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Strategy is a Matter of Perspective

January 25, 2012

Strategy versus Tactics. How do these fit together? Why is there confusion as to what is a Strategy and what is a Tactic? The reason is perspective.

A Strategy for one participant is another’s tactic. Let me explain. The political leader’s strategy is to win the war. The general’s strategy is to deprive the enemy of their resources. The general’s strategy is the political leader’s tactic. The colonels strategy is to bomb the ports, airfields and rail yards. These are the general’s tactics and so on and so on. We can complicate this with revisiting the politician seeking a strategic win against an enemy. The electing public to whom the political answers, is focused on a strategy of increasing the standard of living as a society and this can continue to individual needs.

So confusions on what is strategy and what is tactics remains.

In corporate life, the strategy of the shareholders is to maximize wealth. They accomplish this by employing senior managers who the Board believes can accomplish this most effectively. However, this can be conflicted unlike in the previous war scenario. Why? Because of differences in compensation!

Personally witnessing multi billion industries where each layer of management receives bonus compensation based on unresolved and cross purpose alignment of strategy to tactics from level to level, I stood in awe of the simple impossibility of the enterprise reaching its goal. One example, the leader of our Group called and told me he needed me to accomplish X. “Jerry..” I said, “you realize if I do that, it will kill my bonus?” he responded “Jimmy, no way. Let’s get Tim on the phone to confirm.” Tim was the division financial controller. “Jerry, Jim’s right.”…and this began the end of my corporate career.

Strategic and tactical goals can be best accomplished by aligning everyone’s goals from the top down to accomplishing the same goals.


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  1. Rusty permalink

    Great story & illustrations, … we faced similar events as we left “big corporate America.” Different individuals, and dates but very similar storyline. My call was proactive, “we need to close this facility and open 3-4 new significantly smaller offices in different locations to meet the need of recruiting new Top talent in the area and growing our business base.” Response, “we can’t close old facilities and open new ones when the firm is looking to consolidate real estate.” My response, “then we will lose all local Top talent and we will end up closing the office forfeiting area representation.” All following conversations indicated John didn’t understand. Sad, … time simply proved my vision after arrival in a very difficult situation, not due to any lack of effort to support his decision to continue with current strategy. Too bad, … in the end we could have saved the firm money and the client’s time, energy, frustration & money as a result of cleaning up the local business early by consolidating this operation with either of two surrounding options.

    When someone earns your respect through supportive actions not words, you are much more willing to exert extra efforts to benefit and sustain their success. In my case, Mark, Martin, Jerry, Gerard and Regina … for those I would walk through fire. Others I “reported to” and reviewed tactics and strategy with, … well let’s leave it as confusion of tactics, strategy and human relations precede lost profitability in organizations especially when they lose top talent like you!

  2. Rusty, thanks for the comments. It really is a paradox so many of the ‘smartest guys in the room’ types can build/perpetuate a system built to fail.

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