and specific plan for your daily activities,
  • a set of tools for reaching the objective,
  • an incremental step making you closer to your vision.

Example:

So you’ve identified several objectives — building a rocket, refuelling, trajectory, spacecraft entertainment, etc. You will have your teams tackling each of these objectives. They will have to develop a tactic for each objective to keep them on track. Remember, a tactic is a short-term implementation plan to deliver the long-term strategy. So in order to build a rocket, you should probably first run some simulations. Then, a prototype could be built and tested. You will gather important insights from your prototype failures and implement them in the following version. Work on the first stage separation. Develop a navigation software for first stage recovery landing. Investigate the possibility of refuelling the rocket in the Moon orbit. I mean, the list could go on and on. Tactics are tasks, experiments, proofs-of-concept… Everything that can help in achieving the objective or gaining knowledge important for potential disruption.

Tactics — actions that lead to success

Conclusion

By now you’ve probably figured out why it is important to have these three parts defined.

Your vision lays out a destination.

Your destination guides your strategy.

And strategy chooses the action.

It’s the action that leads to success!

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