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Strategy vs. Tactics: What is the Difference?

5/2/2014 4:00:00 PM
Article by Russ Lee

Whether we recognize it or not, we all engage in the process of strategic planning and tactical performance when we successfully achieve a goal. Most of us go through the steps naturally without giving much conscious thought to the process. Military leaders discovered long ago that breaking down the steps into definable segments is a useful tool for achieving a military objective. The same thinking applies to meeting business goals. Problem is, it is sometimes confusing to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. The reason it is so important to make that distinction is we only have limited resources (money, time, manpower) at our disposal to achieve a goal, which means that moving in any one direction takes resources from an alternate route.

The What and the How

Strategy is the “what” part of the equation and helps you answer the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Tactics is the “how” part and answers the question, “How are we going to do it?”

To illustrate, let’s say:

  • Your Goal is to become the leader in terms of market share in your local market.
  • The Strategy might be to deliver remarkable customer service.
  • The Tactics employed might be 1. Never miss a deadline, 2. Always follow up an installation with a call from one of the staff, and 3. Regularly feature stories and photos from installations on your social media pages.

Other strategies might include becoming the low-cost leader or offering the best quality installation, each of which would have their own set of associated tactics. The point is once you decide on your strategy, you then have the ability to focus your limited resources on tactics which support that strategy and can blithely ignore other tactics which consume resources but are not relevant to your strategy.

The net result is you achieve your goal for less because your program is more focused and less fragmented.

Differentiate Your Business

An effective strategy is one that sets you apart from the competition. As strategy guru Michael Porter puts it, “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.”

So, here are your action items: Educate your staff about goals, strategy, and tactics. Ensure that all tactics align to business strategy. Communicate to your staff how strategy and tactics work in tandem, with the larger goal always in mind.

Oh, and smile on the way to the bank.

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