There’s a continuum of action for business. (And life, but we’re really only talking business here.)
On the one end is strategy. It’s cerebral. It’s thinky. It requires many post-it notes and paper and books and maybe my favorite, a bullet journal.
At the other end is tactics. These are the actual things you do: the Tweets, the emails, the podcast, the webinar, the Facebook Live, the in-person networking meeting, the price setting, the sales-page writing, etc. etc. etc.
And somewhere in the middle the rubber meets the road. It’s where the big strategy you’ve designed meets the tactics that will make it happen.
And we’re going to call it strategic execution.
Strategy: is thinking about what you’re going to do.
Tactics: are things you can do.
Strategic Execution: is doing things in a thoughtful way.
Most of the gurus in the content marketing space talk tactics. There’s a reason for that: tactics are easy to generalize. It’s easier to write a post that says “do this thing and get results” than it is to say “think about this strategy.” By its very nature, strategy is harder to generalize. In fact, I would suggest that most gurus would suggest that when you see their tactics, you must decide whether to do them based on your strategy.
Instead, what tends to happen is that if people choose to try to execute a tactic they read about (and that’s a big if; most of us have more tactics in our toolbox than we will ever need or use), they do so randomly. They try this tactic and that tactic without any big picture strategy that ties them all together.
The sweet spot in the middle is “strategic execution;” picking and choosing the tactics you will use with a well-considered strategy.
You following me so far?
The problem is, very few people are teaching this, or even talking about it not just in my little corner of the information and content marketing world, but throughout the online business community that I’m familiar with.
To quote the Harvard Business Review, “The reason strategy execution is often glossed over by even the most astute strategy consultants is because primarily it’s not a strategy challenge. It’s a human behavior one.”
A strategic execution metaphor
Let’s pretend you make a goal to lower your cholesterol this year.
If you focus on strategy, you might go out and buy some books to help you understand high cholesterol, and learn all about the diet and exercise plan you should do to lower your cholesterol. You might visit a doctor, and have her tell you all about your cholesterol and how you can go about lowering it. You might research the pros and cons of cholesterol-lowering drugs. You might even go so far as to synthesize all this information into a plan for yourself.
And you’ll probably do it all while eating fried eggs, bacon and hash browns while sat idle on your sofa.
If you decide to focus on tactics, you’ll start throwing everything you’ve got at lowering your cholesterol. You’ll change your diet, take up running, take all the cholesterol lowering drugs at least for a while. But because you’re not regularly having your cholesterol tested, you won’t know what if anything is working, and you’ll probably give it up when it becomes painful, inconvenient, or boring.
Because it “wasn’t working” anyway.
If you choose strategic execution, you’ll probably do the strategy part read the books, talk to your doctor, research the drugs and then choose a few tactics that make the most sense for you. Then, you’ll not only have a plan for how you’re going to execute those tactics, say, a workout buddy, diet plan and a prescription for a drug, but you’ll also have a way to test and measure whether those tactics worked, like a follow-up appointment with your doctor.
Now, this example probably seems a little silly on the surface; of course you’d choose strategic execution if your health was on the line.
But do you?
Not to point fingers, but how many of us have made a weight loss plan and then gone out for burgers? How many of us have tried a fad diet for a weekend and then quit when it got hard? (This has certainly happened to me!)
More uncomfortable question: How many of you have sat down at the beginning of January and planned out a business strategy… but then got lost along the way somewhere?
Or, maybe you’ve read about a new tactic like podcasting or Facebook live and jumped in with both feet… without having a strategy for how to make it work?
Your business depends on strategic execution
Here’s the deal:
If you’re so busy making plans and creating strategies that you never execute, you’re never going to make progress.
If you’re trying every new tactic you read a blog post about without considering how it fits into your plan, you’re also not going to make much headway (though it will feel like you are).
The most important question you can ask in your business is: How can I align my (and my team’s) efforts to accomplish our most important goals?
Tara McMullin calls your most important goal your Chief Initiative, but it doesn’t matter what you call it; it’s the one driving force that’s going to move your business forward. And when you define it, it makes choosing which tactics to execute on much, much easier.
You just ask yourself: Does this move me closer to my goal?
Want to start a podcast? Great. Does it move you closer to your goal or is it a distraction?
Think you ought to blog every day? Amazing! Does it move you closer to your goal or is it a distraction?
Want to cut back your blogging to once a month? That’s legit. But does it move you closer to your goal or is it a distraction?
My business has always been about strategy — teaching it, showing people the value of it — but I’ve strayed from that, trying to reach everyone, trying to teach everything.
Trying to provide tactics, when what I’m better at is strategy.
And, turns out, what I’m best at is strategic execution.
13 thoughts on “Are You Focused on Tactics or Strategy? The Goal is Strategic Execution”
Glad to read your interesting post and you have simply clerify these three words in very simple manner – Strategy, Tactics and Strategic Execution. Today, there are several strategies are discovered to get beyond our competition. Strategies are really required for any kind of business to make it possible. Eventually, thanks for sharing your ideology regarding this subject.
With best regards,
I’m the type of person who reads everything I possibly can on something (so strategy) and then tries whichever tactics seem to best suit what I want to do. So everyone’s on about Instagram marketing but I don’t see how that works for a software copywriter so I keep Instagram for sharing cool photos. But where I struggle is being able to stop tactics that don’t work and find new ones that do!
I hear you with that. Another thing to be aware of is if you have a bias against a certain tactic before you test it.
This hit me at the perfect time. I’ve been working on a personal health project — learning about good sleep and how to get it. Working on this project has really clarified my thinking about exactly what you cover: the important difference between strategy and tactics. Now that I’ve got the experience of using strategic execution to improve my health, I’m more aware of how I’m lacking that approach in my business. I’m looking forward to building the habit of strategic execution this year, and I can’t wait for more of your wisdom on this topic, Lacey!
Awesome! Love to hear it, Megan! And thanks for sharing.
Useful post, Lacy. With the plethora of business information bombarding me it’s easy to get caught up in tactics without taking the time and effort to create the overall strategy…. therefore strategic execution is not necessarily happening within my business although I’m constantly busy… Write more on this, please. 😀
Haha! Yes! More to come. Thanks Dana.
Lacy, thank you for sharing this. It’s a great way to look at things.
One of the biggest barriers to the growth of my business was my lack of strategic execution, as you so eloquently put it. Even to this day, if I don’t force myself to take a step back and think strategically I’d find it all too easy to get stuck in the mundane ‘day to day’ business stuff (fighting fires and waring all the hats). It’s so important just to schedule some time to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, then work out how to execute.
If only you’d posted this a few years ago, it would have helped me a lot!
HA! Unfortunately, my TARDIS is in the shop…
Great article Lacy. I totally agree with you, strategic execution is necessary in order to succeed with your business or life goals!
Love this, Lacy! I’m plagued with SOS (shiny object syndrome…), I’m an absolutely awesome planner – I’ve got shelves of notebooks to prove it ;-), but strategic execution? Be still my heart – I think I’ve seen the light – and it’s not coming from the newest shiny object!!
Ha! Love it! Welcome to the light, Penny.