Strategy vs. Tactics – Who Wins?

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In the unwavering fight to meet or exceed company targets, Executives constantly struggle with the perennial question of “should I change my strategy or change my tactics?” But which one should be changed and when? How do you know which one is causing the problem? These questions and more are being wrestled with everyday around the Executive table to gain greater clarity and insight into decisions and actions that will ultimately propel a company forward. So, let’s look at each one individually and review when addressing them would be the best option:

Strategy: at its highest level, strategy is the approach and decisions a company has chosen to direct its longer-term efforts, which they hope if implemented, will allow them to achieve or even exceed their goals. These goals can include financial metrics (enterprise value, revenues and profit), marketing indicators (market-share, new markets penetration, geographic locations served) all the way through to internal organizational targets – employee count, employee satisfaction, employee cost.

Strategy is not something that can quickly and easily be agreed on by an Executive Team, since the options and opinions on how best to achieve desired results vary widely. Many strategy options exist and the debating, and ultimate choosing, of options can be onerous and lengthy. When a strategy is eventually agreed upon, many companies go about their daily business without fully integrating the new strategy within their teams, and ensuring everyone is onside, with subsequent tactics required to achieve the stated goals. Knowing that strategy generally takes a longer time to change, Executives under pressure often look towards tactics to make short-term changes, in the hope these changes will deliver required results and take pressure and focus off them.

So, when does strategy need to be reviewed? Failure to review and update strategy can have a serious long-term impact on a company. Here are some situations when the strategy review flag should be raised:

Changing customer requirements

Rapid technological advances

Competition choosing other directions

Current strategy not fully integrated internally

Top tips for strategy changes: to ensure that strategy is an integral and open part of your company, consider implementing the following:

Involve the right stakeholders – identify the people in your team (including key people outside of the Executive Team) who can provide insight and key data for decision-making.

Accept all inputs without pre-judgment – some of the best strategies and ideas are the ones that are not obvious or maybe counterintuitive when first announced; sit with these ideas for a bit and listen closely to the arguments for and against before deciding.

Debate accordingly – but not for too long – decide how long the “debate process” will last rather than having it open-ended. This alone can often be enough to encourage consensus.

Agree, and agree to disagree – once the options are clear and have been debated, strive to achieve agreement. Not everyone will agree with everything, so have a mechanism whereby it is ok to “agree to disagree” on some topics.

Document and distribute – often the toughest part of the process is the documentation of the strategy and the subsequent dissemination to the entire internal team. There may also be external stakeholders that need to know the strategy to some degree e.g. shareholders, board members, partners, etc. Become an effective communicator and you will create a strong, aligned workforce.

Create tactics that will realize the strategy goals – now the strategy has been created and agreed, let each of the Departments take the strategy and create an action plan with clear tactics based around SMART-goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely).

Build a periodic review process – this will ensure the tactics (plans) are being addressed in a timely manner to realize the strategy (goals). Either opt for a monthly or quarterly review process, but don’t leave it longer than this.

Tactics: defined simply, are the set of actions that an Executive Team will drive throughout their departments, and that if achieved, will allow the strategy to be realized, and the commensurate strategic goals to be hit. These tactics can include Sales (motivating the sales channels, increasing forecast accuracy, lowering cost-of-sales), Marketing (new updated website, targeted competition promotions, increasing leads per dollar invested) all the way through H.R. (increasing employee satisfaction, instituting a new review process, implementing a rankings and ratings system).

So, when do tactics need to be reviewed? Failure to address tactics can cause poor short-term results, loss of critical momentum, and the start of a shift away from realizing strategic goals. Here are some situations when the tactics review flag should be raised:

Short-term results not being met

Competitors begin targeting you

Short-term market opportunities arise

Your strategy is working but could be accelerated

Top tips for tactics changes: to ensure that tactics are clearly understood as a lever for action in your company, consider implementing the following:

Document the tactics – this will make the plans real for everyone, allowing them to see what they can do to play their part in realizing the strategic goals.

Build in accountability – develop a system of accountability that is self-policing and encourages everyone to complete their tactics (goals) in a timely manner and to a level of performance that is at a minimum acceptable.

Create a results-focused approach – it is key that the tactics (goals) need to have clear results associated with them, and that the focus is on the results (outcomes) rather then the work involved to achieve the results. Keep your staff focused on the results and the strategic goals will soon be realized.

Schedule periodic reviews – the old adage “you can manage what you can measure” is as true today as it ever was. Augment personal accountability through periodic (short) reviews that highlight successes and highlight any road-bumps in achieving the desired results.

Build automated systems – reviewing actions and key performance indicators (KPI’s) should not be onerous. Ideally there should be little to no work involved in reporting, when a system can do the heavy-lifting for you. Strive for automation and make reporting highly efficient. Remember that although reporting is key, it is not driving the business forward.

Develop quick review systems – use dashboards, graphs and summaries to get to the desired information at lightning speed. Ideally every Excel table should have an associated graph and a one or two-line written summary – now that’s cool.

Instigate a closed-loop measuring system – every output and subsequent result requires an input, whether it’s time, expense dollars or effort. Measure the input versus the output to make sure its worth it now and in the future. Make changes as necessary.

Summary:

Strategy and tactics are very different animals, but both require each other to be successful

When necessary, change strategy slowly, and tactics quickly

Build a living, breathing system that integrates both strategy and tactics in equal parts

Consistent communication with all stakeholders can be the golden key to unlock true company performance

So, now ask yourself – would I rather be oblivious to strategy and scourged by tactics, OR become a Master of Strategy and a Champion of Tactics! 

By Joe Connelly

Joe Connelly is Founder & CEO of Salesleadership.com, a worldwide Executive Sales Coaching and Consultancy company, with offices in Canada and Switzerland. Joe can be reached at joe@salesleadership.com

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