Introduction to Strategic Planning

What is Strategy?

In its original sense, “strategy” means “the art of the general” (from the Greek stratēgos, general). In this sense, strategy is the planning and directing of military operations.

A word that is often used in conjunction with strategy is tactics. Tactics is narrower in scope. A few quotes will explain the difference:

“The theater of war is the province of strategy; the field of battle is the province of tactics” (General Sir Edward B. Hamley).

“Tactics is the art of handling troops on the battlefield; strategy is the art of bringing forces to the battlefield in a favorable position” (Field Marshal Earl Wavell).

“Tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war” (Karl von Clausewitz).  

What is Strategic Planning?

The word “strategy” has been later extended far beyond its original military context. It is used now in such areas as politics, business, and sport. It has become a buzzword. Today, “strategy” means a long-term plan. Strategic planning is rational, long-range planning.

Strategic planning determines where an organization is going over the next year or more, and how it is going to get there. A strategic plan is like a road map. It shows you the place you want to be, and the path to take to get there. A strategic plan is an organization’s road map to the future.

Is Planning Difficult?

Mention the words “planning” or “strategic” to some people, and they immediately recoil in horror. 

On the other hand, some persons like to surround the words with a certain mystique. They would want us to believe that only certain kinds of people are capable of doing such superior activities, and that most of us, lesser mortals, should be content with carrying out the instructions.

This is nonsense. Strategic planning is not rocket science. In fact, it can be made quite simple. 

The Trouble with Planning

Strategic planning is a process. It follows a series of steps.

The problem is that writers on the subject do not always agree on the number of these steps or the names to be given to them. Different books propose slightly different methods of doing planning. Not to worry; these are variations on the same basic theme.

The Strategic Planning Process—The Short Version

In essence, strategic planning is a simple, logical process. There are four steps. Each one answers a key question:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
  • How did we do?

The Strategic Planning Process—The Longer Version

The steps of the process would be better remembered using an acronym: ROSE (Research, Objectives, Strategy, Evaluation).

Research

The strategic planning process begins with an assessment of the current situation. This follows the military principle of examining the situation before a battle. It calls for “intelligence” or information.

You may start with a SWOT analysis. This is an examination of the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, and the opportunities and threats which it faces. You’ll find more on SWOT analysis in the text entitled: SWOT Analysis.

SWOT will give you the big picture. It will draw your attention to some significant issues that need to be examined more closely. Focus on these key issues. Look critically and objectively at how you operate. Identify poor performing areas. Consider if there are impediments or obstacles within the organization that limit its effectiveness. In short, spot problems and think of solutions.

This step is of crucial importance because the quality and relevance of the analysis will reflect on the direction you decide to take.

Objectives

You have made a thorough analysis of your organization. You know where you stand. You can now decide where you want to go. Think of where you want to be in, say, two years’ time.

Your analysis should have brought to light some problems. It showed perhaps that you are not doing a good job in this or that area. Tackle any identified weakness and shortcoming. This is where objectives come in. Objectives state what you want to accomplish. Come up with objectives aimed at improving performance in weak areas.

Objectives are not the same as goals. A goal is a general statement, rooted in the organization’s mission or vision, and setting a fundamental, long-range direction. A goal is usually couched in a warm literary style. It is vague, and cannot be measured.  

Objectives are specific statements that help in the accomplishment of the general goal. They should be clearly defined, measurable, realistic, and include a time frame. It’s only when objectives are measurable that it becomes possible to assess the results. To know more about how objectives should be designed and worded, refer to the text entitled: SMART Objectives.

Strategy

After setting your objectives, you need to write down the actions required to achieve each one of them. The objectives tell what your organization wants to do; the strategy tells you how it will be done.

A strategy is an action plan, a list of tasks or activities that you have to do to achieve an objective. It has a timetable, and includes details about who will be responsible for each action, with start and completion dates. It requires preparing a budget, scheduling tasks, and assigning responsibilities.

Evaluation

In the end, after implementing the plan, you assess the results. How did you do? Did you meet your objectives?

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