“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.
Vision, strategy, tactics. I don't like these three words. But yet again, I decided to write about them. Executives and managers like to use them a lot. But before they start communicating their vision, they have to think about it really really deep. In most cases, the same executives and managers have a lot of pressing issues which leaves very little time to turn their vision into a statement. Almost every urgent thing is not that important and important thing is not that urgent. Despite that fact, we tend to tackle the urgent, less important, like drowning yourself in the ocean of notifications, calls and emails. Since the time we have during the day is limited, important thing (like turning a vision into words) never gets the attention it needs.
Almost every urgent thing is not that important and important thing is not urgent.
What does the vision even mean? Or strategy or tactics? First of all, I want to emphasize why these three words are important for you and your business and why should you invest time in defining them. After that is clear, I will try explaining what each of these words means and how to use them in your favor.
Why is this important?
Imagine your business being your body. Your eyes define the vision. You've spotted a charming person in a bar, and you would love to have a chat and probably something more than that (wink wink). Your vision would sound something like this: "Get to know the person across the room" (vision is mostly a long term goal, but for the sake of this example, let's focus on this short-term vision). Okay, you've created your vision and along with it comes the intention to pursue that goal.
In order to achieve the goal, and make your vision come true, you have to develop a plan to make things happen. That would be your strategy. You will use your brain to figure out how to approach the person and not look like a douchebag. Your strategy might be: "Go grab two of the drinks that the person is having, offer a drink and tell a joke as an ice-breaker".
Now that you've hatched a plan, you have to think of tactics which will help you execute the strategy which leads to vision fulfillment. Tactics might include your alpha-style casual walk, your charming look, a good joke and a backup joke if the first fails to make her/him laugh, one drink with two straws so that you have to share it, whatever you can think of (I'm really bad at approaching girls, so don't take tips from me).
Let's imagine everything went fine, you met that person, had a wonderful night and you're going out together next Friday.
But what would happen if you didn't have a vision, strategy or tactics?
Lack of vision
If you didn't have the vision about meeting that person, you wouldn't develop an intention to make it happen. Without a vision you would probably spend the rest of the night with your friends, same as you always do. Nothing new or exciting would happen.
The funny thing is that we are not even aware of the things we are missing without forming a vision. A night out with friends is just fine, nothing wrong with that. But have you had a vision described above, your night could just get much more interesting. This is why having a vision is important. The vision is a driver and a motivation to make things happen.
Lack of strategy
First of all, if you don't have a vision (or you're not aware of it), a strategy might not be enough to achieve the goal. Actually, you're not aware of the goal. Let's assume you have a strategy to walk to the bar, grab that drink and proceed to meet that person. You place an order and while you are waiting for the bartender, you notice a bowl of free peanuts. Your brain goes "ugh, free peanuts" and you start eating, you get distracted from your goal. Then, you look up at the TV above the bar and notice that your favourite team is playing. If you don't have a vision, or the vision is not compelling enough, you will most likely stay at the bar, watching the game. So strategy without a strong vision just might not be enough, you can easily get distracted.
Not having a strategy also affects the outcome of your endeavor. Just imagine approaching that person without any plan (strategy). Will you just go there and say "Hi"? Most likely that "hi" will be followed by the "oh, f*ck, now what genius?". So it is very important to plan ahead and develop a firm and clear strategy.
Lack of tactics
You have a strategy to go there and tell a joke. But somebody has to think of that joke. It is highly unlikely that you will think of something on the fly, once you get there, so be prepared. Think ahead. If you don't know what to say, you'll look dull.
Combination of vision, strategy and tactics is crucial to the success of your business. The combination of three is a backbone of every successful organization. It gives motivation, clear understanding of the goal, alignment and understanding among all team members and organizational layers. This is why it is important to communicate the vision across every part of your organization. As a result, everybody will work towards the same goal.
Now that we've established the importance of these three terms as a whole, let's talk about each of them separately.
The vision is the 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.
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.
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 number one transportation company to Mars by establishing reliable and affordable means of transportation."
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.
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.
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.
Previously, we've established our vision: “To become 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 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 team mates. 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 endeavor is far beyond the scope of this article, so lets pretend that this childish story is enough to send somebody to Mars)
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 the clear and challenging vision, lay down the strategy to guide them via shortest path and the team will make wonders. Seriously, they will kick ass.
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.
- a short term implementation plan to deliver 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.
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 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.
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 action.
It’s action that leads to success!
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