Linking Strategy and Tactics

Posted on March 11, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , , , |

Linking Strategy to Tactics

Linking Strategy to Tactics

Working with an organizational client helped me see just how difficult the interplay between tactics and strategy can be for some. To keep these straight, it is important to understand both relative to “purpose”. In the diagram, I’ve shown a chevron diagram that leads from many tasks to a few goals and a single vision all of which point toward a target or “purpose”. When we work from a plan, this is is happening naturally, we don’t have to “think about” what we are trying to achieve… the plan takes care of that for us.

Plans are worthless but planning is priceless.

It is a long distance between purpose and our daily task list – or that work which is staring at us from our computer monitor or in basket. So, how does one bridge that distance between a “next action” and his or her “life purpose”?

Planning works in the opposite direction from daily action. In planning we start at our purpose, or “why am I here,” “what do I want to achieve,” or “how do I add value?” (By the way, individual planning is no different than group planning. If planning for a group, replace the word “I” in the questions above with the word “we.”) Sometimes, this first step can take a long time, even months, to fully understand. Often, just starting is as good as starting with the perfect purpose. In planning, nothing is ever finished until you re-write the plan! So, if you get stuck while writing your purpose statement, don’t dwell on it, just go with whatever you have after an hour or so and revisit it later.

If done correctly, a purpose cannot be achieved in a single lifetime! It is a spot on the horizon. If you can quickly achieve your purpose, you aren’t planning big enough.

Where purpose may be rather vague even esoteric, such as, “Be the best I can be” or “Build the perfect mousetrap”, a vision should be very concrete, for example, “The best salesman in the United States” or “The top selling mousetrap in North America.” This specificity will help in the next step.


To identify your goals, ask yourself what things need to happen in order for this vision to be achieved. Bear in mind the vision may take many years, but goals should be “SMART.” This is an initialism used for Specific — Measurable — Aligned — Realistic — Time-bound goals. Specific refers to focus of the goal, vague goals will not be completed. Measurable is an objective way of determining when the goal is met. Aligned refers to the place each goal fills relative to other priorities. Realistic references the ability to accomplish the goal within the time period, usually one year. Time-bound means the time in which the goal will be accomplished must be stated. I like the rule of “seven plus or minus two” when writing goals. That means, don’t write more than 9 or fewer than 5 goals. although there is debate over the validity of scientific studies, it remains useful to focus your awareness on 7 +/- 2 items. The surest way to inaction is to have too many goals, but you’ll underachieve if you write too few.

Nesting Goals

In some cases, you may find that nesting your goals is necessary. If you can’t achieve your vision without 12 goals, look for linkages such that the overall number reduces to that magic 7 +/- 2. Nest them and work on them in sequential order if necessary. See the discussion in the next two paragraphs on seequential and parallel tasks to get a better understanding of how this nesting strategy works.

Linear or Parallel Relationship?

When identifying your tasks, consider the goals and plan out what steps are required for each to be accomplished. Here, I highly recommend you work on just one goal at a time. You will identify these steps either need to be done in sequence or in parallel. Sequential tasks can have a “linear” relationship where one must be accomplished before another can be started. An example is baking bread, the ingredients must be acquired before the mixing can start and the dough must rise before the baking can start.

In parallel tasks, the relationship is different. Most often, these type of tasks involve waiting time and therefore several tasks may be happening at the same time. For instance, when putting together the meal, you may get the bread dough mixed, but it needs to sit for an hour before it can be baked, so you start on the meat marinade while you are waiting. Ideally, all parallel tasks are completed around the same time and by the conclusion of the goal deadline.

Next Step?

The final and most frequently addressed activity in planning is identifying the “next step.” Review your goals regularly and your active tasks daily and constantly ask yourself about the next action. In other words, when you finish a meeting, conclude a phone call or before you send an email, ask yourself this questions, “What’s the very next thing to do?” Don’t be afraid to say this question out loud with whomever is present. They will be appreciative and it will cause everyone to stop for a moment and think about the next step. This is a very useful summary question.

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4 Responses to “Linking Strategy and Tactics”

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Hi John,

Very much like the new blog.

If I can build on the SMART goal setting, which is a powerful technique. I often swop the “A” in the acronym. I find that Achievable and Realistic are often synonyms for many people and prefer to use “A” is for All. Simply meaning that a great goal is one that is good for all parts of your life; family, career and all your values. If the consequences of being the best mousetrap salesman meant having to away from home, it might not be as attractive…

Love to hear your thoughts and get a bit of a debate going.


Great point Ed… in fact, I just looked at what I wrote in the posting and realized I left out a reference to the “A” and my description for “R” could fit either achievable or realistic.

I like the concept behind the “A” equals “All” argument that you pose, however, I’m not sure I like the term “all”. I’m a little more inclined toward the hyphenated term “all-inclusive” but that seems a bit stilted. How about using “aligned” meaning the goal is compatible with and considerate of all your other goals?

[…] About John ← Linking Strategy and Tactics […]

[…] should specify what is to be done, by when and how you will know it is complete. See my article on Linking Strategy and Tactics for a review of how to create SMART […]

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