by Doreen Yarnold

The vocabulary and hierarchy of strategy

The table below illustrates the common terms used in strategy and their position in a hierarchy; the lower levels support the higher levels.

Note that these terms are often used differently and interchangeably, so when you hear one of these terms, probe a bit to determine how it is being used and thus avoid misunderstanding.

Vision The aspiration of an organisation; its compelling story To run a marathon
Mission What the organisation will do for its stakeholders – the stakeholder deliverables Be healthy and look good
Goals General statement of aim or purpose Lose weight and develop muscle mass
Objectives Quantification and more precise statements of the goals (objectives should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Aligned, Realistic, Timed) Lose 5 kilos and expand chest measurement 10 cm by 1 September
Strategies Broad categories or types of action to achieve objectives Diet and exercise
Regular sleep pattern
Actions and tasks Individual steps to implement strategies (perhaps related to operational issues or identified individuals); these will normally be reflected in annual/monthly/weekly plans and budgets Eliminate desserts/snacks/fats Limit alcohol to one unit/day Swim every day

Adapted from G Johnson and K Scholes, Exploring Corporate Strategy

You can see from this table that ‘strategies’ come some way down the hierarchy. For strategies to be effective, they need to be crafted in full knowledge of an organisation’s vision, mission, goals and objectives. It is often the case that organisations do not feel the need to articulate goals; instead, they move straight from mission to objectives.

It is also helpful for an organisation’s values to be taken into account when determining strategies and the action plans and budgets which flow from them. Strategies emerge as part of the process of Strategic Direction Setting (SDS).