Strategic Planning – Part 4

Key Definitions of Strategic Planning


In the dictionary, the word strategy has to do with war and deception of an enemy. In management, strategy has to do with responding to a dynamic and sometimes hostile environment in pursuit of a service mission. Thinking strategically thus means being informed and consciously responsive to this dynamic environment.


Strategic planning is planning because it involves intentionally setting goals (choosing a desired future) and developing an approach to achieving those goals.


Because it is impossible to do everything, strategic planning implies that some decisions and actions are more important than others. The most important decisions have to do with what an organization is and why it exists; the most important actions have to do with what it does. On the other hand, strategic thinking is deciding on and carrying out the fundamental or most important actions.


Discipline highlights the relationship between the different steps in strategic planning. Mission depends on environment; which actions are most important are determined by assessing strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, threats, competition and barriers. Strategic planning is also disciplined in that there is a sequence of questions typically raised to examine experience and test assumptions, gather and make use of information about the present, and try to anticipate the future environment the organization will be working in.

Decision Making

Strategic planning is based on decision making because in order to answer the questions raised in the structured planning process, choices must be made. The plan ultimately is no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, how to do it and why to do it.

Long Range Plan

Long range is the longest time period for which it makes sense to make plans. The time period varies from organization to organization: the Social Security Administration is planning for the retirement of today’s babies sixty five years from now; high tech computer companies are putting out new products every six months.

Operating Plan

Operating plans are the detailed action plans to accomplish the strategic goals laid out in the strategic plan. An organization should have operating plans for each major organizational unit and correspond to its fiscal year. In addition, an organization may need operating plans which correspond to business cycles or longer, or cycles that differ from the fiscal year. Each is important.

Strategic Management

The concept of strategic planning implies managing, day-to-day and month-to-month, in a way that focuses on the most important decisions and actions. This requires the kind of longer-term perspective and priorities that result from a strategic plan.

This concept also incorporates the assumption that the environment is always changing: thus, strategic management requires ongoing reassessment of current plans in light of long-term priorities.

Inclusive Process

An inclusive process means that people who have a stake in the work of your organization participate in the planning process in an appropriate way. This does not mean that every client, funding source, volunteer and staff member must come to a joint consensus about what to do. It does mean that these interested individuals have a chance to be heard by the decision makers.


Strategic Thinking vs. Strategic Management

Strategic thinking means asking, “Are we doing the right thing, and at the right time?” It also requires three things:

  • Purpose or end–a strategic thinker is trying to accomplish something
  • Understanding the environment, particularly of the opponent, or opposing forces, affecting and/or blocking achievement of these ends
  • Creativity in developing effective responses to the opponent or opposing forces.

As you might guess, strategic management is the application of strategic thinking to the job of leading an organization.

Finding the right mix of management and staff to carry out the task of strategic planning is the first step to the realization of planning success. Once you have the team in place constant communication will be the foundation the team will use to build the foundation. A breakdown in communication will crumble the process.

Source: The Business Game Plan, by Brian Hazelgren

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