It is beneficial to make distinction between strategy and tactics so that managers can concentrate themselves on strategic functions rather than engaging in tactical functions. Organizational decisions range across a spectrum, having a broad master strategy at one end and minute tactics at the other. The major difference between strategy and tactics is that strategy determines what major plans are to be undertaken and allocates resources to them, while tactics, in contrast, is means by which previously determined plans are executed. Beyond this major difference, there may be some other differences, which can be understood better by analyzing military use of strategy and tactics.
Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian army general and military scientist, defines military strategy as ‘making use of battles in the furtherance of the war’ and the tactics as ‘the use of armed forces in battle.’ A successor to Clausewitz, Count von Moltke is more lucid in making distinction between strategy and tactics. He states that:
‘Strategy is a system of makeshifts. It is carried through an originally conceived plan under a constantly shifting set of circumstances. Strategy furnishes tactics with the opportunity to strike with the prospect of success. It does this through its conduct of the armies and their concentration on the field of battle. On the other hand, however, strategy concept accepts the results of every single engagement and builds on them. Strategy retires when a tactical victory is in the making in order later to exploit the newly created situation.
The basic goal of strategy accordingly is to break the will pf the army, deprive him of the means to fight, occupy his territory, destroy or obtain control of his resources or otherwise make him submit. The goal of tactics is success in a given action which is only one part in a group of related military actions.
A further distinction between strategy and tactics as used in Military Science is made on the basis of delegation of decision-making authority. Strategic decisions are not delegated too low in the organization. Normally the authority is not delegated below the levels than those, which possess the perspective required for the most effective decisions.
Such a distinction between strategy and tactics is quite sharp. However, business is different from war in its true perspective not only in terms of its objectives vis-a-vis its competitors but also in terms of process of achievement of objectives. In business, there is seldom a win-lose situation as is the case with the war. Therefore, the distinction should be made between strategy and tactics in business terms.
Distinction between Strategy and Tactics
- Level of Conduct – As discussed earlier, strategy is developed at the highest level of management either at the headquarter or at major divisional offices and related exclusively to decisions in the province of these levels. Tactics is employed at and relates to lower levels of management.
- Periodicity – The formulation of strategy is both continuous and irregular. The process is continuous but the timing of decision is irregular as it depends on the appearance of opportunities, new ideas, crisis, management initiative, and other non-routine stimuli. Tactics is determined on a periodic basis by various organizations. A fixed timetable may be followed for this purpose, for example, preparation of budgets at regular intervals.
- Time Horizon – Strategy has a long-term perspective; especially the successful strategies are followed for quite long periods. In occasional cases, it may have short-term duration. Thus, depending on the nature and requirement, its time horizon is flexible, however, emphasis is put on long-term. On the other hand, time horizon of tactics is short-run and definite. The duration is uniform, for example budget preparation.
- Uncertainty – Element of uncertainty is higher in the case of strategy formulation and its implementation. In fact, strategic decisions are taken under the conditions of partial ignorance. Tactical decisions are more certain as these are taken within the framework set by the strategy. Thus, evaluation of tactics is easier as compared to evaluation of a strategy.
- Information Needs – The total possible range of alternatives from which a man-ager can choose his strategic action is greater than tactics. A manager requires more information for arriving at strategic decision. Since an attempt is made to relate the organization to its environment, this requires information about the various aspects of environment. Naturally the collection of such information will be different. Tactical information is generated within the organization particularly from accounting procedures and statistical sources.
- Subjective Values – The formulation of strategy is affected considerably by the personal values of the person involved in the process. For example, what should be the goals of an organization is affected considerably by the personal values of the persons concerned. On the other hand, tactics is normally free from such values because this is to .be taken within the context of strategic decisions.
- Importance – Strategies are most important factors of organization because they decide the future course of action for the organization as a whole. On the other hand, tactics are of less importance because they are concerned with specific part of the organization. This difference, though seems to be simple, becomes important from managerial action point of view.
- Type of Personnel Involved in Formulation – Generally separate group of managerial personnel are involved m strategy and tactics formulation and their implementation. As discussed earlier, strategic decisions are never delegated below a certain level m the managerial hierarchy. The basic principle m this context is not to delegate below the levels than those possess the perspective required for most effective strategic decisions. Personnel at lower levels can take tactical decisions because these involve minute implementation of strategic decisions.
Here is a video by Marketing91 on Strategy vs Tactics.
Though these differences between strategy and tactics are there, often the lines of demarcation between these two are blurred both conceptually and operationally. At the one extreme end, the differences are crystal clear, as discussed above. But these differences may not always hold true because tactics is generated by strategy and may rightly be called sub-strategy. What is one manager’s strategy is another manager’s tactics and vice versa. For example, strategies are developed at the head-quarters m the strategic planning process. Various divisions of the company may then pursue sub strategies within this strategic planning. Thus, what might be considered tactical plans at the headquarters may be termed as strategy at the divisional levels. Thus, depending on the level of the organization, an action may be strategic or tactical.