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Understanding, clarifying and assigning strategic versus tactical decision making is key in business.

I almost want to say “Duh, really?”

There appears to be an imbalance in strategic vs. tactical thinkers: around 90% of leaders or managers are tactical and only about 10% are strategic. I believe that we can teach and be taught the difference and how to think both ways. I also know that it will take some effort, but we have to start someplace. Let’s define strategic and tactical decision making in simple terms:

  • Tactical leaders and managers are like firefighters. They seem to thrive on running around fighting the little fires that crop up in their businesses or divisions.Tactical decisions are short term, narrowly focused, and should be, but are most often not, made with the long term view in mind.
  • Strategic leaders and managers are fire preventors. They look to the future and see the implications of moves and minimizing the risk of a fire starting.  If or when a fire does start, they fight it based on the long view of the company. In some cases, they may choose not to fight a fire and just let it burn itself out. Strategic decisions are based on the ‘higher level’, ‘big picture’ and ‘long term’ views and objectives.
  • Where the Strategy and Tactics meet: Improving the organizations capacity to survive and thrive. Strategists need to get the long view right and share that view with the tacticians. And vice-versa.
    • When the tacticians know what the long term view is, they are better able to choose which fires to fight, how to fight them, and help prevent fires in the future.
    • When the strategists listen to and understand the tacticians they get a ‘boots on the ground’ view of areas of possible flare-ups and can make decisions to prevent them. They can answer questions such as “Are we capable of handling that flare up?”

How can a business plan help with Strategies vs. Tactics?

Look at the diagram below. It is a ‘mind-map’ of decisions a business owner was struggling with. He wasn’t really trying to micro-manage per-se, but his mind kept going to all of the things he felt he needed to attended to. I let him wander around in his head and kept notes of his path. It was a maze of thoughts and ideas, traps and blocks, creativity and opportunities. What kept him from moving forward was that he was almost always in firefighting mode. A big part of why he was in firefighting mode was that all of these paths represent another option, another choice he had to make. And as I have said before, too many options create indecision.

What management should be focused on

What management should be focused on

When managements’ focus swings to each fire, the entire organization swings wildly and randomly

The center highlighted area is the big picture focus that management needs to focus on. The higher up the manager is in the food chain, the narrower that box gets. Notice the North arrow? That represents the direction the management is focused on. All of the little fingers reaching out? They are in alignment with and being carried along true north.

When the decision making box is wider the map is nowhere near as neat. The wider the box of decision making, the more likely the arrow is to swing back and forth as management focuses on fire after fire – almost randomly. And that is how the entire organization will move – randomly.

I have written a series based on live work with a clients’ permission to talk in general terms about the process and the numbers. Here are links to the series of articles. I will make them ‘live’ as the posts are uploaded.

Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feeds so you get the next article in this series.


Part 1 is here…

Holding this type of information in your head will cause it to explode – and cause your business to implode.

By the way – fatigue comes from trying to hold too many pieces of information in the head – studies show that your brain uses more than 50% of your caloric intake when really focused and thinking.  Studies also show that we only effectively handle up to three ideas at any one time.  And then to cap it all off, we know that writing things down is a very effective way to help remember them.

The power of writing down the things you think of and especially the things that worry you the most can be seen in the photo. What is even more powerful is where these thoughts and ideas can lead and where they can branch off to.

The image shows some of the things that were keeping my client awake at night and causing all types of stress and health issues during the day. This and too many Red Bull’s had him constantly on edge.

Example of how a plan helps with much information

What would you do with all of that information?

As we worked on this project the client began to have some realizations:

  • Wow! Look at all the stuff I gotta do!
  • I don’t have enough hours in the day to do all of this!
    • Time exists so that you don’t have to do it all at once.
  • His job as the manager is to determine what is critical and who is to deal with it.

And the biggest reason he wants to get going on his plan?

He lost a contract worth $50,000 because he was paying attention to the rest of his business, too busy fighting fires.

Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feeds so you get the next article in this series.

Part 3 is here…


I was once asked by best-selling business author Jim Horan “How do you measure morale?” I rarely hear others bring the question up I bring it up frequently –

How do you measure morale in the workplace?

First – What is morale anyway?

From Dictionary.com we have this – “emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition, hardship, etc.: the morale of the troops.”

Cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, ETC? Here’s the thing – most(?) of us know what morale is and most(?) of us know, subjectively, what the level of morale is in our workplace most of the time.

Second – Why is morale important? More importantly:

  • Why is good morale important?
  • How do you really know if morale is bad?
  • How can you tell if/when morale is improving or disintegrating?

Having good morale is important for productivity – no government subsidized study needed there. Look at your personal experience – when you feel like crap you don’t do the things you need to do the way you need to do them – productivity is down.  Having good morale is important to safety – when people care they tend to care about others as well.  When people don’t care – they really do not care about others first.

But how can you prove to the others, the ones that don’t get it that, morale is where it is? When I answered Jim Horan’s question about this I honestly stuttered. I said “Hell, Jim, everyone knows when it’s bad. People smile less!”  He replied “So you could stand at the entrance and count smiles and such as people walk by?” Yeah, I get it, pretty lame for a number of reasons.

But over the time since that question was posed I constantly ask others, and myself “How do you measure morale in the workplace?” Here are some indicators we use:

  • People take more time off with less notice.
  • Workplace theft, either of product or office supplies.
  • People show up late and leave early.  This one is especially true of that exceptional person that gets in early and stays late because they love what they do – now they will just show up and leave on time.
  • The number of near misses goes up (from the safety perspective).
  • Dress code limits are pushed.
  • If you are monitoring personal time off (PTO) watch that being used up more rapidly.
  • Behavior shifts in the workplace – you know from paying attention what a persons normal demeanor is and if the get meaner in their demeanor it’s a sure indication that something is going on.
  • There’s even one guy out there that says the way people park is an indicator of morale. He says if they park facing in it’s all good. If people back into their parking spot and face out they want to leave as soon as they can.

I want to point out most of us “get” what morale is and at what level morale runs.  It’s also my belief that a shift in morale is often the first indicator to some people that morale even exists – it brings attention to it.

So the import of asking and answering the question of how to measure morale is great for several reasons:

  1. Some people don’t get it – they cannot even subjectively get what morale is.  It’s not that they are dumb or that they are bad people – it’s just that their behavioral style is probably detail and fact centric – not people centric.
  2. Some people are out of the loop – as an example, executive management may not be aware of morale issues in a remote factory location.

Looking at [2] above – What are they measuring and what is that telling them?  Typically they are focused on numbers that indicate sales, expenses, bottom line, their bonuses.  When those numbers that indicate profitability is falling are getting larger – then what does management say? Costs are going up! Sales are down! It’s the economy! It’s productivity! People need more training, incentive, motivation, firing, etc.

But does anyone ever ask “What’s the morale like down there and why is it that way? And what’s morale like in our great locations and why is it that way?”  Shouldn’t those be a standard business questions?

My thinking is that in today’s world of fast information processing and sharing the answers are there for people to see – but they have to be looking for it. While I don’t think that you can place an absolute value on morale – but you can place a relative value on it.

Another question is “Is management even looking at morale?”

How do YOU measure morale?


As I speak to groups and individuals and refer to some of the great books I have read I am asked for my book / recommended reading list for managers and others that wish to stay informed. Instead of creating a .PDF version I have started a page of the titles that have most intrigued and most affected me.

That page contains the title, author and brief comments as to the benefits of reading that particular book.

I might also recommend that for some of these books you might want to set up a reading group – a small group of people that read and discuss each chapter simultaneously. Lest you, the leader, think this might be a bit time consuming, imagine the benefits:

  • You get to develop trust and respect by reading along with them.
  • You get to develop listening skills – discerning how your managers and supervisors think.
  • They get the benefit of your thoughts and therefor get to benefit from your philosophy – they get to know more about how you work and think and can develop along those lines.
  • They get to challenge your thinking – always a good thing – for two reasons:
  • They (the other readers) see things differently and your clients may have that same perspective.
  • You get to practice the art of changing your thinking based on new knowledge – you can always change it back.

If you want more ideas on how to setup a reading group, or even want help facilitating one, let me know – call me at 925.757.7473 or email me here.

The Recommended Reading list is here…

Enjoy and add to the comments – even suggest other books to read.