You’ve probably heard people in your company talk about both strategy and tactics. 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—but in short, strategy describes the destination and how you are going to get there, and tactics describe the specific actions you are going to take along the way. Below, we’ll expound on the differences and similarities between the two and explain how you can track the progress of each.
Strategy Vs. Tactics
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!)
- 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 shorter timeframes along the way. They involve best practices, specific plans, resources, etc. They’re also called “initiatives.”
Here are a few examples that will help you differentiate between the two terms:
- Strategy is more concrete and long-term—but your tactics can change based on how successful your strategy is. If your marketing strategy is to improve your influence and performance in social media, then your tactics might be to determine what channel is best for your business and what messages work best for your audiences.
- 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.
- 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.
Tracking Progress Of Your Strategy & Tactics
For the sake of example, let’s say your organization’s overarching mission is to reduce the carbon footprint that humans are contributing to. If your strategy is to reduce carbon emissions in a certain area by a certain percentage, one goal might be to educate people about the options available to them in regard to renewable energy. From there, you might decide one particular tactic to use would be a marketing campaign through television ads. From there, you’d track the resources you need for this project and begin checking off items like hiring a producer, writing your script, shooting your scenes, editing your video, and so forth.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and measures are more geared toward tracking your strategy. If your strategy is succeeding, it means you’re making progress toward your organization’s high-level goals.
Following our earlier example, if your goal is to have more people using renewable energy in a certain area, you might be measuring the number of people using renewable energy. But depending on what kind of success you were seeing, you could change your tactics and begin measuring how successful your marketing campaign is or the number of calls your organization is receiving about your organization’s mission. This doesn’t change your strategy—it just gives you a new path to succeeding in your strategy.
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.
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.
Remember, your strategy should be consistent, so it’s important that everyone in your organization understands it. This way, they’ll know how the tactics they’re a part of are really contributing to the goals of the organization as a whole.