Tactical is the new strategic

I was talking to a friend recently who works in a large Silicon Valley company about the expectations of managers within large companies and we discussed how big company managers routinely describe themselves as either “tactical” or “strategic.” Typically, those who say they are “strategic” talk down to those considered more “tactical,” directly or indirectly. This is wrong-headed. Marc Hedlund’s post about Web 2.0 development practices over at O’Reilly Radar firmed up my existing feelings on the matter:

More often, though, the developers and the CEO respond to the majority of the support email. One CEO told me he responds to about 80% of all the mail they receive. How better to know what people are saying about your product? he asked.

These days (especially in the web world), being conversant in “big picture” issues means knowing the details, as the anecdote above illustrates. I would bet that the fact that it cost a hundred dollars to FedEx a 30-pound bag of dog food was dismissed as a “tactical” concern by Pets.com board members back in the dot-com craziness as they pursued the larger “strategy” of selling pet food online. We know how that ended up.

“Strategies” are big and sweeping and inherently pass the task of implementation to someone else. Tactics are inherently about executing. The distance between “strategic” and “tactical” is measured in meetings, PowerPoints, conference calls, and, well, “not writing code.” Limiting (or even mostly eliminating) that distance is the key to making things happen.

I’m not saying that strategy isn’t important, just that strategy directly combined with tactical skill is the real killer combo. “Strategy” in the absense of tactical engagement is a loser’s game. If you’re a manager who gets down in the muck to make things happen (not to be confused with “micromanagement”), take heart: tactical is the new strategic.

9 thoughts on “Tactical is the new strategic

  1. great post chad! tactical is the true antidote to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow of vaporous powerpoints signifying nothing. thanks for putting it so well.

  2. Well, those pesky tactical issues are where the rubber meets the road, where the work gets done.

    Ah, the days of 2 hour meetings, powerpoint shows, clever metaphorical figures that described the workflow that no one was actually doing, project names that exemplified Business 2.0/disintermediation/new economy wisdom but were just plans with no deadlines . . . good times [not].

  3. Great Post Chad .this conflict bitween Stratergy and Tactics is not new . i see it every day . every body wants to do Marketing and nobody wants to do field sales . every one wants to be Architech no one wants to be civil engg . its easy to do a software on block diagram level, hell break loose when you have to do it on flow chart level .

    my experieince in web 2.0 type start up tell me that mostly things are not the same in the end to “what we have thought in start”. there is a lot of correction enroute so we end up Re-designing Boeing Aircraft while its flying. that puts a big Q mark on the validity of initial stratergy . the chasm bitween thinkers and doers need to be bridge as soon as humanly possible because in the internet application world there is no second chance .

  4. I disagree. Governance is where solid strategy is born and will always be the differentiator in business, not in the execution. Strategy is to an architect as execution is to a framer.

  5. The commercial battlespace is won by those who understand the 3 major components of warfare. Strategy, to formulate Tactics and effective Tactics to drive Operations. All good planning degrades or fails in the Operations phase which execs ignore at their own peril.

Comments are closed.