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The Major Differences Between Strategies and Tactics, and How to Avoid the Risk of Interchanging Them

by Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan, Organisational Provocateur

Imagine you are the coach of the White Rock Rabbitchasers and you are going to play against the Burnaby Catskinners.

The highly anticipated game is just a few days away and your team wants to watch the video of the Catskinners, so your team could develop an effective game plan.

Then suddenly you say that there is no video this time, and you just go back to the basics: Blocking, tackling, running, kicking, passing and all the other fiendish movements.

You know how good the opposition is, but you decide your team will be even better. Just hit them hard with the basics, and the rest will just happen. Basically, you ask you team just to wing it.

How long do you think your team would last in the league with this mentality? Not for long, I reckon.

Just like in sports, in business it would be suicide mission to ignore your pre-game planning and devote all of your energy to the basics.

In the world of business, it is vitally important to analyse our competitors and work on our uniqueness that will set us apart from them.

For many service professionals strategy would seem that hitting the field with the basics constitutes their entire approach and "Let's see how it works."

They have the basics - tactics, that is, the "how?" - but the strategy - the "what?" - is missing.

Hyperbusy business professionals still believe that simply being busy, flying by the seats of their pants will generate results, and planning is a waste of time.

Lots of these gung ho businesspeople say: "Get out there and do the business!" "Get out and get your hands dirty."

I have nothing against dirty hands, but I prefer to plan my actions before dirtying my hands. Dirtying my hands is the tactic, but first I need a strategy.

Being a military man myself, here is a military example. There was an interesting event in 323 B.C. The Battle of Arbela on the plains of Galga Mella, between Alexander the Great (an army of 50,000 ) and Darius, King of Persia (an army of 1,000,000). Alexander's only strategy, the "what?", was to kill Darius. It was based on Alexander's values and vision of spreading Macedon culture over the land, while retaining the autonomy of "invaded" countries.

He knew he had no chance against the whole army. To serve his strategy, Alexander had several tactics - "how?" Element of surprise, the way he set up his army - narrow and deep to fool Darius' chariots, the way his elite "Companion Calvary" rammed Darius' camp down and how Alexander's archers killed all the charioteers. At the end of the day Darius lost 400,000 men and Alexander lost 1,247.

Both "strategy" and "tactics" are derived from ancient Greek. To the Greeks, taktihos meant "fit for arranging or manoeuvring," and it referred to the art of moving forces in battle, that is the "art and science of how?". Strategos was the word for "general." Originally, strategy was the "art of the general," or the art of preparing the troops for battle, the "art and science of what".

Strategy (what?): What to achieve? To attract more new clients and better retain existing ones

Tactics (How?) How to achieve your strategies through who you are by what you do and with what you have.
  1. Develop your Unique Value Proposition to gain attention
  2. Develop your Unique Selling Proposition to stand of the crowd
  3. Develop a powerful Audio Logo
  4. Start an electronic newsletter
  5. Write articles in magazines
Imagine this situation. It can happen to any of us.

Have we all demonstrated business tactical wizardry at the wrong time or in the wrong place? I guess we all have. You walk into your prospect's office and give her a great presentation. She is amazed and says: Holy sausage, that was terrific! I only wish I had known ahead of time how well your solution matches our problems. I would have had my boss here to approve the project. I'm sure she would have given the OK, but she is away for a month.

Such situations are caused by poor planning, the lack of a clear strategy.

I do not say strategies are "better than" or "more important than" tactics. It is just the order. Strategies must come first. In order to run a successful business, not just being busy, we have to manage the synergy between strategies and tactics.

As Peter Drucker says: "Strategy is doing the right things, tactics is doing things right." Also, when you next hire a new employee, decide whether that employee would do a strategic or a tactical job.

So, how to bring all this together. Start with the future. Create a big vision and work your way backwards. That will define what you have to do today to reach your vision. Don't make a mistake that your current people and talents can create that vision for you. You must ask what people and talents you need to create that future.

Copyright 1997-2012 Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan. All rights reserved. You are free to use this article in whole or in part. One favour though: Can I ask you to you include complete attribution, including a live website link. Also, would you mind letting me know where you plan to publish the article?

The attribution: This article was written by Organisational Provocateur, Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan of Dynamic Innovations Squad, a firm specialising in helping consulting firms to sell their expertise at the highest margins. Get Tom's free Practice Management Black Paper when you sign up for his monthly newsletter, Commando Consulting: Lessons And Practices From The Ultimate Professional Service Firm, The Military. Visit Tom's website at

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