Does Your Team Have Too Many Tacticians & Not Enough Strategists?

I often hear this from executives:

“My managerial team needs to be more strategic. I have managers who are fine at executing, but they are not strategic.”

Clearly articulating what those managers should be doing to be more strategic is often difficult.

What is strategy? What does it look like? What does it sound like?

Part of the issue is the nebulous nature of the word strategy.

According to Donald Hambrick and James Fredrickson in The Academy of Management Executive, “Strategy has become a catchall phrase to mean whatever one wants it to mean.”

The difference between strategic and tactical

In Six Ways to Grow Your Job, Herminia Ibarra believes a majority of people would like to approach their work more strategically “but don’t do so because they don’t know what doing strategy really means.” (Or don’t see the benefits or get rewarded for doing so.)

The strategic person asks what should we be doing and why, which markets and segments will be critical in the future, how will we differentiate ourselves, what trends will impact how we do business, what is happening in the world and how does that apply to our business/my team?

The tactical person asks what resources, plans, decisions, processes and activities need to be in place and/or executed to support the strategy?

There is no right or wrong. Better or worse.

Strategy and tactics must work together or else the organization/team flounders.  Strategy without tactics results in visionary thinking and little action. Tactics without strategy results in disorder.

Too many tacticians

For those who have worked on or managed a team with too many tacticians, you probably noticed individuals who …

  • are more comfortable focused on the details of today, rather than anticipating the future
  • find it tough to see past what impacts them or their immediate team
  • have difficulty articulating consequences, possibilities or what’s coming around the corner
  • have limited experience or lack broader knowledge of the business, market trends, or competitors

4 Ways to Develop and Demonstrate Strategic Thinking

For teams or individuals who need to build their strategy muscle:

  1. Include a recommended solution and/or options every time you raise a problem or issue. There is a time and place to escalate, but be sure to spend just as much, if not MORE time thinking about how to solve the problem. Otherwise, you just sound like a complainer. And that’s not strategic at all.
  2. Provide numbers and data to support your point-of-view, decision or recommendation. Demonstrate how your solution or answer is supported by data. Spend the time exploring research and facts, rather than hunches. When calculations aren’t straight forward, be clear on the assumptions you’ve used.
  3. See ahead of today; identify and anticipate upcoming problems or opportunities. A majority of our time is sucked into immediate priorities and demands. Strategic people lift out of the weeds (even if it’s every once in awhile) and peer into the future. They think about a) what’s coming down the road, b) the issues and opportunities that aren’t obvious now, but may pop up later and c) short-term and long-term consequences for taking one approach versus another.
  4. Construct work activities and make decisions that support the organization’s strategy. If priorities, time consuming tasks, meetings or decisions do not relate directly to the organizational vision and mission, question whether you should be spending time on them at all.

You don’t need a lofty job title to think and act strategically.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. Connect on Twitter @MartaSteele, or through email at

Marta Steele