Article by Dr. Pratik P. SURANA (Ph.D.)

Chief Mentor and Founder of Quantum Group

It’s a common complaint among top executives: “I’m spending all my time managing trivial and tactical problems, and I don’t have time to get to the big-picture stuff.”

Often, we use the terms strategy and tactics interchangeably and in a haphazard manner. When probing at online definitions and dictionaries, they often share many of the same characteristics, making them difficult to differentiate. Rather than debate Greek military etymology, Sun Tzu philosophy, or latest publications from the Harvard Business Press, here’s a simple way to look at strategy and tactics by their associated actions:

The difference between strategy and tactics: strategy is done above the shoulders, tactics are done below the shoulders

Strategy and tactics are both how you will achieve your goals and objectives. Strategy is our path or bridge for going from where we are today to our goal. It’s our general resource allocation plan. It might be to engage industry thought-leaders to become advocates for our product. The tactics then are how specifically or tangibly we will do that. They might include items such direct marketing letters, face-to-face meetings, key talking point scripts and an iPad app. If your team is still having trouble differentiating between strategy and tactics, they can use the “Rule of Touch.” If you can reach out and physically touch it, it’s a tactic.

The strategy is a combination of corporate moves and actions, used by the management to attain a competitive market position, carry on its operations, making best possible use of scarce resources attract more and more customers to compete in the market efficiently and achieve organizational objectives. Strategies are action oriented and based on practical considerations, not on assumptions.

The strategy is formulated by the top level management, i.e. Board of Directors (BOD), Senior Executives, or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Its formulation requires an in-depth analysis regarding:

Now the question is, why?

  • Why is it to be formulated?
  • How can it be executed?
  • When is it to be executed?
  • What will be the order of actions?
  • What will be the result?
  • What will be the reaction of rivals?

The following are the major differences between tactics and strategy:

  1. Tactics are the properly organized actions that help to achieve a certain end. The strategy is the integrated plan that ensures the achievement of organization objectives.
  2. Tactics is a subset of strategy, i.e. without the strategy, tactics can do nothing.
  3. Tactics try to find out the methods through which strategy can be implemented. Conversely, Strategy is a unified set of activities that can help the organization to gain an advantageous position.
  4. Tactics are formulated by middle-level management, whereas top level management formulates a strategy.
  5. Tactics involve lower risk as compared to strategy.
  6. Tactics are preventive in nature while Strategy is competitive in nature.
  7. Tactics are defined as a trip, i.e. typically for a short duration, but the strategy is a journey that lets the company travel from one position to another. Hence it is for a long duration.
  8. Tactics frequently change with the changes in the market conditions; however, the strategy remains same for a long period.
  9. Tactics have a reactive approach, unlike strategy.
  10. Tactics are made for coping with the present situation. In contrast to strategy, they are made for future.

Strategies usually are about making decisions. And when we make a decision, we typically eliminate an alternative course of action. Tactics are usually much more flexible. Strategies are about “what” we choose to do. Tactics are about “how” we choose to do it. It is often easier to change the “how” we do things than the “what”.

That’s why developing a strategy is so much harder than developing tactics. Strategies eliminate alternatives and set us toward a specific direction. Those choices are far more risky than a typical tactic. The nice thing about tactics is that they are more flexible. If one doesn’t work, you often have time to try another.

Strategies are the investments of resources that build and grow an organization. Tactics are the day to day actions that get us to our goals.

The strategy is about choosing the best plan for accomplishing long-term goals of the organization. Tactics instant reaction of the organization, in response to the changing business environment. For a business entity, both the tactics and strategy are important. It should be kept in mind while making strategies or tactics that the tactics match with the strategy. Similarly, the strategy should consider the tactics. If these two work in tandem, then the outcome will always be positive, and the risk of failure will be reduced to a large extent.

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