With the new year rolling around and people, including myself, reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next one, it is as good a time as ever to consider strategy and tactics for the coming year. But what is the difference between strategy and tactics? This is something that people get confused over quite often.

Objectives and goals are usually straightforward to understand but where it gets a little more complicated is where people talk about their tactics and strategy for achieving their objectives. They often get used interchangeably but they definitely aren’t the same. If you want to give yourself the best chance at succeeding with your goals, whether they be professional or personal, you need to understand the difference between the two.


What is Strategy?

Strategy describes the destination of where you want to go and is usually the combination of all of your long-term goals. It is the most macro or ‘zoomed out’ of the two. Although strategy does deal with the ‘how’ to an extent, it is mainly focused on the ‘what’ and the ‘why‘.

Some of your long-term goals might include being able to lift more weight with your squats and getting eight hours of sleep every night. In this case, the strategy would be living a healthier lifestyle as all smaller actions are geared towards this larger, final destination.

In business, a company’s strategy might be to increase sales or to grow as a brand. With an over-arching strategy like either of these, smaller goals are easy to set that will help the strategy be realised. Examples might include ‘get ten new customers for this week’ for the first one or ‘grow our audience on social media’ for the second one. Tactics also play a part here, as you will discover in the next section.


What are Tactics?

While strategy and goals deal with where you are going and what you want to achieve, tactics are all to do with how you are going to get there. They are the specific actions that you are going to take to try and get to where you are going.

Strategy is more outcome-based and includes the overall ‘why’ behind your mission, tactics are process-based.

Using the previous business example, if a company’s strategy is to increase sales, then its tactics might be to ‘ring one-hundred new potential customers each day’. If the strategy is to grow as a brand, the tactics might be to ‘post new content on social media every day’.

The strategy is the what, the tactics are the how.


Strategy and Tactics both co-dependent

In Sun Tzu’s famous book ‘The Art of War‘, he discussed the essential connection between both of these concepts:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.

Although Sun Tzu was talking about war, this idea applies to all areas of life that require the two. If you know where you want to be going but don’t know how to get there, it is going to be a long journey ahead for you. If you have good tactics about how to achieve things but you don’t know what you want to achieve or where you are going with it, you will waste a lot of time.

The general rule of thumb for them both is to ‘Think strategically, act tactically’. The two always move in tandem.

Keep these ideas about strategy and tactics in mind the next time you are planning for your future.