Not surprisingly, most of my internal communication clients talk frequently about the desire to be more strategic in their work. Devising great strategies allows us to create powerful tactics that drive meaningful results.
The first step to being more strategic is to understand the difference a strategy and a tactic. There are many definitions, but here’s the definition that has always helped me throughout my internal communications career. Strategies are overarching methods or broad approaches used to achieve a plan’s objective and goals, and tactics are the particular actions used to implement the strategies. Put even more simply, strategies are ideas that drive an outcome and tactics are specific actions taken.
Here’s one way to think of it: In warfare, a surprise attack is a strategy. But the way in which a surprise attack is carried out has changed over the years due to available technology. We’ve gone from ambushing the enemy from behind trees to an assault with night vision goggles, but the element of surprise remains the same.
Form should follow function. Tactics are the specific things you need to do to implement the strategy. Typically, several tactics will support one strategy. A collection of several related tactics might unveil a broader strategy. The form your tactic takes should follow the strategic function.
For example, let’s suppose we have an objective of increasing employee engagement. Our measurable goal might be to increase an organization’s overall score by 10 percentage points on its annual survey that measures employee engagement. One of the strategies that supports that goal is to increase opportunities for employees to participate in peer-to-peer communications. That strategy might cause us to think of several tactics. One tactic might be to deploy an enterprise social media network and another might be to deploy collaboration software that allows employees to post updates about their project-related activities. Those tactics might in turn lead us to think of face-to-face information exchanges between employee workgroups.
Tactics are actions, but they are not detailed action steps. Let’s say our tactic is to deploy an internal social media channel. You then will have to develop a detailed action plan that includes specific steps, deadlines and who is responsible for implementing each step. Action steps might include sourcing and procuring the software, deploying the software, developing an online program to teach employees how to use the software, developing an internal marketing program to promote the use of the channel, and so on. Developing the action plan and timeline is covered in the next section.
Sometimes tactics get ahead of our strategies. For instance, our leadership team or an internal client may want to do a particular tactic and our job is to implement it. It’s a good idea in such situations to ask probing questions to determine why that tactic is favored. What is it about the tactic makes is so desirable. The answer just might lead to other or even better tactics.
Confusion between strategies and tactics is a commonly made communication plan mistake. Correctly identifying which is which can facilitate the kind of creative thinking that makes good internal communication plans into great internal communication plans.
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