The Problem with Mixing Up Goals and Strategies

Mixing Up Goals and Strategies

The most common issue I see when using the GOST Model is mixing up goals and strategies.  In fact, this is a common issue whatever the planning framework in use.  When we do this, we create some fatal flaws that undermine all the planning we’ve done.

Before we examine the issue, I’m going to step back and clarify what I mean by a goal and a strategy.  A goal is a finite outcome.  You can tell if you have achieved it or not.  In contrast, a strategy is a plan of action.  It is made up of activities.  Putting them together, I will achieve this outcome (goal) if I follow this plan of action (strategy).

Is it a Goal or Strategy?

It sounds simple but like most things, it easily gets more complicated.  Consider this statement:

Build a Scalable Solution

Is it a goal or a strategy?  At a recent GOST Model webinar, the responses to this question were mixed.  Several people said it could be both.  Speaking generally, I agree it could be both, but that doesn’t serve us well.  Let me explain.  When we mix up goals and strategies, we often end up with a goal that is described by action.  In this example, build is an action and scalable solution is a thing that could be an outcome.  

If the goal is described using an action, how do we know when it is complete?  Actions have no end, only goals have outcomes.  This is why we have both goals and strategies.  The goal describes the outcome and the strategy the action.  Both parts are necessary.  When goals are unclear, it is like running a race and not knowing where the finish line is.  All we can do is run and over time we get tired and demotivated.  Sound familiar?

Clarifying Goals and Strategies

Let’s take another at the example and restate it as a goal and a strategy.

Goal:  All customers can access our solutions at any time, from anywhere

Strategy:  Build a Scalable Solution

By restating the goal with a clear outcome, we know what done looks like and we know why the goal is important.  This strategy describes how we will achieve the goal.  We have now removed the risk of having an ambiguous unattainable goal and replaced it with a motivating goal and strategy.

It so easy to mix up goals and strategies, I recommend you step back and review the goals you’ve set.  Do they describe an outcome, and is it clear why they are important? Are you mixing up goals and strategies?