Nope, it’s not a real word. But its immortalization in a Saturday Night Live sketch 15 years ago by the great Will Ferrell underscores a paradox we’ve all encountered in the everyday business meeting. Strategy. We all say it. We all know it’s the key to showing value in our work. And we all want to be good at it. But do any of us really know what it means? Or are we just using the latest buzz word?
My coworker was telling me about a slight mishap she once experienced on a swing set. Her second grade self was blissfully swinging along, feeling the breeze, without a care in the world. Life was good. She closed her eyes, and in a spur-of-moment decision, jumped off. And by jumped, I mean fell. Hard. Like back-of-the-head-to-the-ground hard. Instantly, a decision to do the cool thing became a painful lesson in lack of strategy. The next time, she thought it through and realized the key to jumping off the swing set was to stick that landing like a well-seasoned Olympic gymnast. (She loves the Olympics, so I’m guessing that little second grader was meticulously studying Kerri Strug’s famous one-footed vault landing.)
She had her clear goal in mind: “Learn to jump off of a swing set.”
She had her objectives: “Get back on the horse. Don’t fall. Be graceful.”
She had her strategy: “Channel my inner Kerri Strug.”
And once she had that, the tactics fell into place: “Take a deep breath. Spot my landing area. Be sure-footed with my knees bent. Throw my body forward. Have confidence.”
In the planning world, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle besides strategy that many people forget or don’t take the time to figure out. They go out and buy 10,000 stress balls with their logo because it sounded like a great deal. Or they hire five sales people because their current approach isn’t hitting revenue goals.
I like to thinking of planning like a pyramid.
At the top of the pyramid is your overarching goal as a business or organization. It’s that one thing you’re ultimately after. The thing your entire organization is working toward. The thing all other plans are built around. Without a clear goal, strategies are impossible to justify, and you have no way to measure your work.
Here are some examples of companies or organizations who have clearly set goals:
– Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (United Nations)
– Decrease per capita energy use citywide 25% by 2025 (Sustain Louisville)
– To save lives and end breast cancer forever. (Susan G. Komen)
Here’s where you get more specific to the work you’re doing. Objectives answer the “how.” For us, our objectives are the PR and marketing goals we set to help achieve the overarching goals of our clients. For example:
– Increase awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms by 8% among Oklahoma women ages 55+.
Down in the middle of the planning pyramid is the strategy, which really is the best place, because it not only answers the “why,” but also the purpose for why you’re doing what you’re doing. And to accurately do that, strategies have to tie into all of the above – your goals, your objectives, your target audiences, etc.
Now, you can answer the question, “What are we going to do about it?” Tactics are the action items that implement the strategies. I like to think of them as my to-do list.
– Pitch a story about the company’s newest product launch.
– Forge a partnership between organization A and organization B.
– Create a brochure about the symptoms of X.
– Get more followers on Instagram.
We all get excited about tactics, because that’s where the action happens. An article in the Tulsa World may directly result in increased attendance at your event. New followers on Facebook may mean you’re getting more clicks on your posts. You might meet a potential client while standing in line at Chimera. But don’t forget that there’s a reason why you’re getting those results beyond the vehicle that got you there. Ask yourself how and why those things are impacting your bottom line. And if you can’t, some serious planning is in order.
Otherwise, you’re greatly increasing your chances of an inevitable wipeout.