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James Holland on strategy, operations and tactics

In warfare there are understood to be three important levels: the strategic, the operational, and the tactical.

Strategy refers to the big picture, the overall aims.

The tactical level is the fighting on the frontline and how that is conducted.

And the operational refers to the means of making both the strategic and the tactical happen. In other words the nuts and bolts: the kit, the ammunition, logistics, resources, the economics of war. Getting men and machines from A to B. Sustaining the battle.

Talk to a British veteran of the Battle of a Britain, for example, and he might describe how he could be shot down one day, but be flying again the following morning. So where did he get his new plane, and in such quick order?

Talk to an allied tank man who fought in Normandy in 1944, and he will almost certainly say much the same thing. His Sherman was knocked out one afternoon, but the following morning he was in a new one and back in action.

Where did it come from?

“We just went back to echelon and picked up another,” one British squadron commander in the Sherwood Rangers told me… He confessed that he lost three tanks between landing in Normandy and the end of the war the following May, but he never went a single day without a tank.

James Holland – The War in the West: A New History – Germany Ascendant, 1939-1941

Solving technical problems is tactics. Your ability as a tactician (a technician) is probably why you started your organisation. Without tactics, you can’t win.

Strategy is incredibly important, but not (unless you happen to be a supreme commander in a global war) overwhelmingly difficult. It’s a choice of direction, a few big decisions, the articulation of why you do what you do.

Operations is the hard part. Less grand than strategy, less granular and less visible than tactics. If you’re struggling to grow, if you can’t get all the little things done that need to be done in order that you can do your actual work then your problem is operational: the daily work of making the tactical happen and sustaining the battle in order to achieve your strategic goals. Boring, but essential.

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