The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

Hang on a second, don’t tune out yet!

I’m not going to write a scholarly piece which will bore you to death.

I want to talk briefly about what I think is one of the worst mistakes – confusing strategy and planning. Roger Martin wrote a post for the HBR last month in which he dealt with this very topic.

I frequently hear business owners talk about the need to do “strategic planning” in order to create a “strategic plan”. Some talk – every year – about holding a “strategic planning meeting”.

But if you really are reinventing your strategy every year, isn’t that a bit of an indictment of both the strategy and the way it was developed?

Coming back to the meeting, the expectation is that the output from it will be a document, a plan. And that will contain a long list of initiatives (often referred to as strategies) with time frames for their completion.

Martin wonders how (and if) this “strategic plan” differs from a budget. I think that’s a great question. But I have a different one.

Isn’t this so called strategic planning meeting really an annual (business) planning meeting? That doesn’t make it any less important – because it still plays a key role in the execution of the company’s strategy.

And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we stop calling the output a “strategic” plan. And start calling it what it really is – the initiatives, which if completed in the next 12 months, will propel the company toward the achievement of its strategy.

Each initiative is accompanied by the Action Plans required to complete it. Each action plan has a champion who is accountable for it’s completion. The action plans have resources allocated to them. And they support, or even drive, the sales and margin forecast and expense budget.

Now let’s go back and talk about the company’s strategy for a moment.

Roger Martin puts it really well –

• “…we need to break free of this obsession with planning. Strategy is not planning…”

and then

• “…strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business — not a set of strategies. It is one integrated set of choices….”

Choices about, for example, where and how a company will compete.

The strategy sets the context for the annual planning meeting. It should make it easy for the owner and her/his management team to decide which initiatives are relevant. (Assuming, of course, that they have already developed an effective strategy.)

I think the first step toward developing and executing business strategies that actually yield results is to stop misusing words.

If we call things by their real names we’ll stand a far better chance of understanding what they really are – or vice versa.

You can read Roger Martin blog post in full here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy – Don’t Think It, Experience It

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Tags: action plan, business owners, business plan, execution, initiatives, Jim Stewart, management, Planning, ProfitPATH, results, strategic plan, strategy, Strategy Development

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