A dog chasing its tail.
That’s the image that came to mind whenever Martin thought of his employer – a regional retail chain clearly behind the times and running on fumes. In his two years as assistant manager, he’d watched so many new and desperate “strategies” launch and then bomb that he’d lost count. After a while, he began to wonder if they were utterly random. You know, the old throw everything at the wall and see what sticks “strategy.”
Everyone felt confused (including customers). No one was happy. And no one showed the least bit of surprise when corporate announced the impending bankruptcy.
The real problem, of course, wasn’t excessive strategizing.
It’s that their doomed ideas weren’t strategies at all. Instead, they were tactics masquerading as strategies. As a result, there was always plenty of meaningless activity but no progress. Like his next-door neighbor’s pitiful collie, stuck behind that chain link fence all day, running in circles.
Confusing Strategy with Tactics: A Common Mistake
Like the (semi-fictional) Martin’s employer, many organizations toss the word strategy around without comprehending the fundamentals. Confusing strategy, tactics, and objectives, they operate in reactive, short-term mode. And the lack of strategic direction shows in their dismal results.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll provide a simple explanation of the differences between the three and why understanding these differences matters so much.
An objective in the simplest sense is simply a goal, something you decide that you need to achieve. Increasing your revenue by 20% this year is an objective. So is improving customer satisfaction rates or increasing market share by X percent this quarter. Objectives are what you’d like to accomplish.
How many times have you heard someone say something like this: our strategy for increasing sales is to cut prices?
The first problem with this approach is that cutting prices isn’t a strategy. It’s a tactic.
Tactics are the specific actions you take that make it possible to achieve your objectives.
Adding Facebook followers isn’t a strategy. It’s a tactic.
Blogging twice a month isn’t a strategy, either. It’s a tactic.
Hiring a data analytics consultant is probably a smart idea, but it isn’t a strategy. You guessed it — tactic.
The second problem with the “race to the bottom” on price scenario is that this tactic could obscure the real problem, one that can only be solved with smart strategy. If your brand no longer resonates with your customers and they don’t understand what separates you from your competitors, slashing prices is unlikely to get you where you need to be. This “strategy” is nothing more than a recipe for continued failure.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu
So where does strategy enter the picture? Strategy is everything that ties your objectives and tactics together. It must always come before tactics, not after. Tactics flow from strategy.
For example, if your goal is to double your number of new clients this year, strategy asks and answers crucial questions that determine the actions you take to achieve this goal.
· What specific value can you offer these new clients?
· Who are they and what are their most pressing challenges?
· What keeps them up at night?
· What makes you a better choice than your competitors?
· What values do you stand for?
If you’re a product company, how does your product improve your customers’ lives? What messaging will resonate with your ideal customer? What are their values, frustrations, dreams? How, and where, do they spend their time online?
Taking the time to develop a strategy based on these kinds of questions makes your tactics more targeted and effective. It also protects you from making sloppy assumptions that doom your efforts from the start.
Deciding on Tactics before Strategy Is Dangerous
When you put the cart before the horse – pardon the cliché — and attempt to execute tactics before working out strategy, you create the illusion of purposeful action. But you’re missing out on everything that actually makes achieving your goals possible. Let me be frank. You’re wasting your time.
No matter what size of business you operate, do you really have the resources to throw away on poor or nonexistent strategy? Are you chasing your tail, expending energy but still not seeing the results you’d like?
To move your business forward, take a good, hard look at what you’re doing. Make sure your tactics are tactics, your strategies are strategies, and everyone understands the difference. Start over from scratch if necessary. Then go forth and execute!