Tactical vs. Strategic Thinking: What is the Difference?

When it comes to thinking and planning, many people falsely assume that strategic and tactical thinking are the same. These terms are often used interchangeably, when in reality they are not. While there may be some overlap, these are two different parts of an overall plan. In order for a business to be successful, not only does it need strategic plans to keep growing and moving forward, but also tactical plans to make these strategies a reality.

What is Strategic Thinking?

Strategic thinking is about the future. Where is the business headed? What is it that they want to accomplish? Executives come together to determine overarching goals and objectives for the company. It requires looking at the present state of things and then determining what is the next step. This often involves researching the market, competition, and various opportunities. Strategic plans can apply to various aspects of business, from increasing brand awareness and customer engagement to breaking into new markets or enhancing employee retention.

Leaders create organizational goals and plans and then look at how they will be measured. What is the expected outcome and how will they determine results? What are potential challenges and how might they be mitigated? Strategic thinking and planning look at the long term and the big picture.

What is Tactical Thinking?

Tactical thinking is about the present. What is happening today? What are people doing on day-to-day? Tactical planning is about execution. Many different tactics may be necessary to accomplish various stages of the goal. What changes need to be implemented or what tasks need to be accomplished in order to make the goal a reality? Management oversees many moving parts: People, processes, resources, etc. They monitor progress and make adjustments as necessary. Tactical plans may be short-, mid-, or long-term depending on the objective. They are aligned with strategic goals while taking into consideration available resources, budgetary constraints, and time frames.

Organizations are most productive when leaders strategically plan for the future, and then create a plan for, and then focus on the present.

Dangers of a Disconnect

Strategic and tactical thinking should go hand-in-hand. Having one without the other can be a recipe for disaster. While it is great to be able to create goals and objectives to take the business to the next level, there also needs to be a plan in place to get there. And you can implement various tactics but they are less meaningful if you are not sure where you are headed or what the purpose is of what you want to achieve. Without a clear direction and a logical plan, businesses can be left in limbo. They may have the best of intentions, but it requires the work of both strategic and tactical thinkers to make it all happen.

Some people are very strong in strategic thinking and may be struggling with tactical thinking or vice versa. Understanding where your strengths lie can help you to make more meaningful contributions. It can also show you areas where you could improve to be more well-rounded and become more of a leader.

If you are struggling to differentiate strategy from tactics or want to boost your abilities to lead in either of these areas, JP Kantor Consulting can help. We will work with you to develop your skills and strengthen your role as a leader to guide both the direction of the company and employees.