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What’s the difference between tactics and strategy?

Do you know the difference between tactics and strategy? Today I have a guest post by Saskia Jones for you to dispel some myths and provide clarity.

I often describe strategy as “the thinking” whereas tactics are “the doing” – in other words, what we’re going to do, then how we’re going to do it/get there.

In my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass I talk about the fact Strategic Internal Communication is typically characterised as being proactive, whereas tactical Internal Communication is being reactive.

Saskia is a Communications Consultant and Coach, specialising in internal communications. Her latest role was Head of Communications Engagement at Oxfam, responsible for brand, strategy and global internal communications. She  won ‘Internal Communicator of the Year’ at the Institute of Internal Communication Icon Awards 2014.

2020 update: I’m devastated to say unfortunately Saskia passed away in January 2020. You can read her obituary from the Institute of Internal Communication online.

She was such a guiding light in the world of IC and I enjoyed collaborating with her on posts like these to help other internal communicators learn. She will be missed by me and so many others in the world of Comms.

Here’s Saskia’s article…

Internal Communications Tactics vs Strategy: What’s the difference?

‘We need to get all staff on Yammer’; ‘We need a newsletter’; ‘We need a leadership video’. Familiar?

It is very tempting to measure the effectiveness of your role by the number of initiatives you can come up with or are working on. It gives the impression of forward movement. But what are these initiatives designed to achieve, and how are they bringing results for the organisation?

You may feel like you have no time to look at the bigger picture under the pressure of so many demands on your time.

When you have dozens of projects on the go, it’s easy to have no time to step back. You certainly need to have lots of ideas for effective actions, but also a strong clarity about where those actions are being designed to take you – in other words a certainty that they will contribute to achieving your organizational goals.

What’s the difference between strategy and tactics?

A strategy sets the direction in which you are headed. It sets an approach for achieving your overall objective.

A tactic is a course of action – one of possibly several – that you will embark on to bring your strategy to fruition. It is an activity to which you can assign a clear timeline, resources and metrics.

Without a strategy, your tactics have no direction. Without tactics, your strategy won’t happen.

Can you give a simple example?

Imagine that your latest employee survey has shown that employee engagement has decreased.

You have been asked to work with HR to improve this. Your overall objective is therefore to increase employee engagement.

Specifically, the survey has shown that line manager communication is poor.

You may therefore decide that one of your strategies for raising employee engagement will be to improve line managers’ skills at internal communication.

Tactically, there are a number of ways to potentially achieve this, including:

  • You could implement a training programme in effective internal communication for all line managers
  • You could make it compulsory for all line managers to have an objective on internal communication with their teams
  • You could have a dedicated area on your intranet where communications resources for managers can be accessed and shared.

These are all initiatives, but what is important is that they are all initiatives with a clearly perceived purpose:

What’s wrong with just focusing on tactics?

By focusing on tactics alone, you might find yourself very busy delivering some great products –but will they be the right ones? Will they really be helping achieve organisational objectives?

Next time you get asked to ‘produce a podcast’ or ‘organise a talk’, take it to the next level by directing some questions to your leader or internal client.

Help uncover whether there is a strategic need for it by asking ‘What is your objective?’ and ‘Who do you want to reach?’ Success is not just about getting everyone onto the latest platform or ticking items off your to-do list. It’s about reaching the right people, at the right time and through the right channels, to achieve your objectives.

As Sun Tzu, a Chinese military leader and philosopher observed more than two millennia ago, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.

Strategies are your guiding light; tactics are your path. The two have to work in tandem.

By understanding the difference between strategy and tactics, and using them together, you’ll be focused on doing the right things, instead of on doing a lot of things right.

Post author: Saskia Jones.

Thank you Saskia, did you find that helpful?  As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog
Using a strategic narrative – what it is and how to do it
Ten must haves for your IC strategy
How to write an internal communication strategy
Free internal comms plan guidelines.

Thank you for stopping by

Rachel.

First published on the All Things IC blog 15 November 2018.

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Comments

  1. Annique says:

    Best differentiation between ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ I’ve read! Will definitely resonate with senior leaders and colleagues who don’t seem to (want to) get where IC can add value. Thanks Saskia & Rachel for sharing :).

  2. Thank you Annique 🙂

  3. Nolan Sundrud says:

    This is an excellent review of how the planning cascade should work. Strategies are the means to reach goals, and tactics are the actions needed to actually accomplish the right things to help the business achieve its goals.

    I’d propose that “objectives” as used above are actually “goals.” Objectives, as I understand them, are measurable targets used to define what success looks like as you accomplish your goal.

    In this particular example, the *goal* is to “increase employee engagement.” Since the survey showed the issue is with the line managers, the objective might be: “Improve employee opinions of line manager communication skills by 10% on the next employee survey.” It’s specific, measurable, and you can show whether or not the strategy you’ve selected is working. It builds outcome measurement right into the planning process (instead of the easier, but less useful, output measurement)!

    Goal –> Measurable Objectives –> Strategic Approach –> Tactics

  4. […] confuse your IC strategy with your tactics. As Saskia Jones points out on the All Things IC blog, […]

  5. […] also very important that you don’t confuse your IC strategy with your tactics. As Saskia Jones points out on the All Things IC blog, […]

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