October 10, 2023
A Strategic Plan is not a Strategy.

Planning & Strategy are not the same. Strategic Planning is not the same as building a Strategy. How do you avoid the planning trap?

Earlier in my career, I spent time working as a Business Manager, later on as a Chief of Staff. Both roles had a heavy element of Business Management, Operational Planning and Strategy. I was often involved in Business Reviews & Strategic Planning Sessions.

Later, as an Adjunct Professor teaching Marketing Strategy – I would often use case studies to discuss Marketing Strategies, Marketing Plans and Tactics. Sometimes I would inadvertently use these terms interchangeably.

Roger Martin’s quick study (below) is a great reminder that Planning & Strategy are not the same. Strategic Planning is not the same as building a Strategy. A Plan Is Not a Strategy

Strategy: Integrated set of choices which positions an organization on a playing field of its choice in a way which helps it win.

Strategy always has a theory – in my opinion, there’s often an associated hypothesis. The Strategy revolves around this theory and set of fundamental beliefs, or objective hypothesis.

 Here’s why we should be on this playing field and not this other one

 Here’s how/why – we will be better on this playing field than any of our competitors, serving customers, in our chosen field.

 “Our target customers will end up liking our offering more than those of our competitors”.

Roger notes that the theory must be coherent and translatable into specific actions, for the Strategy to be successful.

The Strategy should outline key goals - specify a competitive outcome which the organization seeks to achieve. Ideally it involves customers wanting your product/service enough that they will purchase enough of it to drive desired revenue/profit.

“The tricky thing is that we don’t control our customers – they determine whether/when/if they will purchase our product”.

As a Sales Leader, I spend a good amount of time reviewing Sales Plans, discussing sales motions and activities. Often, our core sales activities and motions are within our control.  With Strategy, we cannot readily control the outcome.

“Here’s our theory”, here’s what we believe will happen and why. We cannot guarantee, we cannot prove it in advance, but this is what we want to have happen.  What we believe will happen".

Ultimately the customer will decide!

Avoid replacing Strategy – with Strategic Planning

As a Strategist – you will be uncomfortable. You’ll have some angst. You can’t prove conclusively (in advance), that your strategy will succeed. If our theory is right, about the value we’re creating and how customers will react to it, then we’ll be well positioned to accomplish our goals.

Lay out the logic of your strategy – very clearly.

What would have to be true about our offering, about the industry, about competition and about customers. for this strategy to work? We can then watch how things unfold and evolve/tweak and refine the Strategy as you go along. Create an iterative System of thinking to help drive improvements. Strategy is a journey after all.

Keep the Strategy Short, Simple and Uncomplicated

 Here’s where we’re Choosing to Play

 Here’s how we’re Choosing to Win

 Here are the Capabilities we need to have in place (and improve)

 Here are the Management Systems we have in place to drive execution of the strategy. The use of mgt systems, capabilities and resources often revolves around the tactical planning & operational piece (typically called strategic planning)

As a Strategist - You lay out the logic and reflect on what must be true for the Strategy to effectively deliver against the end goal.

Planning Trap?

Note: I don’t agree with Roger’s assertion that – “If you plan, that’s a way to guarantee losing. If you do Strategy, it gives you the best possible chance of winning”.

How does one execute a Strategy? How do we manage the systems which we put in place to help drive the strategy? How do we outline, execute, and track the various tactics, action items, deliverables – associated with delivering on the Strategy?

All of that takes planning, execution, and operational rigor. Strategy is the essential starting point; however, planning is a key part of executing any Strategy.

Rotimi Olumide

Thought leader, speaker, multifaceted business leader with a successful track record that combines consumer & product marketing, strategic business planning, creative design and product management experience.

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