strategy or tactics

I believe that we (that’s all of us) have gone gaga over “strategy” to our detriment. Now before you get out the pitchforks and torches (or worse stop reading and talking with me) hear me out.

I’m fresh from several weeks of nearly non-stop client meetings (we get to work with some of the best and brightest). During that time we presented. We planned. We proposed. (Sounded like Julius Caesar there for a moment, huh?).

Anyway, I LOVE that stuff. It was no-holds barred, cutting-edge, get-it-done, deliver-net-income strategy planning. Without question the work our clients and we did will change the future of these organizations.

But I had this moment later. Jeff and I had been talking about describing our strategies and our discussion went to how to articulate the difference between “strategy” and “tactics.”

Jeff googled and found this:

The word strategy derives from the Greek word strategos which translates to the art of the general. This is often confused with tactics, from the Greek taktike. Taktike translates as organizing the army. In modern usage, strategy and tactics might refer not only to warfare, but to a variety of business practices.

Essentially, strategy is the thinking aspect of planning a change, organizing something, or planning a war. Strategy lays out the goals that need to be accomplished and the ideas for achieving those goals. Strategy can be complex multi-layered plans for accomplishing objectives and may give consideration to tactics.

Tactics are the meat and bread of the strategy. They are the “doing” aspect that follows the planning. Tactics refer specifically to action. In the strategy phase of a plan, the thinkers decide how to achieve their goals. In other words they think about how people will act, i.e., tactics. They decide on what tactics will be employed to fulfill the strategy.

The tactics themselves are the things that get the job done.

Did you notice that last line? The tactics themselves are the things that get the job done!

In other words, a great strategy without great tactics is nothing but one of those pretty 3-ring binders on your shelf. You know, the one with the great plan that never happened (it’s usually right next to the dusty plaque with your mission statement on it).

All this talk about strategy-this and strategy-that can kill us. I’ve been wrong to be so enamored with great strategy that I haven’t always, always, always closed the tactic loop. Look, it’s not like I don’t care about getting things done. We provide “strategic doing” for our clients which looks a lot like tactics. And in our meetings we talked tactics, but “tactics” doesn’t get people’s juices flowing the way STRATEGY does, which is so wrong considering tactics make strategy real.

I don’t ever want to produce great strategies that fail because tactics weren’t considered. I fear that the focus on strategy alone prevents great organizations from doing their greatest work.

So, next time someone is going on and on about “strategy” listen for the tactics. You don’t want another plan you loved but never got done, do you?

So what do you think about this strategy and tactics conversation? Am I off base? Do you get as pumped about “tactics” as you do “strategy”?


I love hearing what you’re thinking.


And because I can, here’s something you need to watch. No generational slam. I believe he’s talking to all of us with something to say. Besides, I like it.


Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.






Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity


(photo credit: ConspiracyofHappiness)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

13 thoughts on “strategy or tactics”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention oneicity // income solutions for non-profits » strategy or tactics -- Topsy.com

  2. Deborah Gohrke

    Strategy. Yes, it is often a good hiding place, a delaying tactic, a deflection of accountability, an excuse masquerading as competence – it can make us feel productive without actually having to be productive.

    Tactics, on the other hand, are productive…but…for what purpose? Tactics without strategy is like productivity with an accidental purpose. I ought to know. I am very capable of doing a lot of stuff that felt good while I was doing it and let me stand back and admire what I had accomplished – visible – done deal. But upon reflection the activity was a mere detraction, a feel-good side trip that took me no closer to my real purpose.

    To separate one from the other, or favor one at the expense of the other is something like being on a teeter-toter when the person on the other end suddenly decides to get off – with no counter-balance you can’t get off the ground.

    Like the video. Now lets see, what am I going to do with the day – a flurry or mind-numbing activity, or an elaborate pretense at planning?

    Thanks for your thoughts, Thomas.

  3. Deborah Gohrke

    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

    Ran across this checking some resource links. It was on “Strategy Daddy”

    I have you to thank for a very productive week of running tactics!

  4. Deborah beat me to it! That Sun Tzu quote was the one I was going to post.

    As a strategist, I deal with this daily. One must have a solid strategy, but you cannot develop a strategy without understanding how it will be implemented tactically. The most common complaint from the “tacticians” is, “But that’s hard.” Well, hard isn’t impossible….it’s just hard. When you surround yourself with the BEST tacticians, hard is just something you do.

    If there are no tactics that will ever allow you to reach the end goal of the strategy, then the strategy might be flawed and needs to be re-evaluated.

    Love it. Good stuff!

  5. Steve (and Kris),

    Sure wish you guys had found each other earlier while Kathleen and I were still on-island. Would have relished sharing philosophy, ideas, experiences, glass of wine, and laughs regarding strategy, tactics, and making the non-profit world a better place. Thoughtful and thought provoking blog!

  6. I was thinking about this last night in a different context but the word picture fits well. During my studies for my BS in computer science, we often had to create a “logical’ schematic of routers, computers and other hardware items. This “logical” schematic or strategy often did not show the connectors or location of physical items. It was possible for computer “A” to be in room 101 and computer “B” to be in room 102.

    Sometime the “logical” schematic had to be changed because the “physical” or tactical implementation was not feasible. During my eight years as the Executive Director of the Northlands Rescue Mission, I have been fortunate to work with a great tactician. Working together, my Director of Operations has been able to tell my if my strategic planning is feasible given staff, time and other constraints.

    I have been involved recently with a new “strategy of fundraising”. The training and concepts are awesome but we have had to modify and adapt to our physical and staff constraints.

    Strategy may be constrained by our tactics but our tactics are impotent without good strategy.

    Dave Sena

  7. @Jim–I’ve heard so much about you and Kathleen from Kris that I feel like I already know you. Love to hook up anytime to talk life and other fun stuff. Thanks for your warm comments.
    st

  8. @Dave–Wow you describe the perfect fit of an Executive Director and Director of Operations. That’s not all that common to have tactics informing strategy in such a helpful way. Good for you for developing such a team. Thanks so much for your comments and joining in the discussion.
    st

  9. Pingback: Doable Strategy (instead of all sorts of other stuff) « OTM Consulting Group

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