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Do Tactics Generate Strategy?- Part II

2010/03/29

In a previous blog, I argued that:

  • Tactics (or “small s” strategy) can generate “large S” Strategy, just as “large S” Strategy can generate tactics;
  • An important challenge for today’s organizations is to create linkages and feedback loops between Strategy and tactics, and between tactics and Strategy; and
  • A variety of novel solutions for accomplishing this task have emerged over the last 5-10 years.

This blog generated some comments, including this one from a colleague who works with web analytics: “I have been accused of being ‘not strategic enough’ and also of being ‘not tactical enough.’”  When I asked her how she saw her strengths, my colleague replied that she is good at applying “strategy.” For instance, others in her workplace will come to her and say, “Tell us what you think we should care about concerning customer satisfaction and problem resolution.”  However, she is not comfortable talking “web analytics jargon” and pretending she means the same thing as her colleagues; she wants to move the conversation to defining objectives.  For those who want to talk about writing code and technical objectives, this means she is not “tactical” enough.  On the other hand, my colleague is not inclined to apply overarching models (such as Balanced Scorecarding, Reengineering, or Software Maturity Models) to the situation at hand; those who believe this is at the heart of strategy accuse her of not being a “strategic thinker.”

Listening to her story, I formed the impression that my colleague should recognize and make use of a category that links “strategic” and “tactical” orientations: I call it “operational.”  In my experience, the work of organizations can be analyzed in terms of these three levels; recognition of all three is needed for the organization to thrive as a business and learning system.  Whether we believe that “strategy” and “tactics” come from the executive suite, the front lines, or a combination of both, the layer of “operations” is needed to knit them together and create synergies across levels of work and layers of an organization.  Operations has its own skillsets, competencies, and strategies; it looks to me as though my colleague has them without knowing it or being able to frame the discussion in light of this distinction.

“Operations,” in this sense, is about making things happen, and about helping the executive suite understand the imperatives and drivers experienced by front-line staff.  It involves translation, fostering interaction, and connecting strategic “models” with day-to-day realities.  Operations people tend to be pragmatic, action-oriented, and able to negotiate and resolve conflict among people with multiple perspectives.  They are motivated by “application” more than by testing theories and by moving things forward at the point of contact with customers.  They want to put ideas into action, and they are attuned to iteration, adjustment, and improvisation in response to surprises and changing circumstances. 

This is where my friend can leverage her inclination toward defining objectives.  This is an operational impulse, since “objectives” can be used to bridge “strategic” and “tactical” ways of thinking.  Informally, the activity of defining objectives can bring together a multi-disciplinary team and help them achieve new leverage from their individual efforts, i.e. to create a whole effect that is greater than the sum of the parts.  But the activity needs to be structured and facilitated effectively to work well.  For instance, my friend noted that when others say “let’s implement this model (such as a software maturity model or new business process),” she will say “What are the goals?  What will we do at the technical level to achieve them?  How will we measure the outcomes?”  Though apparently “obvious,” these questions focus the conversation and bring it beyond the level of excitement, rhetoric, or ideology.  In short, these are operational questions- the answers help us to begin linking “strategy” (in the sense of applying models) to “tactics” (in the sense of concrete, everyday actions we need to carry out in order to achieve our intended outcomes).

More formally, this kind of strength can be leveraged by framing it in light of frameworks like the Balanced Governance Scorecard and logic models.  Several of my consulting colleagues are experts in this kind of approach (including Ken Moore of Quantum Solutions in Austin, Texas and Gail Raynus of Share Dynamics in Boston).  They help organizations link strategy and operations by working with senior teams and middle managers to construct dynamic Balanced Scorecards and Strategy Maps, and to align goals, questions, and metrics accordingly.  Without knowing it, my friend is working from a similar perspective; she can use these reference points to legitimize what she is already doing naturally!

That said, most approaches of this kind rely on quantitative data and retrospective analysis.  Rarely do they admit that qualitative information and observations should “count” as “data”; and if they do, they have trouble incorporating both qualitative and quantitative data in reporting, analysis, and decision-making.  My own work focuses on the use of such methods (for instance, stories and anecdotes), in addition to ways of evaluating and analyzing qualitative data that give us insights into real-time adjustments, emerging discoveries, and forming patterns of action in a company, customer environment, or social network.  We call this work Dynamic Evaluation (to indicate  emphasis on rapid, real-time recalibration, using all forms of data in systematic ways).

I will have more to say on this in my post for next month (May 1, 2011).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ajohle Kaahola permalink
    2010/04/21 4:07 pm

    Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please answer me.

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