Definition IMage credit pixabay/geraltYou need a plan, right? It’s generally acknowledged that businesses need a plan to know where they are going and how they are going to get there. That’s true of divisions in companies and I’d argue that even departments in relatively small companies also need a plan but that’s probably for discussion another time. People definitely need plans. There’s a very famous phrase that tells us that “a goal without a plan is just a dream”. In fact, it’s so well used that I can’t find who to attribute the quote to! Let me know if you know.

Most planning models include magic words like goals, strategies, objectives, mission, vision. Why? Because most successful plans have these elements. They are there to capture the overall raison d’etre or purpose, what specifically the plan is setting out to accomplish, how it will do it and how we will know that it has been accomplished at the right time.

These are all very important elements but before getting busy with the whiteboard or flipchart, take some time out to define their meanings. If everyone in the team is from the same organisation and there are established planning models, then you may have common understanding about what these names all mean.

But if anyone hasn’t been through your planning model, take some time to define the terms. And if formal planning is something that is done occasionally rather than regularly, it may be worth taking a moment to recap on the meanings even if no one is new.

Define the terms

A lot of time can be lost if terms are not defined properly and there is a lack of common understanding. This is true in all forms of communication of course. Think of the commonly used “lol” phrase in messaging and texting. Just imagine the chaos that might occur if you mean “laugh out loud” but your recipient sees “lots of love”. Or the other way around! You can, perhaps, see my point.

Business planning is also worthy of further discussion in a future piece another time but the purpose of this article is not to define the terms, but rather to recognise that they are sometimes used differently. Many people are familiar with the concept of “SMART” objectives. This helps us remember that objectives need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed, but what about Goals, or Strategies? I worked with a company recently who had SMART Goals in their planning model, rather than Objectives. That’s fine, provided everyone who works on the plan understands the terminology and what it means in their context. Otherwise, they’ll be very frustrated when they get to the section or slide on Objectives and are looking for deadlines.

Use the terms

As a coach working with, and for, different organisations, I have learned to use the terms flexibly and that’s perfectly OK. Even an individual employee might find one definition at work but then have a hobby that includes some planning and find those folks use the terms differently. Sometimes a new client may look a little alarmed when I ask what they mean by a Goal or a Strategy. And I know they are quietly putting in an email to finance suggesting my invoice is held for the moment because I’m clearly not very good at this stuff. But after the conversation to define the terms and an explanation on why that’s so important, they are reassured and perhaps have learned something useful right there.

One of the organisations I work with regularly helps businesses in the technology space accomplish successful business and go-to-market plans. They have a tried and tested model for planning with very clear definitions of all the terms used. Whether clients adopt them afterwards is not important – although they very often do. What is important is that time is spent defining the terms at the appropriate stage so that no matter where everyone has come from, we all share a common vocabulary and understanding for the process.


For those that are interested, there is a catchy name for the process too: GOSBERT. No, it’s not named after a long-loved childhood toy, although a mascot with the name on his shirt would look cute in the office. It is a way of remembering Goal, Objective, Strategy, Budget, Elements, Resources and Timeline. Tackling these elements thoroughly in a considered way leads to a fully integrated plan.

These are all vital aspects to a successful planning process that we can discuss another time, but my message here is to make sure there is a common vocabulary in use, and everyone knows that – here, in this context – this is what these terms mean. No one wants to be the person laughing out loud when someone has just sent them lots of love.

A version of this bog has previously been published on the website of New Journey Marketing.



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