Strategy and Tactics

Often, one will hear someone in the workplace telling someone else to think or act “strategically” — when what they really mean is “be smarter.”

Like the term “leadership,” it is a shorthand for a larger idea — but for most people this idea is ill-defined.

What is “strategy?”

I learned strategic planning from one of the people who helped develop our modern understanding of its application to business (he was at GE under Reg Jones). While strategic planning has changed many times since it was first elaborated in the late 70’s, this definition from my mentor always sticks with me:

“Strategy is a decisive allocation of resources.”

In other words, a strategy is something that, if you pursue it, other avenues are foreclosed. Many different tactics, on the other hand, could be used in the pursuit of a particular strategy.

In most cases, I’ve found that the answer to this question depends on the size of the theater. What is a tactic when looked at from one level can be a strategy at another level.

As an example, a company might have a strategy to use social media as its primary marketing communications tool. It would use various tactics to achieve that: blog comments, Facebook pages, Twitter, and so forth.

However, depending on the size of the theater you are looking at, a tactic can become a strategy. Just thinking about the fictitious company’s “social media” strategy, imagine the marketing department that is charged with implementing this. The fact that the overall thrust is social media will now be a given, just a parameter.

The strategic decisions at this level really will center on which tool to use and how strongly to bet on it. And then, even more granularly, there can be questions of strategy within each tool — it is possible to have a “Twitter strategy” and a “Facebook strategy.”

The key is always the decisiveness of the moves. Strategy, in whatever theater, is always decisive.

(Adapted from an earlier post.)