The difference between tactics and strategy

Senior leadership is responsible for setting the strategy for the organisation in line with the values, objectives, culture and the environment

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 01:34:23 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” - Sun Tzu

In my experience with grooming both mid-level managers and senior-level executives, one difference I notice in people between these levels is their ability to adapt to tactical versus strategic.

What does it mean to be tactical? Tactics refer to the skill of dealing with or handling difficult situations, to achieve a specific goal. On the other hand, a strategy is defined as a comprehensive high-level, long-term plan. Being tactical focuses on tasks, concrete smaller steps, best practices, specific procedures, and resources. Meanwhile, a strategy is tied to purpose, goals, and vision.

Think of being tactical as a trip, typically for a short duration, but a strategy is a journey a company travels. So, strategy is focused on the long-term. Tactics are usually for coping with the present situation; in contrast to a strategy, which is for the future. Of course, you can always have a short-term strategy depending on the situation.

Senior leadership is responsible for setting the strategy for the organisation in line with the values, objectives, culture and the environment. Everyone else in the organisation is doing their part in some form or other of implementing that strategy. I have noticed that the less mature employees often stay mired in tactical discussions while the senior executives when they find themselves getting caught up in smaller details quickly switch to reference the strategy. They are careful only to dip into as many tactics as is needed and not get lost in it. According to a 2012 study by McKinsey, the following three tips are recommended to sharpen your skills at becoming strategic: » Understand what strategy means specifically in your industry
» Become an expert at identifying potential disrupters
» Develop communications that can break through

If you find yourself struggling to get promoted, observe your behavior closely. Are you more tactical than strategic in your work? If so, try broadening your thought process and get to the purpose of why you are doing what you are doing. In fact, if you practice this simple leadership skill of noticing when you are tactical and when you are strategic, you will find yourself getting noticed for your work by people around you. It is possible to train yourself to keep a view of the bigger picture. An excellent way to start becoming strategic is first organising your thoughts. Before an important meeting, project or event spend some time to think through what you have been working on and what the key takeaways from that meeting could be and how they fit into the larger goal.

Strategy and tactics both rely heavily on each other. Awareness of the two is a good place to start. To be successful, it is essential that strategy and tactics work hand in hand.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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