Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

The Difference Between Strategy And Tactics And How To Use Them Effectively Together

When you play a board game, we’re using a combination of strategy and tactics to win. Let’s take Checkers. When you play checkers you’re thinking strategically — Which pieces should I move first? Which piece is my opponent going to move next? If I skip them now, will that put me in a position to be skipped even more? And you’re also playing tactfully by actually moving the pieces. 

If you played checkers completely strategically, none of the pieces would move. And if you played checkers completely tactfully, then you would just move your pieces willy-nilly without any real thought or intention behind it.

Unfortunately, the fully tactical way is usually what we tend to get lost in as professionals in playing the “game” of our work. Sometimes we get so busy with checking things off our to-do list, that we don’t stop to ask the important strategic questions:

Some of us actually spend TOO much time on strategy – we think, and analyze, and pump out ideas but don’t put in the work or processes to actually get them done. 

As Founder & CEO of InnovatorsBox, I’ve worked with clients on both sides of the spectrum, and I myself have had to perfect the skill of being able to think strategically and tactically. 

In short, it’s essential that we not only know the difference between strategy and tactics, but know how to use them effectively TOGETHER – whether you’re leading a team or are a team member. 

Innovators who are able to use strategy and tactics effectively together will not only get things done but get the RIGHT things done. They don’t just create to-do lists, they spend time researching their market, competition, and thinking about the trends and challenges that are associated with them. Innovators who use strategy and tactics together are the ones who don’t just do, they think before they do in order to achieve quality over quantity in the work they complete.


STRATEGY IS … the overall intention, long-term plan, or methodology to achieve a goal

THAT IS BASED ON … extensive research, planning, and internal reflection

A GOOD STRATEGY … is clear, well-thought-out, and can evolve but rarely change completely 

THEY CAN BE MEASURED BY … long-term KPIs such as how well past tactics did, market share, team happiness, etc.

Strategies lead the decision-making processes

TACTICS ARE … A planned action or task

THAT IS BASED ON…the strategy and timeline

GOOD TACTICS … are clear, action-oriented, and have processes assigned to them

THEY CAN BE MEASURED BY … how many tasks have been completed, how efficiently they were completed, and if their continued alignment with strategy

Tactics hold these strategic decisions accountable. 

A good rule of thumb when thinking about strategy versus tactics is: think strategically, act tactfully. 

Another way of looking at it is the strategy is the “why” and the “way” while the tactic is the “what” and the “how.”  

While they seem so different, in practice, we often mix up strategy and tactics. For instance, a social media marketer may say they made the strategic decision to post about a trend that’s gone viral because viral posts get a lot of clicks. But that’s still thinking quite short-term. Strategy is taking a step back and reflecting on the big picture — Did the viral trends we posted about before getting any clicks? If so, how many? Are those clicks actually converted to sales? Does our audience even identify with this trend? 

The proper balance of strategic and tactical thinking brings about the most success. 


Tactics have an influence on the success of your strategy and strategy has an impact on the way you prioritize and complete tactics. So, they must align. Together, they make a plan. 

The first step in creating your plan is to create STRATEGIC goals. 

There are so many frameworks for setting goals but perhaps the most popular is S.M.A.R.T: 

  • Specific identify particular problems or opportunities? 
  • Measurable – Can a metric be created from a quantitative or qualitative attribute of the goal? 
  • Actionable – Can the information achieved from the goal be used to create a process, tactic, or plan?
  • Relevant – Can the information achieved be applied to the MOST IMPACTFUL issue or challenge facing your work?
  • TimeRelated – can the information be tracked and referenced over time in order to identify patterns over time?

As you’re thinking about your goals, you’ll need to put your strategic hat on. Don’t think about the details – the lower-level things that need to be done. Stay at the high level by first analyzing things like your competition, your market, overall market trends, technology trends, where your company’s success is, and where your organization’s weaknesses are. Then, apply this knowledge to S.W.A.T (or any other framework) to create goals. Again, tactics are at play here because you’re having to analyze what tactics worked and didn’t work to think properly about the strategic direction of your organization.

Creating a strategy is not something that takes 2 hours, or even 3 hours to do. Creating a strategy is a culmination of thinking at the high level and taking reflection time CONSISTENTLY throughout the year, and then taking time to evolve, amend, and create new goals/strategies. In short, you should always be thinking, researching, and reflecting on your business and your business goals.

In order to see whether your strategy is actually culminating into something, and to actually achieve those goals, tactics come in. 

An Example of Strategy and Tactics Together:

Goal Strategy Tactics
Increase website traffic by 50% in six months.
Based on competition analysis, audience feedback, tactical analysis, the website needs to be easier to use, relatable, and bold
  • Run website user experience audit
  • Update brand colors to a bolder palette
  • Create exciting welcome video for website home-page
  • Schedule meetings to check in on KPI progress


The other important thing to consider is your role in the organization and how that applies to your personal responsibility in making these tactics and strategies work together seamlessly.


As a manager or team leader, you’re often the one working MORE at the strategic level, but not completely! You’re the one who makes the decisions and sets the goals, so you’re paying more attention to the trends/patterns, the successes/failures, the processes.

Accordingly, it’s your job as a leader to manage down, that is making your working life easier by mindfully empowering your team members to become more productive and happy. One of the best ways you can do that is by clearly and consistently communicating the strategy to your team members in a way that helps them support a collective vision tactically. Also, managing down means you create a company culture where team members feel comfortable to contribute to strategic discussions.

How Do I Communicate Strategy To My Team?

  1. Start With Your Mission Statement / Vision – Remind them why we’re all here
  2. Give them background on the “Why” behind the goals and strategy 
  3. Communicate Your Goals Using the S.M.A.R.T. Framework above to ensure your strategy is Clear and Measurable 
  4. Outline Clear Milestones, Deadlines, & Checkpoints To Ensure Strategic Vision Stays on Track
  5. Identify Ownership For Tactics Strategically → Who is best to do what? Who has time to do what? Do they have the tools they need?
  6. Leave Ample Room For Questions & Encourage Discussion – Your team should feel empowered to make comments/suggestions/questions on the business strategy. Leave the floor open and you’re likely to find some nuggets of gold.


As a team member, you’re often involved at some level in strategy by creating tools, resources, and reports for managers and leaders, but for the most part you work more at the TACTICAL level. This doesn’t mean all the decision-making is left to the boss. On the contrary!  A team that feels safe to challenge and put out new ideas for strategy sets a business up for success. Still, in the day-to-day, it is more likely that team members are responsible for a higher level of tactical responsibility. 

Accordingly, it’s your job as a team member to manage up, that is actively and intentionally making management’s lives easier and becoming more curious about the company direction. 

“In the managing up principle, team members are engaged, proactive, and respectfully challenge their leaders to problem-solve more effectively. And accordingly, leaders who manage down actively encourage team members to challenge them, provide helpful feedback, and give clear instructions to get the job done without micromanaging.”

From Our Blog On Rethinking Managing Up & Down

As a team member, it’s essential that you’re aligning your tactical work with the strategy – don’t think the strategic thinking is left just to the “boss!” 

How Do I Better Align My Tactical Work With Strategy?

  1. Develop a systematic approach to prioritizing projects – always be intentional about which ones you complete first, be mindful of scheduling time for editing and review
  2. Don’t rush through tasks — practice thinking about how even the most “minute” task connects to a higher “why” in the company
  3. If leadership doesn’t require it, intentionally set aside time to send updates/milestones on the project/tasks to your manager 
  4. Never complete a project and then instantly go on to the next. Always take time to reflect.


Everything we do from the smallest detail to the big picture discussions requires us to be mindful about strategy and tactics. It’s not just the dollars that we spend but the energy we spend in prioritizing our strategic and tactical decisions. It’s easy to say that “Everything is important,” but there’s always a way to pick the best priority – and that way is to bring our minds back to the top – to the business goals and strategy. If everything is truly important, then we don’t have time for anything. Strategy isn’t JUST for the managers, and tactics aren’t JUST for the team members. Everyone has a responsibility to be mindful about both in order to execute in the best way we can.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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