Sometimes people argue about the little things, while missing the big picture.
Many people will be familiar with this situation. At work, frequently the time is spent in endless meetings, arguing over things which at the end don’t really matter.
People like to argue over tactics, without actually having an overall strategy in place.
Strategy vs. Tactics
Do you know what you want to achieve in this life and how you will do it? Does the place you work for have a clear vision of what it wants to do and how it wants to achieve it?
Most people don’t. And amazingly neither do most places of work.
Sure, you might spend countless hours arguing with your boss on whether you should do Action A, but no time is spent reflecting how doing Action A is supposed to contribute to whatever the ultimate goal is.
It’s amazing that people or places of work don’t have a clear strategy in place.
Strategy is something that is often misunderstood and rarely spelled out. Yet, having a clearly defined strategy is often the difference between success and muddling along in chaos.
If you were building a house, would you first define what it will look like and how you would build it, or would you first try to decide whether you need shovels and what length they should be?
If you want to build a house, you first need to determine what it will look like and how you will build it. Only then can you decide what types of tools you will build it with.
This is the essence of the strategy vs. tactics debate.
To help you better understand what each of the two terms means, you need to keep in mind that both words originally come from the military sphere.
In every military campaign, the goal is to win the war. However there are different strategies that you can adopt to do that.
You can rely on tanks and the blitzkrieg like the Nazi Germans did at the beginning of WW2 or on guerrilla warfare as many of the resistance groups did under occupation.
This is what falls under the term strategy. Each strategy then implies some tactics.
For example, if you are a guerrilla fighter, your tactics would consist of sabotage and small skirmishes. While if you are a tank commander who is tasked with implementing the blitzkrieg strategy, your tactics would consist of grouping tightly together large numbers of tanks and quickly overwhelming the enemies with them using speed and surprise maneuveurs.
If you are an MMA fighter, and you decide to implement the ground and pound strategy, then your tactics would consist of setting up your opponent with punches and kicks, and then in a surprise moment, bringing them down in order to control them and hit them with a barrage of punches as you sit on top of them.
Military is not the only sphere where the terms strategy and tactics are used. Today these two concepts are used for example in business. The meaning stays the same, just the domain changes.
In terms of running a business, Alfred Chandler, a management researcher, defined strategy like this:
“Strategy is the determination of the basic long-term goals of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals.“
Resources are limited and you need focus in order to achieve your goals. Strategy gives you that focus.
If you are working in a department of some company in a non-customer facing role, then you need to know what the objective of what you are doing is. You need to determine who your stakeholders are, what your priorities are, and the best way to achieve what you want to achieve is.
If you own your own company or work with customers, then you need to understand who your customers are, and which customers you want. Then you can set the strategy. Do you want to compete on low prices, excellent customer service, or maybe cutting-edge products? What is the value you are offering?
Only after you have this strategy in place should you talk about the tactics. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work that way.
Recently, at work we have spent hours arguing over the creation of some brochure meant to promote what we do. What ended up happening is that the arguments were over unimportant things like the colors, with no talk of what we want the end result of all this effort to be in terms of effects.
It doesn’t matter if the brochure background is yellow or green, if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve by printing the brochure.
What are the benefits of having this brochure? If the creation of this brochure is not linked to an overarching strategy for everything that you do, then it is guaranteed not to achieve much.
Does it really matter whether you have a presence on Facebook or Twitter, if you don’t know who your target audience is?
How to create a good strategy?
Having a strategy in place is fundamental if you want to be effective. And it doesn’t take much in order to set one in place. All you need to do is sit down and reflect on it.
This article looks at what is contained in good strategies:
“A strategy is nothing more than a commitment to a set of coherent, mutually reinforcing policies or behaviors aimed at achieving a specific competitive goal. Good strategies promote alignment among diverse groups within an organization, clarify objectives and priorities, and help focus efforts around them. Companies regularly define their overall business strategy (their scope and positioning) and specify how various functions—such as marketing, operations, finance, and R&D—will support it.“
There are different ways you can design these strategies. For example in terms of customers:
“Companies must think through what complementary assets, capabilities, products, or services could prevent customers from defecting to rivals and keep their own position in the ecosystem strong. Apple designs complementarities between its devices and services so that an iPhone owner finds it attractive to use an iPad rather than a rival’s tablet. And by controlling the operating system, Apple makes itself an indispensable player in the digital ecosystem. Corning’s customer-partnering strategy helps defend the company’s innovations against imitators: Once the keystone components are designed into a customer’s system, the customer will incur switching costs if it defects to another supplier.“
So what do you need to do to set an effective strategy?
First of course you need to determine what you are trying to achieve and what your overall vision is. If you don’t have this down, then you can’t have a strategy.
Once you have this, you can start crafting your strategy.
Now that you have your vision and goals, you need to think about the way to get there. What is your general approach? How will you execute your tasks in the most efficient way? How will you organize your resources?
Let’s imagine that you are the MMA fighter that I mentioned before. Let’s look at your strategies and tactics.
You have a fight and your goal is to win that fight. In order to do that, you needs to reflect not only on what you will do, but also at what your opponent is likely to do. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What about your opponent?
You are a strong puncher and kicker, but have very weak grappling skills. Your opponent doesn’t really have a good standup game, but is a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt.
Your strengths are standup and weaknesses are your ground game. Your opponent is the opposite.
What will be your strategy? Your strategy will be to keep the fight standing up and not get taken down.
How will you put this strategy into play? This is when the tactics will come in. Tactics are all the things you will do in order to execute your strategy.
You will adjust your stance in order to watch out for him going at your feet and trying to take you down, you will stand a bit back from him and check his attempts at take-downs by sprawling. You will try to take him out of his game by using quick and strong punches and kicks.
You see how the tactics took care of themselves when you put a strategy in place? Without that initial strategy, you wouldn’t know what tactics to use and would be much more likely to lose your fight.
That’s why it is important to keep in mind not to concentrate on the tactics, if you don’t have a strategy in place. Put a strategy in place first and worry about the tactics later.
“Everyone sees tactics, but only Generals see strategy.” — Sun Tzu
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.” — Sun Tzu
Dr. Brainiac comes into Smart Chimp’s compound and observes him behaving a bit strangely.
Dr. Brainiac: “Mr. Chimp, what are you doing?“
Suddenly, Smart Chimp picks up a rock he had hidden under a pile of hay and throws it at Dr. Brainiac.
Dr. Brainiac: “Ouuu..” screams Dr. Brainiac and starts running forward along the path.
Smart Chimp overtakes him and pelts him with more stones that he had hidden next to a bush.
Dr. Brainiac starts running faster, when suddenly… splat. He feels like he stepped in something. And it smells!
He looks down at his feet and notices that they are buried in a fresh pile of moist excrement.
Dr. Brainiac: “Mr. Chimp! Stop, now I am all dirty!“
Smart Chimp runs up to him and starts laughing.
Dr. Brainiac: “Why were you throwing stones at me?“
Smart Chimp: “I got inspired.“
Dr. Brainiac: “So you wanted to hurt me with stones?“
Smart Chimp: “No, those were just the tactics.“
Dr. Brainiac looks puzzled.
Smart Chimp: “The strategy was to get you running in that direction and then step in that fresh pile of kaka that I just created!“