I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen very smart healthcare companies – med tech companies, payers, provider organizations, etc., confuse strategy and tactics. And it reduces their effectiveness every time.
Why do strategy and tactics get confused? First, sometimes there is not clarity about what the real objective is and why. This subjects companies to the paradox Lewis Carroll described this way: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Without a clear end point in mind, develop meaningful strategy to get there is very difficult.
Second, there is so much pressure to get new things to market, it makes it hard to carve out time and think strategically. There’s only time to “do” — even if what is being done doesn’t make good sense.
So what’s the difference? Strategy determines how you will achieve your goal. It represents which map you will use to get where you are going. Tactics are the map details and are all about the doing.
Let’s start with a couple military examples: 1) Divide and conquer is a strategy. Sending half the troops in a frontal assault and half on flanking maneuvers are the tactics that executes on the strategy. 2) Go big, go long, or go home, were the three strategies being considered in the Iraq war. How many troops would be where and when were the tactics, and that’s what got all the media coverage.
Marketing examples: 1) Be first to market is a strategy. Be a fast follower is an alternative strategy. The specific products or services you take to market, the resources you allocate, and the timing are all tactics. 2) First get prospects in the door with a low barrier to entry, then engage them to be customers is a strategy. How you will go about getting them in the door and converting them into customers are the tactics.
Don’t be one of the many companies that spend millions of dollars and years of effort on something only because their competitors are doing it. Have a good compelling reason. That way you know where you’re going and why.
Next be clear about what your strategy is, and why. Make sure your strategy is really strategy — and not tactics with the word strategy attached. Then get into the tactics that execute on the strategy.
Lastly, make sure your team knows the difference between strategy and tactics and why it matters.