~ 8 MIN READ
Strategy Vs. Tactics: The Main Difference & How to Track Progress Of Both
You’ve heard there’s a difference between tactics and strategy, but maybe it seems a little fuzzy. Let us clear up the confusion.
You’ve probably heard people in your company argue about both strategy and tactics when they're talking about strategy implementation. These are common terms and are thrown around regularly in articles online and in the office—and are often confused. So, we’re here to set the record straight on the difference between tactics and strategy.
There are quite a few differences between strategy and tactical planning. In short, strategic planning is used to set destination and how you are going to get there, and tactical planning outlines the specific actions you are going to take along the way. Below, we’ll expound on strategy vs tactics, the differences and similarities between the two, and explain how you can track the progress of each.
In This Article
- Strategy Vs. Tactics: The Difference
- What makes a good strategy?
- What makes a good tactic?
- Overall, the rule of thumb for understanding the difference between strategy and tactics is, “Think strategically, act tactically.”
- 3 Strategy Vs. Tactics Examples
- Local Government
- Track Progress Of Your Strategy & Tactics
- Measuring Strategy
- Tracking Strategy & Tactics In ClearPoint
- Measuring Tactics
- In Summary
About 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” In it, he said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Tactics and strategy are not at odds with one another—they’re on the same team. (And they have been for many centuries!) Here’s how we define the tactical vs. the strategic:
- Strategy defines your long-term goals and how you’re planning to achieve them. In other words, your strategy gives you the path you need toward achieving your organization’s mission.
- Tactics are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and a shorter time frame along the way. They involve best practices, specific plans, resources, etc. They’re also called “initiatives.”
A solid strategy reflects the core values of the organization. Your strategic team should gather input from across the organization to ensure there’s alignment between the strategy and each department’s priorities. All strategies should be actionable.
When creating a good strategy, focus on the desired end result (the goal). Your strategy is the foundation for all activities within the organization, and how it’s crafted will guide decision-making as your teams work to achieve those goals. For example, if a furniture company has a goal to expand market share, its strategy could include offering the most competitive prices and always being in stock of common offerings. Leadership teams will make decisions that prioritize lower costs.
A good tactic has a clear purpose that aids your strategy. It has a finite timeline during which specific activities will be completed and their impacts measured.
A tactic for the furniture company would be to analyze manufacturing processes to minimize waste and inefficiencies, thereby decreasing cost and, by extension, prices for customers. The company can clearly measure the success of the tactic by comparing their costs before and after the analysis.
Overall, the rule of thumb for understanding the difference between strategy and tactics is, “Think strategically, act tactically.”
Here are a few examples of how strategy and tactics interact that will help you differentiate between the two terms:
- Strategy is based on extensive research, planning, and internal reflection. It’s a long-term vision, whereas tactics are short-term actions. For example, if your marketing strategy is to improve your influence and performance in social media, then your tactics might be to determine the best channels for your business and the most effective messages for your audiences. Strategies CAN change to adapt to new internal or external factors in an organization, but these changes shouldn’t be made lightly. Tactics can change based on the success of your strategy. It’s much easier to adjust tactics to course-correct than it is to overhaul your strategy, so make sure your strategic planning is thorough.
- Strategy and tactics work together as means to an end. If your strategy is to climb a mountain, one key component of your strategy might be to decide which side of the mountain you should climb. Your tactics would be the gear you’d buy, who you’d bring with you, your complete trip plan, how long it would take to get there, what season you’d go in, and so on. A strategy without tactics won’t ever be executed or help you achieve your goals.
- Strategy and tactics always have to be in-line with one another. You might be really enamored with a particular project (i.e. a tactic), but it’s only worth pursuing if it aligns with your long-term strategy. Thus, your strategy should inform which tactics your organization will execute or fund.
- The best strategy and tactics still won’t cover EVERYTHING. Because resources are finite, choosing the right strategy and corresponding tactics ensures your efforts are directed toward achieving your vision in the most efficient manner possible. Here are some tips for overcoming some of the biggest pain points when going through the planning process.
To help clarify the concept even further, let’s look at a few examples.
For a local government, accountability and responsiveness are cornerstones of good governance. Therefore, you may have an overarching goal to improve transparency.
Your strategy: To achieve that goal, you decide to improve your communication strategy by adopting and implementing new channels of two-way communication. Not only will this help you understand what people want (and need), but it will also help you keep people informed.
Your tactics: Some tactics you might use to achieve that strategy could include:
- Create and publish a new community dashboard to inform residents about government goals and share progress.
- Develop a marketing plan that highlights ways that citizens can interact and communicate with the government.
These tactics have a clear end time, and, if accomplished, will ultimately contribute to reaching the overall goal.
Most school systems are continuously striving to improve learning outcomes as demonstrated through standardized test scores. There are a variety of strategies and tactics you could adopt to accomplish that mission.
Your strategy: You decide to focus on incorporating more technology into the classroom as a way to improve student engagement, which has been shown to positively impact learning.
Your tactics: Some tactics you might use to achieve that strategy would be:
- Purchase and implement SMART systems in your classrooms for the upcoming school year.
- Provide teachers with professional development to support the best use of SMART systems and how they can use them to improve their teaching.
These tactics have a clear purpose that will aid the strategy, and a finite timeline. Once complete, they will bring you closer to achieving the strategy.
A common problem faced by many healthcare organizations is related to hospital capacity: The demand for patient beds exceeds the supply. With an overarching mission of improving the health of the community you serve, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Your strategy: Since you don’t have land for new construction, your strategy is to make your internal processes more efficient to improve patient flow, thereby freeing up beds more quickly.
Your tactics: Some tactics you might use to achieve that strategy might be:
- Implement a scheduling app to optimize OR time, moving patients through the flow more quickly.
- Invest in a data analytics solution to better understand capacity constraints and employ predictive analytics going forward.
These tactics will help identify bottlenecks in your existing processes and provide data you can use to make better decisions, all of which will hopefully unlock greater capacity within the resources that already exist.
Strategy and tactics are two parts of the same puzzle—they work together to help your organization achieve long-term success. It’s important to actively review both periodically to ensure you’re making progress.
Let’s take a look at how you would measure each in practice, and how using ClearPoint, a strategy reporting software, can help drive results.
To track your strategy, you’ll need to choose some key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help gauge performance.
A good KPI uses quantifiable data to answer questions about progress and give you ideas on how to further improve those numbers. For example, if your strategy is to increase customer satisfaction, a net promoter score (NPS) could be the KPI. There are many factors that might go into the answer for a NPS score, and with the help of additional questions, an organization could learn which areas to focus their improvements on.
Remember to set targets that specifically detail your KPIs and break them down into achievable timeframes. (Here’s an article that explains how to do that.) Take a look at other organizations in your market or review your past performance to choose appropriate targets. If your KPI performance seems to be consistently lagging without much concern, you could try giving targets more weight; some organizations tie KPI performance to incentives like end-of-year bonuses to encourage engagement.
Following one of our earlier examples, if your goal as a school administrator is to implement technology to improve student engagement and retention, you might be measuring students’ standardized test results. But depending on what kind of success you were seeing, you could then begin measuring scores on classroom tests or overall student grades every quarter. This type of measurement should be able to validate if using technology in classrooms is helping with grades. It might also reveal other new paths to succeeding. Perhaps the technology is having an impact on grades overall, but there’s still a piece missing that better links classroom learning to standardized testing—indicating the need for a change in tactics.
There’s a lot of data associated with strategy tracking—and a lot of pitfalls that could prevent you from doing it right. ClearPoint was designed specifically to help organizations of all kinds stay on track when it comes to strategy execution. It allows you to view all relevant information associated with your strategies and tactics in one place, making it easier to understand and analyze progress, and even change course when you need to. In ClearPoint, you can visualize the linkage between connected elements (strategies and tactics), and create customized dashboards and views that allow other people in your organization to easily gain insight into performance.
As an example, the ClearPoint summary report below is for a local government. It shows a clear alignment between city strategies (goals) and tactics, along with status indicators (green, yellow, or red), qualitative analysis, tactic owners, percent complete, and end dates.
When you can easily see how all the pieces of your strategy—including tactics and KPIs—fit together, you have a clearer view of which activities are actually moving the needle in the right direction. In ClearPoint, you can see the goals that are linked to your KPIs. So, if you see a KPI is improving but the associated strategy remains unchanged, perhaps the KPI doesn’t have the influence you thought it had, and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
In ClearPoint, you can also create dashboards that pull in additional relevant information. Below is a status snapshot of any of the government’s goals that have fallen behind plan, along with the strategy that was implemented to achieve the goal. You can also see a tactic snapshot showing the status of all of your tactics, and finally, the alignment summary report from above, all on the same page, allowing you to gain quick insights. You can then make any changes in strategy as needed.
Ready to do advanced strategic planning in your organization? Use our Three Year/Five Year Strategic Plan Dashboard to plan long term goals
With your tactics, it’s more about your planning and the components therein. Tactics typically have a start and end date, certain allocated resources, and a number of milestones and action items to help achieve the tactic. You want to be sure that you hold each member of your organization accountable for the tactics they’re in charge of, so you should always assign ownership when a tactic is assigned. Viewed together, your tactics will give you the concrete steps you need to track anything relating or tied to your strategy, included related OKRs or KPIs. If you’ve allocated resources to a tactic, remember to track how they’re being used and how much budget you have remaining.
It’s easy to speak about your strategy and your tactics as if they’re the same thing. They do rely heavily on one another and are both very important to keep track of, but the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
Before you implement your strategy, make sure you’ve got stakeholder buy-in and you’ve addressed any hesitations. Once you’ve ironed out concerns and are ready to execute, communicate your strategy across the organization to provide meaning and context around each department’s activities. It’s very important that everyone understands your strategy. Teams should know how the tactics they’re working on contribute to the overall goals of the organization.
And finally, don’t forget to consistently review and evaluate your strategy. No business environment stays static, and holding strategic reviews to check in will ensure you adapt to any changes and stay on track.
Looking for the abbreviated version? Here’s a neat visual summary highlighting the key points of this comparison, created with Visme. Enjoy!
Long-term goals and how you’re planning to achieve them make up your strategy. Whereas tactics are your projects and initiatives. They are concrete and can be completed in a short time-frame.