The Difference Between Vision, Strategy, and Tactics

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Vision, strategy, and tactics each have different meanings, but they all work together to help an organization succeed—whether it's a multinational corporation or a one-person startup.

First, you must develop a vision—sometimes called a mission—of what you want the organization to be and do. Once you have that vision, you can develop a strategy, or a broad plan that outlines how you'll achieve that vision. When you've outlined a strategy, you can decide on tactics, or specific actions you'll take to employ that strategy and reach your vision.

Creating a Vision

A vision is an overall idea of what the organization should be and do. Often it reflects the dream of the founder or leader, as well as the core values and mission of the organization.

Usually, organizations create a vision statement that communicates that vision to its employees and the public. It must be sufficiently clear and concise so that everyone in the organization understands it and can buy into it with passion.

Some examples of vision statements are:

  • "to be the largest retailer of automobiles in the US,"
  • "to be the maker of the finest chocolate candies in London," or
  • "to be the management consultant of choice for nonprofit organizations in the Southwest."

Developing a Strategy

Your strategy is one or more plans that you'll use to achieve your vision—it's like a roadmap or outline for getting there.

For example, to be "the largest retailer of automobiles in the US," you might have to decide whether it's a better strategy for you to buy other retailers, try to grow a single retailer or a combination of both. A strategy looks inward at the organization, but it also looks outward at the competition and at the environment and business climate.

To be "the management consultant of choice for nonprofit organizations in the Southwest," your strategy would need to evaluate what other companies offer management consulting services in the Southwest, which of them target nonprofits, and which companies could in the future begin to offer competing services. Your strategy also must determine how you will become "the consultant of choice." What will you do so that your targeted customers choose you over everyone else? Are you going to offer the lowest fees?

Will you offer a guarantee? Will you hire the very best people and build a reputation for delivering the most innovative solutions?

If you decide to compete on lowest billing rates, what will you do if a competing consulting firm drops their rates below yours? If you decide to hire the best people, how will you attract them? Will you pay the highest salaries in a four-state area, give each employee an ownership position in the company, or pay annual retention bonuses? Your strategy must consider all these issues and find a solution that works and that is true to your vision.

Deciding on Tactics

Your tactics are the specific actions, sequences of actions, and schedules you will take within your strategy. If you have more than one strategy, you will have a different set tactics for each one.

For example, strategy to be the most well-known management consultant, as part of your vision to be "the management consultant of choice for non-profit organizations in the Southwest," might involve tactics like advertising in the Southwest Nonprofits Quarterly Newsletter for three successive issues, advertising in the three largest-circulation newspapers in the Southwest for the next six months, and buying TV time monthly on every major-market TV station in the southwest to promote your services.

Or, it might involve sending a letter of introduction and a brochure to the Executive Director of every nonprofit organization in the Southwest with an annual budget of over $500,000.

Organizations often try and test different types of tactics to figure out which ones work the best for them.

Knowing When to be Flexible or Firm

Things change quickly in business, and you need to be able to change with them, or ahead of them. However, with respect to vision, strategy, and tactics, you need both flexibility and some firmness.

You need to remain firm when it comes to your vision. It's not usually wise to let that be buffeted by the winds of change. Your vision should be the anchor that holds all the rest together. 

Strategy is a long-term plan, so it may need to pivot in response to internal or external changes, but strategy changes should only happen with considerable thought. Changes to strategy also should not happen until you have a new strategy to replace the old one.

Tactics are the most flexible. If a tactic isn't working, then it's wise to adjust it and try again, or to try a different tactic.

Key Takeaways: Vision vs. Strategy vs. Tactics

Vision

What you want the organization to be and do.

Strategy

A plan to achieve your vision.

Tactics

Specific actions you take within your strategy.