Aug 6, 2014

Getting the “What” and the “How” Right

One of the challenges with which we notice many schools and colleges struggle is the difference between a strategy and a tactic.  In fact, these two terms are often thrown about in conversation at the boardroom table interchangeably, with people believing they are one in the same.  However, they are two very different concepts and enjoy a unique relationship.

A strategy is really the “what” of a major goal or initiative.  Creating a strategy is really about stating, in precise terms, what your organization is going to do and what the outcomes are intended to create.  

A tactic is really the “how” of a strategy.  It is actually a series of action steps, stated in chronological sequence, of exactly how the organization is going to accomplish the stated strategy.  

The challenge for many people is that they use tactics believing they are strategies.  The mind tends to work most easily on developing ideas around things that are concrete (the “how” of the goal) rather than the more often larger objective (the “what” of the goal).  For instance, some schools might be interested in changing their menu in their food service area to better benefit the students.  The “strategy” might be around creating a more nutritious, health concious array of choices for the consumer, while the “tactics” might include serving fewer high sugar, carb, and processed foods.  

The big lesson here is to get the “what” – the strategy – right from the beginning.  It is the foundation of creating solid action plans.  An organization cannot create effective tactics if there is no clarity around a larger strategy.  When this problem occurs, it generally produces a series of disconnected and unrelated tactical items.  

As one professor I enjoyed in graduate school used to share with me, “major in the majors” first.  When your team engages in planning, make sure you get the strategy – the “what” – right first.  It will make the task of creating action plans and tactics – the “how” – much easier and more aligned down the road.

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