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Strategy vs. Tactics

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Today someone pointed out to me the not-so-subtle  difference between “Strategy” and “Tactics”—which I found to be very interesting and insightful. That impassioned explanation has set me thinking about a number of things that I do in the framework of “Vision, Strategy, and Tactics.” This post is just my notes, mostly put here for myself.









Strategy is a big-picture perspective of a problem and a rather comprehensive and encompassing view of what it would take to realize our vision over time. Vision is the place where we are heading to in the long term. Tactics, on the other hand, is the set of actions or steps that we take in order to follow the strategy. In the absence of vision, there cannot be a strategy; in the absence of a strategy, there cannot be any coherent tactics.

Tactics is well defined, specific, and sequential for implementing the over-arching strategy. It can vary over time, with circumstances, and in face of adversity or blocking issues; it is adaptive; it is purposeful; and it is collective. Strategy is rather immutable (but not rigid); if well thought out, it does not change either in face of unpopular or popular trends.

The more team members are involved in framing the vision and strategy, the better their definitions and execution are likely to be. It is important that the tacticians—the members who implement, execute, and deploy the sequence of tactical maneuvers—buy into the strategy and are passionate about the vision. They should understand what the strategy is and how their short-term actions align with and enable the long-term strategy.

The long-term objectives of strategy need the means that will help in attaining those objectives. No strategy can be better than its tactical implementation or execution. While strategy refers to the “what and why,” tactics refers to the “how.”

Strategic thinking requires the ability to look at the “big picture”—recognize the competitive landscape and patterns, establish priorities, anticipate issues, predict outcomes, and have alternatives in place should the necessity arise. Tactical is the “hands on” or the “doing it” part of getting the job done to ensure that the strategy works well.

Tactical interaction between two organizations is well-defined and specific, and also bound by certain rules of business engagement. The tactical actions are well understood, and the outcome of actions is clear and can be easily observed; the outcome can be predicted using tools such as game theory. Strategic interaction between two organizations is complex, and defines the rules of business engagement. The outcome of strategic interaction cannot be modeled or predicted based on the strategy itself—the outcome is always measured as payoffs of tactical interactions. However, in the absence of a well-planned strategy in place, the tactical interactions can neither be effective nor result in desired outcomes.

Are you strategic or tactical?


Rita Gunther McGarth and Ian C. Macmillan. MarketBusters: 40 Strategic Moves that Drive Exceptional Business Growth. Harvard Business Press. 2005.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. Strategic Innovation and the Science of Learning. MIT Sloan Management Review. Winter 2004.

Written by Pragyan Mishra

October 18, 2010 at 9:10 pm