Often when discussing strategy and tactics when it comes to getting work done the word “balance” comes up. The concept being, finding a point of harmony between the two sides so they each get equal consideration. It’s this mythical point of balance that many believe is the sweet spot they need to strive for. I say that the concept of balance between strategy and tactics is a myth.
If you’ve ever been near a children’s playground you’ve likely seen a seesaw (also known as a teeter-totter in some areas.) The seesaw is comprised of a plank of wood placed midway over a fulcrum acting as a simple machine for the entertainment of the children. An efficient see-saw has equal weight on either side, creating an easy motion of rising and falling for the riders. It’s this image I suggest is far more accurate a representation. There are no processes in the working world that do not require tuning and refinement. Those not evaluated for opportunities to improve are bastions of inefficiency over time. Applying the concept of a seesaw to strategy and tactics you can envision the back and forth flow and ebb between the two sides with adjustments made to one directly influencing the other.
A Boring Ride
If we look more closely at a seesaw we will see the only time it is enjoyable for the riders is when it is in motion. There are moments when both riders are in the same position but that is only for a moment before continuing their motion. When we compare this to process strategy and tactics it is reflective of the constant evaluation and adjustments needed to keep processes working at their best. Striving to reach a point where no changes are needed is a futile effort, making us blind to opportunities for improvement or inefficiencies that have crept into the system.
The Strategy – Tactics Cycle
When creating processes it is critical that a cycle of feedback and response be included as part of the process. Identifying points of changes, new information, or improvements from outside the process needs to have a place as part of the cycle so it is not overlooked or ignored. The strategy side of the fulcrum includes opportunities to review data gathered from the tactical side as the process executes. Factors such as timing, delays, accuracy, and quality all come into play when determining changes to the long and short-term strategy for the process. The tactical side of the fulcrum needs to include mechanisms to provide feedback and insights to the strategic side through data gathering, evaluation, quality assessments, and metrics accumulation. No matter how easy it is to skip these parts because they’re not part of the “real work”, must be avoided.
Going for a Ride
Your existing processes can leverage the seesaw concept right away. Look at each part of your process and ask yourself, “How can this influence the strategy and the tactics for this process?” Make sure whenever you answer the question for one side you also come up with an answer for the other. Making the effort to not only tune the mechanism but also improve it can make all the difference in the execution of the process.
All Things are not Equal
A closer look at many seesaws reveal a way to “rebalance” the board if the weights are out of whack. For example, when a parent and a child ride, there’s no way the child can move the parent if the board is balanced midway. However, if the board is slid towards the child, the lever effect increases and the parent rises into the air. The same thing applies to strategy and tactics. In some cases the weight of the tactics (workstreams, number of processes, etc.) can outweigh the strength of the strategy and prevent motion between the sides. By adjusting your “board” and increasing the lever effect on behalf of the undersized side you can maintain the motion and keep improving your process. For example, if you’re evaluating based on metrics, applying weighting to the metrics on behalf of key strategic initiatives keep the inequity in check.
Back and Forth
Maintaining the back and forth motion of the seesaw is what makes it fun to ride. Maintaining the back and forth of information between strategy and tactics is what makes them productive and ultimately successful. Are you ready get back in motion?