The Fundamentals of Strategy

Merriam-Webster provides two simple definitions of the word “strategy”: 1) A careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time; and 2) the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal.  Fine definitions both, and the definitions contain all the right words: plan, goal, time, skill, achieve.  All of the right stuff is there, but there is  more to it.


When I think of strategy, I think of chess, which is a famously strategic game.  Some chess masters claim to be able to see five or more plays ahead, where others focus only on the move in front of them.  I see parallels to these behaviors in my clients, and my own work.


Some organizations prefer that their strategies are clearly laid out with detailed plans.  Other prefer to broadly outline directions, and redirect as frequently as needed, capitalizing on unexpected benefits which occasionally arise.  Which is correct?  Well, they both are . . . and spoken or not, both leverage tactical execution.  Strategy, no matter how lofty, must be put into action using tactics.  Some folks prefer the high-mindedness of planning, others prefer the boots-on-the-ground grit of tactics.  The strategic-tactic duality is commonly illustrated on a continuum.  To some, this continuum looks like a number line, with items like “making a vision statement” sitting far on the strategic side, and tasks as simple as sending an email on the tactical side (Note: Drafting the right content in your email can be quite strategic.)  For a strategy to be realized, a series of tactics will be required.  Tactics, no matter how excellently executed, will be for naught without a sound strategy.  Clearly the two ends of the spectrum are linked.


To me, the entire continuum is largely academic.  Strategy and tactics merge into one as we set goals and build plans to achieve them; both ends of the spectrum are necessary.  How many moves ahead you can see is limited by your understanding of the situation.  Identify the barriers to your plans and work to find solutions to them.  Once you have cleared the barrier, you have gained a new tactical skill, AND you now can see more moves ahead, up to your next barrier.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

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