The other day we had a teleconference focused on strategic planning. The questions we were getting were all very detailed and focused on execution. These were not pre-planning questions. Before we got too far off course, I started asking questions, and I realized the audience was not focused on strategic planning. Most of the audience was focused on the execution phase of their business. We had a short session talking about what strategic planning was and what this teleconference was about. That kind of killed the mood, so we regrouped and got down to the basics of planning.
Often I hear the words “plan” and “strategy” being used interchangeably. The meanings of the words are similar; a method for achieving an end, however, I believe there are differences between these words as well. A plan is a program, or a scheme for a definite purpose. A plan is very concrete and doesn’t allow for a lot of deviation. If “Plan A” doesn’t work, you usually don’t alter “Plan A” and try again; you move to “Plan B;” something different. A strategy, on the other hand, is very flexible and open for adaptation and change when needed. When we do strategic planning for a client, the deliverables or output from the strategic planning is a set of plans: business plan, security plan, marketing plan, etc.
A plan is usually a list of steps taken to accomplish a goal. A plan tackles questions like how, when, where, who, and what? A plan is vital to the success of almost any effort. However, developing a plan should not be the first step in addressing a task. More often than not I see our clients rushing to develop a plan before they know what they want.
When planning for the future, it helps to strategize and consider the various scenarios you might be faced with and be prepared to modify your strategy so you can keep moving forward, rather than starting over at the beginning. Strategic planning is also a good way to prevent many iterations or variations of plans.
A strategy is bigger than a plan. Strategy tackles the questions of what and why? A strategic plan looks at the big picture as well as the many paths to the desired outcome. A strategy looks at every possible influencing factor and comes to terms with the big picture, not just one result. It is in strategic planning that we develop the mission statement, define the values and do the SWOT analysis.
A plan says, “Here are the steps,” while a strategy says, “Here are the best steps.” Strategy speaks to the reasons why, while the plan is focused on how.
In a perfect world, the strategy always comes before a plan and shapes the details of the plan. A strategy is the combined wisdom that coordinates all of the plans to effectively reach the goals. It is not uncommon to find a business owner operating under a business plan or marketing plan that has no match to the mission statement or to what the business owner said he wanted.