Strategy and Strategic Planning

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 3rd January 2018

Strategy and strategic planning: Two terms that are used regularly by people in a management role; often people who aren’t all that clear on their true meaning. Let’s start with one of the most common misunderstandings.

The difference between strategy and tactics

Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War” – a seminal work on the essence of leadership. In the book, he spoke knowledgeably about this difference: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”. There is an essential distinction apparent in this quote. Strategy is a long-term and over-arching thing, tactics are more immediate and action-related things.

Strategy and strategic planning

Sun Tzu is also indicating that a strategy requires tactics to bring it to fruition and that tactics are not, in themselves, much help unless part of a range of actions designed to deliver a broader strategic objective.

Other features of strategy and tactics are that strategy tends to be defined in broad terms that are unlikely to change, whereas tactics are more fluid and can alter ‘on the hoof’ in response to influences or changing circumstances, but always with the strategic goal in mind as the destination.

To illustrate this difference: Your strategy might be to get from London to Paris. There are many tactics you could employ to achieve this strategic objective, such as buying an appropriate plane ticket, or a ticket on the Eurostar, or to plan a route to drive and book a ferry passage. If a traffic jam blocks your progress on the road, you might have to vary your tactics and find an alternative route or revert to the plane or train. Your strategy will be unaffected.

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Strategic planning

Strategic planning is the process by which you identify possible strategic objectives, select the most appropriate options and consider the significant strands by which it might be achieved. Often this relates to an analysis of where you are, establishment of your vision of the future and then the wide variety of planning considerations to work out the route from here to there. One of the best-known and most widely used works on the subject is ‘Exploring Corporate Strategy’ by Johnson & Scholes, who broke the process down into three main areas:

  1. Strategic Position – How are we placed? What are the key factors in our ‘world’? What are we capable of? What needs must be met? Why are we here?
  2. Strategic Choice – What could we do? What are the implications? Which option is the ‘best fit’?
  3. Strategy in Action – How might we do this? How should we organise ourselves to achieve it? What resources are required? What needs to change?

This is a huge subject and I’ll write more at another time. But it starts with thinking. A lot and deeply. So, you should begin there. Strategy and strategic planning are covered on our leadership and management programmes, through which you’ll gain an internationally recognised Chartered Management Institute (CMI) qualification.

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