Strategy, Tactic or Task?

Edition: April 2003 - Vol 11 Number 04
Article#: 1505
Author: Repertoire

Planners often have difficulty differentiating between what is a goal vs. an objective, what is strategic vs. tactical and what should be defended vs. sacrificed. This is true regardless of the level at which these planners operate – the executive, managerial or individual level.

A strategic goal is critical in nature, having a major impact on an organization’s survivability and profitability. Thus it receives top priority. It is also associated with a long-term strategy comprising one or more goals with several tactical objectives and numerous task-activities.

Typically, a strategic goal is the recipient of senior management’s primary focus because of its system-wide orientation, major implications and substantial investment of capital resources (be they information, human or financial capital). Senior management most often champions and aggressively defends the strategic goals they created.

A tactical objective can be substantial in nature and critical to achieving a strategic goal. However, it remains secondary to the strategic goal and usually falls under line-management scrutiny and short-term focus. A tactical objective is aligned with two or more task-activities and tends to be more operational in scope, requiring a smaller allocation of resources. It can even be temporarily postponed if necessary. Tactical objectives often get batted around the conference table due to indecision by the executive team. Often, tactical objectives get converted into those that are ill-defined or downsized to task-activities.

Task-activities are the bread and butter of everyday business, yet not as important as tactical objectives. Even so, one or more task-activities are required to achieve tactical objectives. Likewise, most strategic goals have scores of linked task-activities, which have to be achieved near-term by individuals focusing on everyday activities. Because of the minimal resources associated with any given task-activity, management has the tendency to sacrifice them at their slightest whim or at the first signs of a downturn in business. Training and safety activities are good examples of such activities that are often brought to the sacrificial altar in trying times.

Scrutinizing Your Activities

The accompanying Planning Designation Guide provides a quick reference for assigning a strategic, tactical or task designation to a business plan element. Examining your activities in light of this Guide may help you clarify the overall importance of the activity, make quick decisions about resource allocations and determine the relationship a task has with other plan elements.

The Guide can help you organize and quantify your “action” thoughts using three distinct stages: strategic, tactical and task. Each stage is defined by its respective correlation to six key planning decision-making parameters:

• Architect

• Focus

• Mindset

• Period

• Allocation

• Position

An example from a planner’s perspective might be that the strategic-stage executive could be the head of the company or the head of a department, depending on the implementation level of the plan in whole or part. Investment, cost and expense are root-dollars, business’ endgame or bottom line mentality. Investment is in millions, though cost (a lesser budget item) might be as well, while expense reflects a minor cost. Of course, it is all relative to the size of the company and its budget.

In the overall scheme of things, the aggregate of many independent goals make a corporate goal attainable. Hence, a division, department or individual’s strategic goal could be in whole or in part a company tactical objective or one of many task-activities. Strategic goals, tactical objectives, and task-activities are all dependent on each other. Together, they contribute to driving a company’s overall success.

Never forget that senior management should value your function as a strategic asset and not a task-activity.

John O'Malley is a healthcare

consultant based in Birmingham, Ala. He is the author of
Ultimate Patient Satisfaction (McGraw-Hill, 1997). His newest book is Healthcare Marketing, Sales and Service (Health Administration, Press 2001).

He may be reached at 205/995-8495

or His Web

site is www.strategicvisions