Strategic vs “Tactical” Planning

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    A participant in a listserve observed that ”the realm of ‘planning’ is (often) made infinitely more complicated because different words are used to mean the same thing and the same words are used to mean different things.”

    Indeed, there is great diversity in the use of terms like “visioning,” “mission” and “strategic planning.” So I go back to my basic training in development — 40+ years ago — to address the issue at hand.

    Early on, it was explained that the term “campaign” came from the military, as do the terms/concepts of “strategy” and “tactics.”

    Where “strategy” and “strategic” (as in planning) have come to common usage in business and development, “tactics” has yet to gain wide- (if any) usage.

    Strategy is/was defined as “planning and directing large-scale military operations … of maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position prior to actual engagement with the enemy.” The common usage in the for-profit and non-profit communities is a derivative of that definition.

    The military definition of “tactics” refers to arranging/maneuvering with reference to short-term objectives or immediate needs … and adapting to circumstances.

    Strategy is a focus on the long view, and tactics looks at how to apply the strategies in the short term.

    Leadership is responsible for formulation of strategy (strategic plans), using whatever resources needed for that process — including staff, in many (but not necessarily all) cases.

    Staff then takes their “marching orders” from the strategic plan, and defines how they will make it work in the day-to-day reality. Where staff is not responsible for the strategy (Strategic Plan), they are responsible for the developing the tactics that translate the “concept” into “reality.”

    Quoting another listserve participant: “My opinion regarding strategies and goals for a strategic plan is that they go out no more than 3-5 years. And I view tactical or operational plans (I actually call them “Action Plans”) as 1 year in length … at the most”

    Part of the confusion is the use the term “strategic planning” to refer to both, long-range and short-term. I just thought that a different term could help clear the air.

    I would add … that those who do not do Tactical Planning or “Action Planning” (no matter what they call it) are unlikely to achieve their strategic goals.

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