I was talking to someone about how they described the services they offer their customers, whether they were strategic partners or tactical partners with their customers. The discussion that followed online involved many different opinions about the meaning of strategy and tactics and what they mean in the business world.

Strategy vs Tactics in Business

The first question that we talked about was whether there was a difference between strategy and tactics.

They are significantly different and someone who does not understand and use both is going to struggle to succeed in business. In my favorite strategy game, Go, strategy is about how to play the game in order to capture the most territory. Tactics are about how to capture your opponent’s stones and defend your own stones.

The great thing about a game like Go is the fact that strategy and tactics are so easy to see. At the end of the game, the more spaces you have surrounded with your stones the better your strategy was. On the other hand, the more of your opponent’s stones you have completely surrounded and removed from the board, the better your tactics were.

But, if you are not a student of Go, I could point to history. Robert E. Lee, the southern general in the American Civil War, if not the best strategist the world has ever seen, he was one of the best. He could understand the lay of the land, ascertain information about the forces arrayed against him, and make strategic decisions that almost always won the day. But, Robert E. Lee lost the battle of Gettysburg. Spectacularly lost the battle of Gettysburg.

Many historians wonder why Lee ordered Picket’s charge at Gettysburg, which nearly broke his army. There are many reasons, but one of them is the fact that this was a tactical blunder, not a strategic one. And, Lee’s chief tactician (who had made similarly crazy schemes work in the past), Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, had died earlier in the war and was not there to temper Lee’s overreaching strategic plan.

In this way, you see that you need to have both strategy (lay of the land, information on your opponents, and clear goals) with tactics (the ability to do the right thing at the right time to move forward).

These two go hand in every aspect of life, but what do they look like in business?

Business vs Life

In business, strategy looks at long-term goals, but also the study of your competition and your products/customers. In business, tactics are simply put the ability to do what needs to be done to get cash into your business and increase the efficiency of that cash.

Without income, the best strategy will never be able to go anywhere, and without budgeting and managing that income, your strategic thinking will not help you get where you want your business to go.

On a case by case basis, some things might be more tactical than strategic. But, in general terms, strategy looks out, while tactics looks at what is right in front of you. And in business, the most immediate tactical issue is cash.

In the discussion we had, this consultant offered services to help organizations seek grant money. Several of us thought that grants were definitely more on the tactical side of her clients’ organizations and so we agreed with her thoughts that she was acting as a tactical partner for business.

So, what do you excel at in your business, strategy or tactics?