There are a lot of things that can undermine our professional success, if we let it. You can get off on the wrong foot with rocky on-boarding, you may have to deal with questionable behavior by team members, market changes & business fluctuations, the list goes on and on. However, as I look back on what I’ve seen and done in business to-date? The balance between strategical and tactical excellence far and away tops the list. From the CEO to the aspiring superstar, “getting tied-up by the tactical” or snooty about “being JUST strategic” is a problem that threatens to undermine the shine of success.
Problem 1: What Does it Even Mean??
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work with both ‘the strategic’ and ‘tactically-oriented’ work in messaging for marketing, in workforce planning & in career counseling during my days running HR & Recruiting. It’s not gone unnoticed that quite a lot of people just don’t know what “being strategic” or “being tactical” means. I’m not being facetious, think about it – how many times have you heard someone ask a question, or make a remark where the light bulb went off that their success was being undermined by a confusion between strategy & tactics?
Maybe that’s why 90% of organizations fail to successfully implement strategy (2) & of those who do succeed? The average ROI on those strategic planning initiatives is less than 35%. (2) So, in general:
- Strategy refers to the conceptualization of an idea.
- Tactics refers to the execution: the study & the application of the aforementioned strategy.
To be successful, whether as an organization, a department leader, with a campaign, or even for personal career success? At a macro level, you need three things.. and in this order:
- First Goals
- Then Strategy
- Then Tactics
Problem 2: Now That We Understand it, Somebody’s Got to Do It
The second problem with ‘being tactical’ is that somebody’s got to do it – and it’s not just the inexperienced, the individual contributors, and/or the hourly population. A finely-tuned business typically has both strategic planning and tactical execution at multiple organizational levels. Ideally, looking at a bi-directional planning model (3) helps to maintain both alignment and understanding in the employee population. By getting the larger group involved in planning, you gain investment. When you look at getting your message into the hearts and minds of your workforce? Having them invested in both the initiative & organizational success is important.
So, to some degree, we’re all tactical and we’re all strategic. The question is the balance and I think it lies in the “80/20 rule.” If you are in a “strategic role,” you should be spending 80% of your time on the 20% that yields the most results: strategy creation, communication – the content you’re creating & understanding target behavior so that you create strategy that elicits action. The other 20% should be spent on tactical work: in marketing, for example? That might look like generating leads, creating tools, creating brochures, implementing a follow-up system, speaking at or working conferences exhibition floors, etc… that’s the medium you’re working in. Tactical role? Flip it.
Problem 3: In the Weeds & Job Security
Two other reasons I often see people getting stuck on the wrong end of the strategy/tactical balancing act has to do with being busy. When businesses are small? It’s easy to get “in the weeds,” losing sight of the bigger picture while ensuring consistent cashflow, and dealing with more work that needs to get done with fewer resources at times to do it. Specializing in partnering with growing businesses, much of my career has been spent working for and with companies in this state. Time management, consistent bi-directional communication, and committed leadership are essential to being successful to eventually striking the right balance.
But often while there’s more than enough work to go around in most companies, you can find professionals who lull themselves into a false job security through tactical work. The thing about strategic work is that you don’t often immediately see impact: it’s a longer-term endeavor. More than I care to, I’ve heard people talk about how the areas of the business I’ve focused in – human resources, recruiting, and marketing – need to bring value to an organization.. NOW – within weeks of starting a project/engagement.
Good things take time; the same is true for the outcomes of strategic initiatives… just because you don’t see daily changes, doesn’t mean work isn’t being done or what’s been done isn’t working. So fight the urge to get involved in – or dole out – more tactical ‘busy work’ in a misplaced effort to show value. That’s neither effective, nor efficient.
Conversely, if you’ve no staff for your “strategy-driven employees?” Understanding that in order for things to get done they’ll have to do tactical work is important. I find myself in that position now & again. When I do, I have to work on being able to quickly toggle back & forth between the two… they engage very different parts of my brain. Strategic planning? Right brain work: random, intuitive, subjective, looks at wholes/overarching concepts. Tactical? Left brain at it’s finest: logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, looks at parts, task-at-hand.
Which leads me back to time management: during those times in my career, I have to hold tightly to block planning – creating “blocks” of time for strategic-thinking driven projects & my tactical to-dos. Whenever possible, I defer conversations for each type to their associated time-block, so my mental framing won’t need to shift for whatever I’m talking about to maximize efficiency.. and keep my sanity! Good project management software & strategy mapping/review can be helpful in maintaining balance & keeping a successful shine within your organization.
(1) Kaplan and Norton.
(3) Top-Down, Bottom-Up