Policy, Strategy, and Tactics.
Prompted in large part by a series of discussions on several professional forums over
the l...
My conclusion is that the lack of clarity and demarcation in modern companies
between policy, strategy, and tactics is at ...
Many options are open to him – he might negotiate with other zone commanders,
swapping out some of his better units to kee...
Fascinating stuff, perhaps, but it ignores two very important points.

One of the most exhaustive such studies conducted i...
How far can we stray outside the boundaries? Do we know what they are? Are our
assumptions correct?

Most people manage to...
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Tired of how people seem to equate apples with oranges, I felt i should look into to origins and appelations.

Why do we keep on using the same words for different things?

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  1. 1. Policy, Strategy, and Tactics. Prompted in large part by a series of discussions on several professional forums over the last few months, which attempt to ask “What is…” or “Define…” when speaking about certain ill-defined roles and concepts in today’s business and management technology space, I decided to pen this article to examine what, in my mind, is a key source of confusion. One finds people endlessly debating semantics about the role of a Business Analyst, Enterprise Architect, what SOA is or is not. (To name just a few examples) Now, when it comes to questions of moral relativism, I am personally a much more “black and white” than “shades of grey” type person. However, it is often clear to me that while I might disagree with many viewpoints in the above areas, a lot of them are still internally self-consistent when examined in light of their own premises. Therefore, any disagreement must be due, not to data I have and others lack, or visa versa, or even the fact that we draw different conclusions from the same data. It must, surely, be from the case that we are arguing from different fundamental axioms or assumptions. After looking long and hard at a number of widely different discussions, I have come to the conclusion that there is indeed one common aspect to all such disagreements. At first sight, this seems to be a tools & technology VS. business focus divide. For instance, a recent discussion focused on the value of using modelling tools for simulation and predictive analysis, and quickly stabilised into a few broad camps. One seemed to be mostly those who worked with one or more BPx toolsets, and who were keen to demonstrate how these tools could add large amounts of value. Another broad camp consisted largely of business planers, transformation consultants, and similar, who admitted that some value could be derived, but were sceptical about getting sufficient hard data, quickly and cheaply enough, to run any sort of over- arching simulation. Similar discussions in the Enterprise Architecture and SOA arenas also seemed to split broadly into technologists who focused on tools and technologies, and business- focused types who generally wanted to look at a more holistic view. However, there was sufficient cross-pollination in all such discussions to lead me to believe that the business/technology divide is not, of itself, enough to explain the lack of shared principles, axioms, and assumptions. Page 1 of 5 © Nic Harvard, Harvard & Associates, 2010
  2. 2. My conclusion is that the lack of clarity and demarcation in modern companies between policy, strategy, and tactics is at the core of this, and can be used as an effective test to inspect whether all parties are on the same page, as it were. To clarify this, let’s erect a quick prototype for a discussion point: During a war between two countries, State # 1 (We’ll call them Aggresoria) determines, through it’s leadership, war cabinet, and so forth, that the best way to end the war swiftly and profitably, is to capture and hold the enemies (Let’s call them Sadosia) capital and main industrial resource centres, thereby depriving them of both morale and will, and the means to wage war. This is policy. Broadly speaking, it might equate to a companies mission and vision statement, or it’s overall plan for the next 5-10 years. “Policy” is often confused with, and used interchangeably with “Strategy” However, it sits at a higher level yet. To return to our military example, the formulation of a successful strategy then falls to the commander in chief, and his proxies in the field. Let’s call that main proxy Field Marshall Grey. Field Marshall Grey formulates a holding action along the front, and then later, with several divisions moving forward simultaneously, striking through in one location, and by-passing or confusing the enemy at others. He faces 4 general zones, and decides (based on tactical information from each) that Zone A will be a feint in strength, Zone B will be attacked in force, (but said attack is not expected to succeed) and Zone C will be lightly harassed and pinned down, while Zone D will receive the bulk of his attention, as this is where his breakthrough is planned. To achieve these aims, he makes broad provision of appropriate forces to each zone. This is now his strategic plan to execute policy. While informed by tactical considerations, Field Marshal Grey does not issue specific orders to the generals commanding each zone. They have their orders, and will prosecute these to the best of their efforts. Finally, we come to tactical deployment. In each zone, the commanding officer understands his local situation. The commander of Zone B knows, for instance, that his men will take high casualties, cannot expect much in the way of support, reinforcements or reserves from outside his group. His other constraint is that he must be seen by all to execute the attack in his area with the maximum of vigour. Page 2 of 5 © Nic Harvard, Harvard & Associates, 2010
  3. 3. Many options are open to him – he might negotiate with other zone commanders, swapping out some of his better units to keep them intact. He might consider carefully which units to deploy first, or when and how strongly to commit his own limited reserves. He might decide on local tactical goals of maximising enemy casualties, creating maximum confusion, or acting as cautiously as he can, hoarding his strength while still staying within the letter of his orders to attack aggressively. Commanders in other zones have issues that are at once similar, yet different. Zone A needs to attack aggressively also, but might assign a higher priority of minimising his own losses. Zone C will almost certainly keep up a mostly skirmish-type action, creating maximum annoyance with the least damage to his men. Zone D will prioritize mobility, logistics, integrated command and control, agility and responsiveness, and swift attack in force to give the enemy no chance to re-position and respond to his tactic. All of these are a “macro-tactical” level – but tactical nonetheless. At a level even more granular, when a company commander in Zone B is ordered to take a well-defended enemy position, all he needs to worry about is how to execute that order – which will probably involve keeping as many of his men alive as possible. But do it, he must. He controls only the most basic tactical considerations, and nothing else – micro-tactics. Now this is all well and good, and provides a clear framework for what I believe is a rational segmentation of policy, strategy, and tactics, but two objections spring to find: 1) Enterprises are not, generally, structured as military-style autocracies 2) How on earth does this support the original contention that the blurring of policy/strategy/tactical boundaries leads to confusion about roles, responsibilities, and concepts? As the answer to the first contains the answer to the second, we will deal with them in order. Organisational culture and policy-level leadership are virtually synonymous. Over the years, multiple different leadership styles (and therefore, in line with the above assertion, the kind of corporate culture in which that leadership style is most effective) have been postulated, but the majority are derivations of the old Autocracy/Democracy/Anarchy. One could even go as far as to collapse this cultural dimension to a single axis or dimension, with autocracy on one side, anarchy on the other, and a democratic culture somewhere closer to anarchy than autocracy. Now if an industrial psychologist spent a lot of time and effort, I believe one would find the bell-curve at the overall organisational level (for companies consisting of more than about 15 people) fell closer to the autocratic than the democratic/anarchic end of the spectrum. Page 3 of 5 © Nic Harvard, Harvard & Associates, 2010
  4. 4. Fascinating stuff, perhaps, but it ignores two very important points. One of the most exhaustive such studies conducted in the last 15 years (Buckingham, working with the Gallup organisation) found that there are far more similarities between units within companies, than there are differences between companies. Basically, you would find less cultural/organisational variation between the accounts payable departments in say, Apple, Google, and the UK’s NHS, than you would between to departments within those companies. Which leads us to a somewhat surreal situation. Within a lasses-faire or anarchic culture, even the lowest foot-soldier (harping back to the military example earlier) is encouraged to in a greater or lesser way, to question and contribute to tactics, strategy, and even policy. In the most autocratic organisations, junior and middle management have a fairly limited involvement even at the tactical level, and are encouraged to execute first, and innovate second. But over the last two decades, average tenure within senior management roles has, and continues to decline year on year. The issue is less acute, but still highly noticeable within junior and middle management roles, especially for high-achieving individuals. The volatility is not always upwards – it is often sideways, towards more attractive offers. The fact that a person will now swap roles every 2-4 years does not mean that they will on average, be holding an SVP position by the time they are 35 or so. So once again, using our martial example above, we have a Major (roughly equivalent to a department head) who yesterday was responsible for attention to detail and execution of orders, today is responsible for giving inputs to strategy or even policy, and tomorrow might be expected to act in a co-ordinating or facilitating role. And in all three positions, he had the same job-title. I’ve seen companies where clerks with a 3-day training course were thrown into major, complex systems and process change projects, with the title and name-badge and responsibility (but possibly not the authority) - and others where one only got to be a “Business Systems Analyst” after a 20-years post-degree apprenticeship. What then, is the outsider (or even the person in the role!) to make of the theoretically well-understood job title, “Business Analyst”? How much more contentious is this then when we get to less well-understood roles, or concepts? When we speak of implementing business process activity monitoring and management, is this policy, strategy, or tactics? Page 4 of 5 © Nic Harvard, Harvard & Associates, 2010
  5. 5. How far can we stray outside the boundaries? Do we know what they are? Are our assumptions correct? Most people manage to navigate these shoals by a combination of interpersonal skills, “Checking the barometer” and having a modicum of political awareness. Without these types of skills, and the opportunity to engage in high-bandwidth, person-to- person discussions, it can be more than a touch difficult and dangerous in today’s marketplace. So in conclusion, I suggest that it is not a technical/business mentality divide, nor even really, a cultural one that hampers common understanding. It is instead, the invisibility of the scope and remit level of a role or concept that brings the greatest pain. People trying to achieve policy or strategy goals are sneered at for trying to “boil the ocean” for mostly tactical initiatives. Conversely, people who ought to be focusing on policy and strategy all too often get bogged down in tactics, which they are not equipped to deal with. Post-script and final report: I’m sure you’ll be wanting to know how Aggresoria’s plans worked out. Initially, all went swimmingly for the first 48 hours. Amazing deeds of heroism occurred in the hotly contested and under-supplied Zone B. Huge inroads were made into the heartland of the enemy in Zone D. Unfortunately, by D+2, issues developed. Turned out that various government ministers had been spending far too much time on the golf course with various arms suppliers, and one had ordered the amazing new Acme7.76 assault rifle for all troops, while another had decided that caseless 5.56 ammunition had far better technical specifications, and ordered lots of that. The situation was not helped either, when the commander of Zone A unilaterally decided that he should move to support the fiercely-fought Zone B, leaving a channel open for the foe. Aggresoria’s government fell two weeks later as advance elements of Sadian cavalry (still using the outmoded, inefficient, but well-understood weaponry from the last war) entered the Aggresorian capital. Field Marshall Grey concluded in an interview from his secret resistance hideout that is was actually his fault – he’d assumed that people understood their roles, the orders they were giving, and the orders they were receiving. Page 5 of 5 © Nic Harvard, Harvard & Associates, 2010