Oxford Dictionaries defines strategy as “a plan of action to achieve a long-term or overall aim.”
In the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs (reference below), Graham Allison provides a succinct application to international relations:
“Strategy is the purposeful alignment of means and ends. Among the many ways in which a strategy fails, the two most common are mismatch – when the means an actor can organize and sustain are insufficient to achieve the stated ends – and vision blindness, when an actor is mesmerized by an ideal but unachievable end.”
Although strategy is usually contrasted with tactics (see below), the terms are often used with overlapping meanings. For example Oxford Dictionaries defines tactic as “an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.”
Is the word “strategic” losing its meaning?
The Kennedy School’s Herman Leonard opens A Short Note on Public Sector Strategy-Building with:
“The word “strategic” has now come to be used in the public sector to describe so many initiatives, programs, plans, actions, budgets, and people that it has lost any specificity – if indeed it ever had any. What does it mean to have a “strategic” plan, or to develop a “strategic” initiative? Generally, the label is intended to convey that whatever follows it is more than usually important, comprehensive, broader in scope, longer-term, and oriented toward the accomplishment of larger, more important objectives – but beyond transmitting (or attempting to transmit!) a general aura of “gravitas,” it has often come to have very little real meaning.”
Nevertheless, Leonard describes “a framework for “strategic analysis” that is widely (though variously) taught in Kennedy School courses and executive programs that gives at least some more specific content to the notion of “strategy” – at least as contrasted with “tactics” or “operational” actions.”
Levels of strategy
MindTools (reference below) suggests that although a simple definition of strategy is “determining how we are going to win in the period ahead,” the term has somewhat different meaning at three different levels – corporate, business unit, and team – as described below.
- Corporate level strategy refers to the overall strategy of an organization that is made up of multiple business units, operating in multiple markets. It determines how the corporation as a whole supports and enhances the value of the business units within it; and it answers the question, “How do we structure the overall business, so that all of its parts create more value together than they would individually?” At the corporate level, strategy is concerned with thinking about how the business units within the corporation should fit together, and provides tools such as Porter’s Generic Strategies (at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_82.htm) to help with this type of high-level analysis and planning.
- Business-unit level strategy is concerned with competing successfully in individual markets, and it addresses the question, “How do we win in this market?” MindTools suggests that, at this level, a useful tool for creating and exploiting new opportunities is Porter’s Five Forces (at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_08.htm) and that SWOT Analysis (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_05.htm) will help understand and address opportunities and threats.
- Team-level strategy is needed to ensure that teams throughout the organization to work together. MindTools suggests that, at this level, Team Charters (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_95.htm) and Key Performance Indicators (https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_87.htm) are useful tools.
Differences between strategy and tactics
Jeremiah Owyang (reference below) provides the following table of actions that distinguish between strategy and tactics.
|Purpose||To identify clear broader goals that advance the overall organization and organize resources.||To utilize specific resources to achieve sub-goals that support the defined mission.|
|Roles||Individuals who influence resources in the organization. They understand how a set of tactics work together to achieve goals.||Specific domain experts that maneuver limited resources into actions to achieve a set of goals.|
|Accountability||Held accountable to overall health of organization.||Held accountable to specific resources assigned.|
|Scope||All the resources within the organizations, as well as broader market conditions including competitors, customers, and economy.||A subset of resources used in a plan or process. Tactics are often specific tactics with limited resources to achieve broader goals.|
|Duration||Long term, changes infrequently.||Shorter term, flexible to specific market conditions.|
|Methods||Uses experience, research, analysis, thinking, then communication.||Uses experiences, best practices, plans, processes, and teams.|
|Outputs||Produces clear organizational goals, plans, maps, guideposts, and key performance measurements.||Produces clear deliverables and outputs using people, tools, time.|
Oxford Dictionaries, at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/strategy and http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/tactic#tactic__6, accessed 24 March 2014.
Graham Allison (2020), The New Spheres of Influence – Sharing the Globe With Other Great Powers, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020, at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-02-10/new-spheres-influence, accessed 19 February 2020.
MindTools, What is Strategy – The Three Levels of Strategy, at https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/what-is-strategy.htm, accessed 24 March 2016.
Jeremiah Owyang (2013), The Difference between Strategy and Tactics, at http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2013/01/14/the-difference-between-strategy-and-tactics/, accessed 24 March 2016.
Atlas topic and subject
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 19 February 2020.
Image: Convention Business Travel Blog, at http://blog.conventionbusinesstravel.com/successful-corporate-strategy-implementation/, accessed 24 March 2016.