Orchestral Strategy Hierarchy

Your “strategy” is always relative to where you sit in the hierarchy.

“As you formulate in words what you plan to do, the most abstract and general summary of those actions meaningful to you is your strategy. What you’ll do to implement the strategy is your tactics. Frequently, a strategy at one managerial level is the tactical concern of the next higher level.”

-Andy Grove, High Output Management

In an orchestra, the conductor’s tactics are the first chair’s strategy. From the conductor’s perspective, the strategy is to produce a successful performance and the tactics to accomplish this may involve interpreting the score, setting the tempo, and communicating the vision to the orchestra section leaders. At the same time, the first chair’s strategy is to lead execution of that score interpretation and their tactics may involve aligning instrument settings, leading a cohesive section, and performing a solo.


What this implies, however, is that each layer of responsibility must clearly understand their role in carrying out the strategic hierarchy. To this end, clear language must be used to depict the relevant span of control for each layer.

Without a blunt, concrete span of control to operate within, individuals throughout the organization (sometimes encouraged to think about the big picture) devise their own team “strategic goals.” As the language of ”strategic plans/goals” becomes ubiquitous, responsibility for strategic goals diffuses. Suddenly, instead of organizational strategy being centralized in a senior leadership function (CSO or CEO), each business area of the organization is driving its own strategy, pulling the company in myriad directions.

To be clear: individuals should be empowered to think about the tactics that are applicable in the span of control appropriate at their level of the organization. That span of control must be wide enough to enable creativity and honor their strengths. However, each level of the organization needs “rails” to operate within.

It is the responsibility of senior leadership (and conductors) to

  1. Set the highest level strategic goals, and

  2. Set the spans of control throughout the strategic hierarchy