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Francis Wade Strategy must transcend tactics

There has always been a school of thought which argues that strategy is outdated. Its members say the world is changing too quickly for long-term planning to be effective.

But deep down, you sense that this is an argument for lazy minds. How do you paint a picture that shifts the mindset of someone who seems stuck?

Have you ever run a 5K race? If so, you may have observed this phenomenon: at the start, some speedy youngsters tear off into the distance at the sound of the starter’s pistol.

A mile or two later, you meet them again. Except that by now, they are exhausted, barely walking. As you jog past at a slow, steady pace, you wonder if they will make it to the finish line.

They have made a common mistake. Even though their math might be correct, their mental model is flawed. Modelling Usain and Asafa, they tried to hit peak velocity as quickly as possibl then maintain momentum to the tape.

The fact is a long-distance race is not just a series of consecutive short sprints.

Instead, more decisions are required. Poor choices inevitably lead to bad outcomes.

The truth is that sprinting and long-istance racing are two different disciplines, which beginners often confuse. In much the same way, your organisation must separate its tactical and strategic planning. Here are three considerations to prevent confusion.

Different horizons

Tactics are short term; strategy is long term.

The recent tendency to label everything as strategic has become an unfortunate habit. Nowadays, the adjective is added before anything to make it sound important. Hence, we have ‘strategic goals over the next week’.

But putting dressing on a piece of bush does not produce a salad.

Consider this popular practice to be a mistake. On January 23, 2022, I wrote a Gleaner column titled ‘Why Short-Term Strategy is a Misnomer’. I explained that the two words don’t go together. In this article, add this idea: tactics take less than five years while strategies take more. Often much more.

With this temporal guide, I can safely report: most companies lack written strategic plans.

However, both tactics and strategies are needed in well-functioning organisations. But there is more to the difference than just a time frame. In fact, they are two separate disciplines.

When they are interchanged, you could find yourself sprinting instead of jogging, endangering the future of your company. Let’s examine them separately to prevent this from ever happening.

What strategies do

Perhaps you have heard of BHAGs – big hairy audacious goals. These are major commitments to transformational, game-changing results as defined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

When a leadership team crafts many of them together simultaneously, they can paint a detailed vision for their company. Examples include the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 created in 2015 by the United Nations and Jamaica’s Vision 2030 developed in 2007.

The most famous? President Kennedy’s moonshot. Crafted to put a man on the moon within the decade, it was announced in 1961.

The purpose of a strategic plan is to accomplish such inspiring BHAGs. But in today’s world, they must be credible like never before. Why?

A realistic plan gives the vision a feasible platform people can trust. In years past, this was an optional extra, but your followers are cynical. Accustomed to hearing hundreds of big promises each day from advertisers, they need more than pronouncements. As such, they won’t believe in a grand vision when announced by itself. They demand proof.

Furthermore, if the plans don’t translate into short-term actions, nothing will ever start. This is the specific job your tactics perform.

What tactics do

To implement any long-term commitment, immediate and short-term action is needed. These are separate and apart from individual habits and company processes, which quietly run your operations every day.

A strategy to achieve BHAGs requires changes in both of these elements. These micro-transformations are tactics that your people should implement daily.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. You must overcome a tremendous amount of inertia to scale new long-term commitments.

For example, if your company exists in an hourly harum-scarum of panicky reactions, then making consistent progress over several years will be hard.

In the same manner, if nothing has changed in your firm for eons, then getting people excited by a BHAG may feel like a tall order.

The point is that whatever long-term aspiration you want to accomplish requires tactical changes. These call for skilful change management.

As such, while strategies and tactics are very different, they must be married, but not collapsed. It’s the only way to take your organisation to its desired vision.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To search past columns on productivity, strategy and business processes, or give feedback, email:

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