Over the years, I’ve conducted hundreds of strategic planning sessions.
And while I’m a big advocate for strategic planning, I often find that these sessions don’t yield the results that people are ultimately looking for.
Because most people do strategic planning for the wrong reasons.
First of all, “strategic planning” is an oxymoron. These two words just don’t fit together, and they’re definitely not interchangeable.
Planning is all about analysis. It’s about looking at the data, extrapolating what we think will happen, and deciding what we’re going to do.
Strategy, though, is about synthesis. Strategy is concerned with what we want to happen. If you have a strategy, you’re intentionally trying to change what you think will happen.
Strategic planning, then, is engineering what we want to happen based on what we think will happen.
This means many people will have to shift their definition of strategic planning. Sitting around and talking about your mission and vision or doing a SWOT analysis isn’t actually strategic planning. This is strategic definition, which is a different thing altogether.
While vision-casting, defining a mission, and SWOT are all very valuable, they’re not substitutes for real strategic planning.
We have to understand that strategic planning is engineering what we want to happen based on what we think will happen, and we have to have a firm grip on both of those things to be successful.
That’s because strategy is not the actions we take; it’s the reason we take them.
The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics
We’ve all sat in meetings and said things like, “Here’s our strategy…” Then we describe a long list of tactics.
Our strategy is to have a lovely office that people come visit and hopefully be willing to do more business with us.
That’s not a strategy. That’s a tactic.
Our strategy is to call on all our customers and drive more sales.
That’s a tactic — not a strategy.
The logos on the side of your truck, the color of your cases, or the specifics of your marketing plan… they’re all just tactics. But we often attach the word “strategy” to these tactics because we want to define a subset of tasks that have a specific purpose.
In broad terms, strategy is your unique approach.
While your strategy could be to run a business just like everyone else, ideally you want a strategy that’s unique to you — your “secret sauce” for the thing you’re trying to do.
The more unique or special your strategy is, the more valuable it will be to the right buyer.
This is really difficult for most business owners to accept. They want to appeal to every potential customer, no matter what. But an effective strategy with a unique approach won’t make you attractive to everyone because it won’t work for everyone.
And that’s okay!
Because strategy defines what you uniquely do, it also defines what you don’t do.
I like to say strategy is a “codified no”. It isn’t just how we define “yes” — it’s how we say “no” and what we say no to.
Tactics — which often mistake for strategy — are actually just the things we do to execute our strategy.
And… the better the tactics, the smarter your strategy looks.
Look at Starbucks for example:
Starbucks’ strategy isn’t about their coffee. Coffee is just one of their tactics. Their strategy is to be a place between where you are and where you’re going.
When they started launching stores on every corner and in every hotel lobby around the world, they created a place for people to stop. This was a brilliant strategy because, before Starbucks, we generally didn’t stop when we were going somewhere.
If we were going to an appointment, we simply got in our car and went to the appointment. Starbucks created a culture where it’s common to leave our home or office a little earlier, stop by Starbucks, get our coffee, and move on.
It’s the place between where we are and where we’re going.
So what tactics did they use to make their strategy look smarter?
They built clean, comfortable stores with armchairs, tables, places to meet and visit, free wifi, hip music, baristas who call you by name.
These are all good tactics that make becoming the place to stop all good.
Adding a drive-thru window was also a tactic. We’re still stopping on our way to a destination, even if we’re not physically getting out of our car and walking into their environment.
For Starbucks, their strategy is to be the place people stop on their way to somewhere else. This is what they want to happen. By incorporating everything that entices people — their tactics — they believe that people will actually stop by their stores. This is what they think will happen.
For successful strategic planning, you need both strategy AND tactics.
So what about you?
In your strategic planning sessions, are you incorporating both strategy and tactics to engineer what you want to happen based on what you think will happen?