Is it Strategy or a Tactic?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of May 20th)

Strategy, and tactics are terms I hear used frequently by many, yet I believe they are misused or just plain misunderstood because of the way I hear them used or described.

You’ll hear most incorrectly use the term strategy as a descriptor for their long-term discussions, and tactics for their short-term. Strategy and tactics have nothing to do with time frames, nor are they interchangeable. They have two very distinct and different meanings with time frames not being one of them. Strategic and tactical plans could be made for how you’ll get dressed in the morning, as could a strategy and tactical blueprint be made for the rest of your life.  You don’t have a strategy for life and a tactic for the morning. Many think this way because the two have been used so interchangeably hence their confusion and frustration when little to no results are manifest.

Strategy has to do with the direction of your life or business. Tactics are what you’ll use to implement the strategy. Here are a few examples for clarification:

  • We implemented Cold Calling as strategy to increase sales.
    No, what you did was add cold calling as a tactic for reaching your strategy of increasing sales.
  • I have a strategy to put my shoes on first to make getting dressed faster.
    No, what you did was use the tactic of putting your shoes on first as to reach your strategy of getting dressed faster.

As the two examples above show, there is a distinct difference between them yet you can see how many have unknowingly used them. But let’s use the same two in a different example and show how they actually change yet time is not applicable for their differentiation. (Below is purely hypothetical as to demonstrate and clarify the example.)

You can forge a Cold Calling strategy by implementing as a tactic salespeople getting dressed faster in the morning because you have a study that shows this works.

As you can see where it was not a strategy but a tactic in the above examples, it has now switched from one to the other. Not by some logic of long-term or short-term time reference, but rather where it sits in the overall progression of your plans. Regardless of the time frame you can and need a strategy and tactics to implement it. Not one without the other on any time line. They go hand in hand.

I believe that this misunderstanding in how to use or think about each is where many get confused, or frustrated. This is not something that lends itself to only the newly minted entrepreneur or manager. It is expressed across many companies and boardrooms at an alarming scale. What’s worse is there are just as many people running around calling themselves “experts in strategy” using these terms interchangeably only adding to the dilemma which results in more confused or frustrated people and companies.

If all you ever learn between strategy and tactics is the difference in meanings between them. Then you are well ahead of most, and you’ll know what area you need to either learn or get help with. And that alone is a winning strategy and tactical advantage.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr