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Strategy vs. Tactics: The Real Difference

        posted by , August 18, 2012

As with many business concepts, tactics and strategy have military origins.

According to military traditions a tactic is a mission conducted by a small unit such as a brigade. A tactic has a short duration and exploits situations as they develop.

A military strategy is a campaign conducted by a large unit such as a division. A strategy seeks to efficiently deploy resources and deceive the enemy to win battles and wars.

Key differences between a business tactic and a strategy include:

1. Tactics Address Gaps, Strategy Provides Direction

You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.
~ Charles de Gaulle
Tactics are opportunities to address gaps in strategy.

Your strategy is to expand your customer base. At the same time your CFO implements a tactic to drop your least profitable accounts.

2. Tactics are Local, Strategy is Global

Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation.
~ Max Euwe
Team strategies are derived from departmental strategies which are derived from organizational strategies. Tactics have no such hierarchy.

Tactics are planned by command structures close to the action. Strategy is planned by leaders at the top of an organization.

Any leader in your organization from executives to front-line managers may implement tactics.

3. Tactics are Short, Strategy is Long

Tactics typically span days or weeks. When your plans span many months they are normally considered a strategy.

4. Tactics are Simple, Strategy is Complex

It's common for strategics to be complex multi-layer plans. Tactics are specific plans that don't tend to reach the same level of complexity.

Tactics are micro-strategies that take advantage of opportunities as the develop.

5. Tactics are Obvious, Strategy is Mysterious

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
~ Sun Tzu
Tactics are highly visible to your competitors. Strategy is less obvious. It's a common mistake to assume a competitor's tactical actions represent a strategy.

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