When two boxers get in the ring they’ve normally had about eight months of intense physical training and trash-talking. Whilst the sport is seemingly surrounded by brutishness, a boxer’s ability to punch will rarely win him a fight alone. The reason for this is the minute margins between success and failure at the elite level, meaning that strategy and tactics are imperative when attempting to wear down an opposing fighter.
People commonly use the words ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ interchangeably - this is a misconception, they’re different and both serve separate functions when attempting to achieve a goal. If we revert back to the boxing analogy, the strategy could be to unsettle the opponent early-on, with the tactics to start fast and go for body shots.
For organizations, strategy can take many forms. A company might want to guarantee its future by investing in youth. The tactic would be to promote from within or even put on management courses. This is a clear distinction, showing that strategy is the ‘what’ and tactics the ‘how’. In a recent Harvard Business Review article they explained that many organizational leaders can’t execute planned strategies because they don’t really understand how they’re going to achieve the goals they’ve set - emphasising the importance of tactical awareness.
Time orientation also marks a significant difference between the two. Strategy, whilst not always about the future, is predominately about setting targets for development. It allows company decision makers to visualize where the company is going in a particular industry.
Tactics on the other hand are almost exclusively about the here and now. They are concerned with analyzing the current business environment and finding ways to solve any predicaments they are in. Thinking tactical is basically the building blocks to strategic development.
Due to the nature of both of them, they are also carried out by different parts of the organization. Strategy is the job of the board, and the ‘thinkers’ within the organization, whilst tactics is something which the whole company should be involved in. Front-line workers need to be as knowledgable of tactics as senior management does. For this reason, thinking tactically as an entire company is an operation that demands experienced leadership and a strategy that can be communicated easily,
Anyone who has the responsibility of setting a company’s strategy should understand the tactics that go behind achieving it. It will then be possible for companies to disseminate their strategies to every echelon of their organizational structure quickly and effectively.