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Strategic vs. Tactical Management

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Most of us have been successful in our careers by excelling in tactical management. That is, our rewards, promotions and recognitions have most often come from “doing things right.” And, it is clear that if you don’t “do things right,” there is a high probability you and the business as a whole won’t be successful. Yet, as we continue to grow and take on more responsibilities within our companies, our success becomes less about “doing things right” and more about choosing the “right things to do.” That is, we have to shift from tactical management to strategic management.

The problem with shifting our responsibilities from tactical to strategic management is that we have become conditioned to jumping in and getting things done. We get a real sense of accomplishment by controlling the pieces and delivering the desired results. The idea of removing ourselves from day-to-day problem-solving to focus on the big-picture issues of determining the right course for the future is a difficult transition.

To me, there are two reasons this is difficult: 1) it is really hard work and 2) the outcomes of this work are less tangible and less immediate. Strategic management involves making tough decisions across a myriad of options with limited information, ambiguous metrics and limited control of outcomes.

This environment is almost the opposite of the situation tactical managers face, where objectives and metrics are clear, choices are limited and results are within our control. In addition, strategic management involves helping others become better managers rather than doing the managing yourself. You have to be able to gain satisfaction in your job not through your tangible accomplishments, but through the tangible accomplishments of others that you have helped develop.

This strategic role of coach and mentor is often overlooked as we take on increasing responsibility in our companies, but it is ultimately how our performance as a strategic manager will be judged and how we will best contribute to our company’s success.

My grandfather used to call my office from time to time. When asked what I was doing, I would say, “I am working.” His response was, “Allan, you can’t be working — work is physically moving objects through space!”

This was the mentality about hard work and getting things done that I grew up with on our farm in Texas. For sure, my grandfather was a successful farmer, but much of his success, I believe, came from his ability to work with others in the community, spot opportunities for his farm business and motivate his employees to get the “work” done.

What I have come to realize is that my grandfather actually taught me that work is a conversation — a conversation that leads your business to a successful strategic position that can be carried out by your well-coached tactical managers. This “work” may not be as urgent as getting the crop planted today, but it is critically important to allowing us to be able to harvest the crops of the future.

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