Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Strategic Thinking or Tactical Thinking? What About Getting Something Done?

Strategic Thinking and Tactical Thinking

The semantic and actual differences between strategic thinking and tactical thinking are discussed in thousands of  websites, books and magazine articles.  If you look at the overviews on search engines, you’d almost think one article had been copied 483,672 times. The essence of most of them is this:

Strategic thinking is about what should be done. Tactical thinking is about how to do it.

Organizations Need People Who Will Do Something

In the last few decades there has been a tremendous emphasis on the components and by-products of strategic and tactical thinking: leadership, creativity, analysis, judgment, innovation, courage, vision, persistence, insight and inspiration. As a result, many employees are much more concerned about being considered a thinker than they are concerned or even interested in being a doer.  However, in the real-world of work there are no job descriptions that say,

“Job only requires thinking brilliantly and making plans. No grunt work, administrative work or plain old work involved, ever. Once the big thinking is finished, employee can pick and choose what tasks seem most impressive and dump everything else on others. An infinite amount of time is available for thinking about, meeting about and talking about every project.”

Doing Is Important But Getting Work Done Is Even More Important.

In an effective workplace, work comes in, gets done, goes out and another task–or several–takes its place. In many ways, all work involves an assembly line and a conveyor belt.  However, there is a tendency to think that when an employee is very, very busy, working furiously on task, it is an indicator that he or she is being productive. 

That overlooks the fact that some employees stretch every task to the maximum time allowed and beyond. Some employees create such havoc over routine work that more time is required. Some employees generate extra steps or they need more input, more time, more everything, than is reasonable. Just working at work isn’t enough. In most workplaces, getting done with a task and moving on is what builds the business or the organization. 

 When Strategizing And Planning Are Out Of Balance With Getting Work Done:

  • You hear, “Let’s meet about this again tomorrow” almost every day.  
  • There are large visions without immediate plans of action and a timeline for achieving them.
  • It seems that being asked to strategize or plan is considered a compliment but being asked to do something is irritating or demeaning.
  • Some employees act as though their work is done after they have planned work for others.
  • Tasks and projects are backlogged. Picture a clogged drain pipe with a cup of water being poured in every day but only half a cup draining out. 
  • Time lines are extended repeatedly.
  • There are many times of “back to the drawing board” because of obsessive concerns or a failure to make decisions and get going with the work.
  • A task becomes all-consuming and other employees are expected to make it a priority, no matter how much it disrupts their own work.  
  • Coworkers and clients make “joking” remarks or come right out and complain. 
  • Forward progress has slowed or stopped and daily work has become painfully and unreasonably laborious.

The bottom line: Conceptual, strategic and tactical thinking is needed in every workplace and it should be valued. However, there is a time when the talking and planning needs to stop and work needs to be done–on time, efficiently and effectively.

September 3rd, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 8 comments


  1. I read this and realized this is exactly what we’re dealing with in my firm right now. I work with people whose idea of a fun day is to meet and talk about what we need to be doing! I’m wanting to hang myself because work is piling up and they’re planning another meeting. Now, what to do about it?

    Comment by Meeker | September 4, 2010

  2. Hello Tina! I don’t know about other executive placement advisors, but I know that we are generally “turned off” when someone starts telling us he or she is a strategic thinker. In agreement with the article you wrote a few weeks ago, I don’t want to hear about someone’s thinking, even at a high executive level, unless they can follow that up with something impressive that happened as a result of their thinking.

    Thanks for another great article. I don’t think I commented on the Earth and Moon article, but I enjoyed it, especially your description of a romantic couple. It brought smiles! Have a good Labor Day weekend!

    Comment by Careerist | September 4, 2010

  3. We’re headed to Montana for three weeks so don’t write anything while we’re gone!

    Confession time….When I first was going back to college I spent a lot of time at work coming up with ideas for things we could be doing. Some of them were good ideas but looking back most of them were pretty outrageous! Anyway, my boss at the time, a Captain who shall remain nameless, had a, shall we say, instructional talk with me and told me to get my work done before I made plans for Utopia!

    We’ll buy some honey for you at Yellowstone, since we know you like it so much! HA!

    Comment by Mike | September 4, 2010

  4. Tina says: Thanks to all of you for your comments. I enjoy them very much and have sent a note by email to each of you!

    Meeker: I’m going to write about some ways to redirect without shutting down, probably in the next few weeks.

    Careerist: Thank you for that perspective!

    Mike: Have a fun trip. Thanks for the story about your work experience. You have great ideas anytime!

    No. Honey. Please. I beg of you! 🙂

    Comment by TLR | September 4, 2010

  5. Very appropriate to speak about doing work on a Labor Day Weekend. I liked your “job description” for someone who only wants to think. I’ve known a few like that. Brilliant people, but not much help in the work department!

    I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy this weekend with friends or family. My entire family will be here…two son’s, one daughter, one soon-to-be son-in-law. I’m blessed. One of those blessings is you. Don R.

    Comment by Don R. | September 5, 2010

  6. Tina says: Thank you, Don. I envy you and I envy your family! Have a great time!

    Comment by TLR | September 5, 2010

  7. Hello Tina, I hear what you are saying about this topic, but would like to present my problem at work. In my work too many people want to jump into doing something, without thinking about it. I urge caution and they urge action. I speak of planning, they speak only of getting down to business and getting on with it. I know I am considered a log-jam but I see myself as a gate-keeper, not to keep things in but to prevent action that will have bad results or have to be re-done. There must be thinking and planning before doing. I am accused of having analysis paralysis, which I try to avoid, but many go to far the other way and don’t put careful thought into their actions.

    I am not disagreeing with your idea that someone must do the work, but maybe there is a need for someone to explore strategems if that is their speciality. Sincerely, S.K.

    Comment by S.K. | September 7, 2010

  8. Tina says: Thank you for your comment, S.K.! I appreciate your thoughts and they add to the article. I believe strongly in the value of planning what we’re going to do and know from experience the act of planning discloses problems that wouldn’t have been known otherwise.

    As you noted, the challenge is finding the balance between too much and not enough.

    You mentioned the need for someone to explore strategems–that was one reason for the Think Tanks of the 70s and 80s, which I’m sure are used by some businesses today.

    Managers and supervisors can have a role in ensuring that planning is done and that ideas are as valued as action. Then the manager or supervisor should make sure there IS action! 🙂

    Thank you again for your thoughts. T.

    Comment by TLR | September 8, 2010

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