The Real Definition of Strategy

By: Brent Neal

For some strange reason, strategy has incorrectly become known as planning or the plan a company has devised. I imagine the only motive for this is that companies often create a Strategic Plan and because it contains the word “plan”, planning has become synonymous with strategy. This is technically incorrect.

Strategy is not a plan or plans. It is a set of actions, choices, decisions, and commitments that align with an organization’s doctrine. Doctrine is the company’s “belief system”, governance principles, and the practices it embodies. Strategy is, in its most basic form, a chosen direction. Plans can then be formed after establishing a course of action. So, before you make plans on how to get some place, you must first choose where you want to go. Think about it. You must first decide to take a vacation before any planning such as determining a destination, choosing a hotel, or selecting the attractions you want to visit. The specifics are the plans. Strategy is the overarching choice or decision to go.

To get technical for a moment, strategy is driven by the notion of establishing action (known as an action domain) designed to achieve an overall goal and is restricted within the parameters of the governing doctrine. Strategy is limited by a scope or a set of boundaries since it aligns with doctrine. It does not define the individual plans, events, or timelines that need accomplished. If you still find yourself wanting to refer to strategy as a “plan”, then at least simplistically speaking, view it as the “overarching plan”, almost at a conceptual level, since it establishes a global direction based on a set of decisions or choices.

The real definition of strategy is important and needs clarified because people often make plans and then lose track of the direction they are heading. They become mired with daily tasks where they feel overwhelmed and exhausted. They lose their passion and enthusiasm for doing business, give up on their goals, and then fail. The reason for this is indecision about a course of action or an inability to make a choice. Plans can easily change when you are too focused on reacting to chaos or the fires of the day. Establishing a direction initiates a march towards a goal. In the event, that you get off course, it acts as a guide to get you back on track.

Strategy is forward-looking. It acts as a control for business decisions and is an overarching foundation that dictates long-term goals, actions, plans, and commitments. It helps the organization map out how it should get from where it is today to the future it envisions. Strategy influences the internal culture of the company through direction as well as how it interacts with the outside world. The result of strategy is transformation of the organization whereas plans are tactics that fulfill the strategy.