There is no way you read popular management literature without frequently stumbling across the terms »strategic« and »operational«. And by frequently I mean like a lot. It’s not going to take much reading to comprehend the difference and how either one is being used by its pro- and opponents. You may wish to point out that scientific literature is hardly ever siding with any of them but people in real life do.
In short, if you are operational you handle the everyday struggle your organization is facing, hence being exposed to the music in its purest and likely aggressive form. On the strategic end are people that steer the organization and tell you where you are heading within the next 3-5 years. Quite often you hear about high- and low-level involvement too whereby the confusion surrounding those two terms is quite staggering. Just to cut the chase, high level contains as little details as possible and obviously low level is just the opposite.
And god (or whatever you believe in) help me but there is a lot of talk and connotation about the very detail of duration, responsibility and effectiveness on either side of the aisle but more or less, …, this is it.
Seeing any problem with that so far?
I hope you do, if not, check this out. The important part of this infamous video starts at 01:15:07 and you may wish to let go of it after 01:18:06.
For those that can’t watch it, Elon Musk is telling Joe Rogan how to redesign airplanes in a quite technical way. Joe Rogan, although pretending to be a dump comedian, is a really intelligent individual but blanked out on this one by admitting he is not the right person to discuss the subject matter (or in his words: “I am to stupid for this conversation!”).
The really interesting part is when Elon Musk concludes the topic by saying: “it makes sense though”! Now think of what we said earlier. Is Elon Musk the »strategic high-level« or the »operational low-level« guy in this?
The answer to me is »neither nor«! And that’s a big problem as there must be something in between.
Maybe some kind of chalky layer and/or substance that is interconnecting the two? To this respect I do love the Scott Adma’s »Dilbert« and as I am seeing those strips on a daily basis since early 2008, I am recalling a suitable one as follows.
The yet indistinct notion that there must be something or someone recognizable that can intertwine the shortfall in each point of view has been annoying me for years until I recently read (out of all possible literature a technician may potentially get …..) a marketing related book that would uncover the missing link for me.
After doing some more research, as anything that pertains to marketing is usually not my preferred source of knowledge unless its math based, I did encounter the expression »tactical« more often until I came across the follow image which I belief was originally published by the UK Centre for the Protection National Infrastructure.
There is literally not much to add here. They have create a pure »technical« layer here which makes a lot of sense to me too but most importantly, the people that connect the everyday struggle with the long-tern mirage apparently really exist and the industry would do good in paying more attention to them.
Why does it matter?
Take a quick look at the labor market and how it evolved over the past 20 years. High-level managers keep hiring chalky substance like more managers and consultants that have little to no profound and recent low-level knowledge.
In turn, low-level people that apply operational or technical knowledge in non STEM fields get undervalued although being building blocks of the organization.
Conversely people within the STEM fields are frequently glorified as a shift in paradigm and society also fuels the demand to let them deliver what outsiders consider magic.