Values, Strategy, and Tactics

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This is part three in a series designed to help small informatics businesses. Let's redefine some terms:

Organizations should have all four of these components. When organizations act in a way that we think is unethical or bad we should scan for some disconnect between their values and their operational principles.

Tactics and Strategy

People are often very confused about these terms and mistakenly use them interchangeably. A tactic describes what you are going to do where a strategy guides that action (it explains why you should be doing it). When you want to put a ball in the hoop all of the things revolving around that specific action are tactics. Tactics are often rehearsed until they can automatically executed. Strategies change frequently and can be described as a particular configuration of tactics to meet a particular goal.


Coach: "Johnny, get the ball into the hoop!"

Johnny: "How?"

Coach: "Execute Play 'H' from the playbook and don't trip over your feet!"

The strategy is Play 'H'; the reinforcement/enhancement of a particular tactic is telling Johnny not to trip over his feet.

Operational Principles

Operational principles may or may not actually exist in an organization. This is unfortunate because when they don't exist there is often much clamoring and confusion.

A great way to understand operational principles is by using the popular bidding site eBay. When you bid for an item on eBay you often set a limit on how much you are willing to bid. This is an operational guideline. Let's say we are bidding on a guitar. You've done your research and you know full well that you could outright buy that Fender Stratocaster used in a store for $250/US. You read the description to see if there are any defects -- there are none. Therefore, the MOST you should be willing to pay is $250/US because the risk of buying from Guitar Center is lower than purchasing from an unknown seller. With the store you can often return it easily if there was a defect and you can see/touch/play the instrument in the store.

An operational principle says, 'this is as far as I am willing to go -- these are the parameters.' If you are a logging company and sustainable logging is among your core values then your operational principles may insist on there being studies regularly conducted to ensure that you avoid killing forests. Your operational guidelines should indicate when and how you should stop logging if the studies indicate that you have surpassed a safe threshold.


Values are those core ideals that are deeply held and generally guide your actions. You might value freedom of expression or the making of cold, hard cash.

Your core values will likely magnetically attract both staff and other organizations to you that possess similar values. As such, you should choose them wisely.

Where an absence of strongly held values exists everything else will falter. Here incoherent strategies are developed (or none at all) and hence tactics will be haphazard. Organizations that are successful even in this climate are often heavily dependent on 'stars' -- persons in possession of innate talents (tactics) that drive the organization toward success despite its culture. When these people leave they take their tactics with them and the organization suffers as a result. More often than not, however, no 'star' exists in these organizations nor can they attract one.

Where poor core values exist strategies of the 'end justifies the means' genre will be prevalent. Leadership will often be both morally and intellectually vacant in these cases and they will attract individuals of a similar bent. It should be no wonder that criminal organizations have at their core a kind of 'Pirate's Code.' In order to avoid devolving into something like this it is best to write down your core values and ensure that they meet high ethical standards.

Strategic Alliances - Core Value Mashups

A strategic alliance then is an agreement between two entities to in some way coalesce their operational principle design. In other words, they are going to agree set some parameters around what they are going to do for the sake of making the alliance a success.

The paper company working with the sustainable logging firm both agree to modify their operational principles such that the paper company can reduce waste and/or increase its recycled content. This puts less pressure on the logger to come up with 'new' wood. They both might agree to dedicate financial resources toward research and development of better ways to achieve sustainability.

When Things Go Horribly Wrong

Tactics are guided by strategies and they are informed by both operational guidelines and values. When there is a disconnect between any of these our organization will spiral out of control. It takes an adept leader to reorganize and refocus the group when this happens. Sometimes what is needed is a restatement of one or more components (remember Johnny -- Coach reinforced or restated a key element of the plan's tactics). Other times these components need to be revised.

One thing to avoid is the complete revision of one or more parts. Total revision of one's strategies will cause lots of confusion among participants. It can be viewed as stepping away from one's core values. For a sports team it would be tantamount to throwing out the entire playbook. The attention will shift to what you are losing rather than what you are about to gain. As a result you will start to lose the dedication of those in the organization and perhaps will experience a distancing from strategic partners.

In order to avoid this regularly schedule meetings with strategic modification in mind and involve those that will be executing the tactics. Regularly means at least once per quarter. Frame discussions around needed changes to operational guidelines and ask for input. The logging company that wants to 'go sustainable' doesn't one day hang a eco-friendly sign on its door. It meets with everyone involved in the operation and introduces them to new operational guidelines that must be met. Those guidelines should be achievable. Then the floor is opened for input.


Now you know that tactics are informed by strategy and strategies are informed by values and their operational guidelines. Development of these individually, together, and along with strategic partners will help your organization grow and meet its objectives.

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Citation: Values, Strategy, and Tactics. (2014). Retrieved Wed Mar 22 22:13:50 2017, from;iid=readMore;go=1414608898