Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Corporate Christmas Gift

It is a common tradition during the holiday season to send customers, prospects, colleagues and friends some variation of a Christmas / Hanukkah / Happy Holidays-type card.

While many of my friends will be receiving the same this year (in e*form of course), for some I want to do something a little different.

I’m thinking this year that I will buy a set of pocket dictionaries, tear out all the pages except for two and send those instead.  It will definitely be of more value to them in the long run.

The two pages will contain the definitions of two words, strategy and tactics, because a lot of people still do not understand the difference between the two.

On the inside of the cover, I will write the following quote:

"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." - Sun Tzu

Yeah, I’m a little agitated … mostly because I am witnessing great opportunities go down the drain because people don’t understand the importance of both.

Here is how the Oxford Dictionary defines and contrasts the two:

strategy - the art of planning ….

often contrasted with tactics - a plan for directing operations and movements

In essence, strategy defines the measurable intentions and outcomes (the big picture) and the process of defining the steps necessary to manifest them while tactics includes the detailed components of the plan and how the plan is executed.

Common sense, right?  I thought so too … however …..

Despite the overwhelming amount of knowledge in the world that defines them and describes how to create them, people still confuse the strategy (which defines the end goal) with the tactics (the means to the end) or choose not to define one or both of them before setting out on their corporate journey.

For example, I know of one organization that has aspirations to be a major player in a specific space.  They have no measurable outcomes or intentions at all.  Their “trusted strategy advisor” tells them that the strategy for corporate success is based on how they define their website, right down to how the HTML will be structured to make best use of SEO (search engine optimization).  When you ask them what the organization actually wants to accomplish and by when, they don’t know.  When you ask what their exit strategy is, who their competitors are, who their markets are, etc, they have no idea.

They’re too busy defining the website rollout, without having any idea how the website contributes to the as-yet undefined ultimate objectives and intentions of the company.  So they have confused random execution (poor tactics) with strategy.

Another organization has decided that they are going to roll strategy and tactics together into one package, trying things at random without any measurable outcomes and intentions while hoping at some point to randomly land on success.  Why are they trying this hybrid role of tactics and strategy?  Because they were told that it is impossible to create a plan with measurable outcomes – the best way to achieve your outcomes is to try a lot of things until you are successful (success, in their case, not even being defined until it happens, after which you can define it).  Uhhhhhhh ….. huh?  They have skipped strategy altogether.

Anyone want to take any bets on the success potential of these two organizations?

I agree – which is too bad because they are both onto fantastic ideas.

By skipping the need for strategic planning or by assuming that “my strategy is to start doing stuff and hope it comes together”, they are doomed to lackluster results at best (if they last that long) or failure in the worst case scenario.

If one doesn’t use strategic planning to know where the organization is going and how / why it should get there, then one shouldn’t even start out on the journey.

Once one has a strong strategic intention in place, then one must turn towards creating intelligent tactical roadmaps to bring that strategy to fruition.

All that’s left then is smart execution of the tactical roadmap. :-)

It’s like driving from New York to San Diego without first consulting a map or GPS but knowing that the drive should take 5 days.  It is pointless to set out, drive randomly for 5 days and then stop and look out the window to see where I am.  I have a greater chance of NOT having arrived than I do of being able to breathe the sweet Pacific breeze.

And that is now how I like to travel!

In service and servanthood,


PS Moving From Strategic Planning to Tactical Roadmaps

Many people struggle with how to create the tactical roadmaps necessary to manifest their strategic intention.  My website contains a complimentary diagram that explains the use of backcasting, a process growing in adoption that helps organizations create the tactical roadmaps necessary for sharp execution of their organization, rather than to randomly knock a plan together and hope for the best.   Please click here to obtain a copy. 

To your success.


  1. It is like taking a trip....

    Let's say you want to find the largest ball of string in North America, what do you do?

    1. start driving till you find it?

    2. Find a map, see where it is and then never reference the map again and depend on road signs and guesses?

    3. review the map; build the navigation plan; pack the necessary travel items; define the start date and end date; plan for needed resources, supplies and tools for along the way; define "what next" after ball of string has been visited; take action and start the trip, periodically evaluate travel times and resources ($)along the way to ensure your trip is going as planned; adjust based on this evaluation; visit the largest ball of string ever; begin implementing your "What Next" plan?

    I am thinking number 3 would make for the most successful trip. (unless of course you are someone who likes life to "happen" to you, but then that person is not creating their own day)

  2. Exactly :-)

    And yes, this is true .. this is the difference between creating a great day versus merely having one (the latter being a passive experience filled with hope that it accidentally comes along). :-)

    Thanks, Patti.

    Create a great day!


  3. Harry you would have made a great military leader! Strategic planning and tactics are two areas that my previous employers lacked expertise in. As you have identified some companies fail to see the benefits. However, when the results are loss of profit or worst case senario bankruptcy they wonder why.


  4. Thanks, Terri.

    Some people and orgs ignore strategy because they just "want to get at it" and ignore smart tactics because they assume you can guess and blunder your way through anything.

    But you're right - they do act surprised when the inevitable happens.

    The sad part is that often they are the only ones surprised.

    As for being a military leader, I don't know how well I would have done there - although I am a student of military history, strategy and military simulations. :-)

    Create a great day!