It’s a common refrain among owners of businesses both large and small. Perhaps a conversation they have with themselves or the topic of a breakout session at a conference. It’s the backbone of books and consulting companies and it reaches across sectors, from technology to taxidermy and all points in between:

“Are you working in your business or on your business?”

In other words, are you spending your time and energy on tasks that strengthen your business long term or on tasks that need immediate attention, but may not necessarily have anything to do with long term success or failure? In this two part series we’ll discuss the difference between tactical actions and strategic planning and make some real-world suggestions on how to balance the two in your business.

A board meeting strategy session

Are your board meetings actually moving the company forward?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, user Areyn

“Tactical” decisions and activities are the day-to-day work that keeps things moving along. Answering service requests, deciding which technicians work on which days, issuing invoices, and receiving payments are all tactical activities. “Strategic” decisions are the big-picture items that guide the business over time. Choosing which vertical to pursue and which partners to engage are examples of strategic activities.

The reality is that every business is a near-equal mix of tactical activity and strategic planning. If the balance skews too much towards one or the other, then the business will suffer. Too much focus on tactical activities will leave an organization without long-term goals and structure upon which to build the company. Too much focus on strategy and big-picture items means the little things are more likely to fall through the cracks. Spending the appropriate amount of time and energy on each facet of the business – from the big-picture planning sessions to the oft-overlooked minutiae – is key to growing your business tomorrow without making mistakes today.

So, how do you find the right balance? How do you know when your time is best spent in the trenches making sure the gears are working together? And how do you know when your time is best spent reviewing processes and practices, making the gears themselves?

Most businesses would benefit by having a person in charge of each discipline. In large corporations, the Chief Executive Officer drives the organization towards a vision and long term development and success, while the Chief Operations Officer is responsible for the day-to-day activity of the company. Many companies, however, don’t have the luxury of two executives that can handle these roles; in most cases, the same person is doing both, as well as a host of other tasks integral to keeping the business going. If you’re in a position where you have to do both tasks, we have some suggestions. Today we’ll be tackling best practices on IT strategy decisions: the big picture stuff necessary to growing your business over time. Tomorrow we’ll focus on tactical machinations and how to leverage each process in the business instead of around it.

  1. Set some limits.  By far the most difficult part of balancing the time spent on strategy and spent on tactics is having the discipline to stop planning in the abstract and get back to business. For example, sketching out a plan for attacking a specific piece of the market is time well spent, while daydreaming about the IPO you seek in five years probably isn’t. Strategic planning is necessary, but each session should have a clear purpose.
  2. Set some goals.  The best way to find balance between strategic planning and tactical planning is to have actionable goals for each. Goals you set in big-picture strategy meetings should be broken down into pieces during tactical sessions. “Developing solutions for the Health Care IT services sector” is strategic. “Marketing and lead generation for the Health Care IT services sector over the next 90 days to drive adoption of our solutions” is tactical. Strategy without definable action and measurable benchmarking is of no benefit to anyone.
  3. Cover new ground.  One of the failures of strategic planning in any sector is saying and doing the same things over and over without any progress actually being made. It is common for strategy meetings to be pep rallies rather than actual planning sessions. The best way to keep this from happening to you is to take minutes or shorthand notes during any strategic discussions, publish them back to everyone involved, and read them at the start of the next planning session or meeting. This way, no one has to be reminded of what you’ve already talked about and (more importantly) everyone can share the responsibility of moving the conversation forward.
  4. Be reasonable and smart.  If your business goals are to “change the world” or something to that degree, I applaud you. But make sure you understand the difference between a goal and a strategy. Goals are end points to chase after, while strategies are philosophies that move your business forward in the most effective and efficient ways possible. Goals are necessary, but they don’t inspire action. Always remember that strategies are the actionable manifestation of goals. Simply said, it isn’t enough to plan an end point; you have to establish the vision that gets you there.
  5. Get outside the room.  It can be easy for strategic planning to take place in an echo chamber. Board rooms and owner’s meetings aren’t the best places to make honest, hard evaluations about the state of your business and where it’s going. An important part of strategic planning is to “get out of the room” and talk to people who won’t simply nod and agree with your vision and ideas. Find outsiders to challenge your assumptions. See how hard it is to communicate your big picture vision to someone else; if they don’t “get it,” then maybe you need to take a step back and rethink your assumptions.
strategic planning graph

Strategic goals are big picture but require detail.
Image courtesy of Paul Lemberg.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of businesses that survive without any semblance of strategic decision making. Some organizations simply plug away at the day to day operations, succeeding and growing almost in spite of themselves.  That said, such instances are few and far between. If you aren’t taking time to work on your business and improve each part of it, little by little, over time, then you are likely going to look up months or years from now and have no real idea where you are headed. Strategic planning and charting a path for the future are both fun and necessary for your business to reach its full potential.

Here at Mosaic NetworX, we combine exceptional attention to day-to-day detail with innovative strategic planning. Click here to connect with us today!