At a business meeting, management has set an ambitious goal of new sales to hit by the end of the year. The salespeople are excited, and company leadership is eager for their organization to achieve new heights. The question remains: How will they reach this new goal? That’s the dilemma many organizations struggle with as they seek to grow their businesses. Anyone can set goals and objectives, but achieving them is another matter. Knowing the difference between strategic vs. tactical planning is often the difference between succeeding or failing to reach those goals.
Few people doubt the importance of planning ahead before tackling any project. A study published in the Journal of Business Venturing found that planning impacts a business’s overall performance in a positive way. A business plan helps companies grow as well. Research has found that organizations that plan grow up to 30 percent faster. For this reason, businesses need to prepare in advance to remain competitive and successful. Recognizing where strategic and tactical planning come into play makes a difference. In this article, find out the basics of strategic vs. tactical planning, what the differences are, and how to create each type of plan.
What is a Strategic Plan?
In a basic sense, a strategic plan explains what organizations want to achieve by looking at the big picture to set goals. The strategy businesses adopt maps out the long-term plans they intend to follow. This can also apply to individuals seeking career advancement and professional development. A strategic plan for this purpose outlines the overall goals, identifying the destination you want to reach in the future.
What is a Tactical Plan?
Just like the strategic plan answers what a company wants to achieve, a tactical plan describes how businesses will accomplish it. This is done by focusing on the steps, tasks, and actions needed to achieve goals set by the established strategic plan. In this way, the tactical planning process emphasizes short-term measures that contribute to a larger strategy. Whether used for corporate planning, team planning, or individual plans, this type of planning is necessary for following through on strategic objectives.
Key Differences Between Strategic vs. Tactical Planning
As mentioned above, strategic planning represents the long-term view of an organization. Strategic plans mainly deal with broad goals and objectives. Many strategic plans have time frames of months or even years. They also involve looking at what resources the company has available and what kind of people can tackle the project.
The tactical planning process, on the other hand, is far more specific than strategic planning. Much of the time, tactical planning looks at the day-to-day activities required for reaching broader objectives. A tactical plan should consist of milestones and deadlines that help companies know if they’re on track with their strategic plans. This type of planning also emphasizes execution, ensuring that things don’t just get done but done well.
Examples of Strategic and Tactical Planning
With those differences in mind, let’s take a look at some examples that highlight how strategic and tactical planning work. A strategic plan might say something along the lines of “recruit highly skilled individuals to form a capable and talented team.” That’s a goal with some broad strokes, but a tactical plan will get into the specifics. In this instance, tactical or corporate planning would include steps such as conducting surveys of current employees to find out what they like and don’t like about their jobs. It may also include attending job fairs, creating effective exit interviews to figure out why some talented people leave the company or developing a training program to improve leadership skills. All of these tactical steps will contribute to the strategic plan.
Here’s how strategic and tactical planning might appear, with the strategic plan listed on top and the tactical plans shown underneath:
- Goal: Double sales by the end of next year.
- Hire ten new salespeople before the end of the current quarter.
- Create and send out client surveys to determine where the company can improve.
- Adopt new CRM software to handle an increased workload.
- Reach out to past clients to find out why they left and if they have an interest in returning.
That’s just a brief example of how strategic and tactical planning might look. Leaders can also write each part of the tactical plan in smaller steps if that’s what the company wants. The more details worked into the plan, the easier it will be to follow and measure progress.
How to Create a Strategic Plan
1. Identify a Big Picture Goal
What ultimate destination do you want to end up at? That’s the question every business and individual must ask when making a strategic plan. Do you want your company to become the leader in their industry? Do you want to head up a new innovative company? The big picture goal should be lofty and aspirational, even if it’s not too specific.
2. Evaluate Your Current Position
Take the time to look closely at where the company is now. Try using SWOT analysis, which is a strategic planning tool that analyzes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For example, ask questions like:
- How does the business compare to competitors?
- What recent successes has it had?
- Where has it failed in the past?
By evaluating your current position, you can get a good idea of how much distance the company must cover to reach its long-term goals. If the distance is short, then maybe the goal isn’t big enough.
3. Align Goal With Company Values
Whatever goal companies choose, they must make sure it aligns with their values. Every organization should have a mission statement, so a goal that runs contrary to that mission statement should be thrown out. Take your values and convictions into account as you create a strategic plan, as they can often inform you if the destination you’ve identified is actually where you want to end up.
4. Determine How to Monitor Progress
The goal set by the organization is likely many months or years into the future. Progress may appear slow at times. Because of this, determine early on how you should measure that progress. For example, with a marketing plan, what would you like to see six months from now? Where should sales be by the end of the quarter? By doing this, you’ll know if you need to course-correct before you’ve gone too far off the path.
How to Create a Tactical Plan
1. Keep Strategic Goals in Mind
The strategic plan provides the destination and general outline of what the company wants to achieve. Create every piece of the tactical plan with that overall goal in mind. Operational planning like this gets into the nitty-gritty details, so it’s easy to become bogged down in unnecessary information. Note why each step of the tactical plan exists, and if it doesn’t make progress toward the goal, eliminate it.
2. Divide the Plan
When you know your ultimate destination and the approximate time frame needed to reach it, break up that goal into individual steps. Start with where you want to arrive at the end of each month, then each week, and then each day. These steps represent your progress and help teams keep track of where they are. Breaking up larger projects like this enables you to visualize how you’ll reach long-term goals.
3. Organize Teams
Once all the steps of the tactical plan have been established, note how many teams you need to achieve success. Then organize those teams to handle the different elements of the tactical plan. When engaging in corporate planning like this, you should have a good idea of what kind of expertise you have on staff. Based on the skills of the available personnel, you can determine where to place each person, so they have the best chance at success.
4. Determine Resource Allocation
At the same time, companies can also divide up the available resources, so each team has what they need to succeed. Everyone should know that these resources aren’t limitless, so make sure to explain why they get the amount you’ve allocated. This step can involve difficult choices, but with a firm tactical plan in mind, you’ll have a good idea of where your resources need to go.
5. Measure Progress
Like the last step in creating a strategic plan, determine how to measure progress for a tactical plan. Measuring progress for this plan will happen more frequently, such as at the end of each day or week. Determine how well you and each team did during the day and see if you need to make any changes to keep on schedule. If changes need to be made, make sure they address the problems you encounter most often.
Be Both a Strategic and Tactical Leader
Focusing too much on one side of strategy or tactics will lead to frustration and failure in operational planning. As you lead others, note the importance of having both strategic and tactical plans at the ready. Aim high with your strategies, and pinpoint the details with your tactics. The best leaders will use both to take their organizations to where they want to go. The result will be a company that experiences business growth and success.
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