Strategic Insights to Inspire your Journey

What's the difference between a strategy vs a plan (and which do you need)?

These days there is a lot of planning going on.

Planning spurred by post-pandemic optimism and planning to reestablish management disciplines dropped during a year of pandemic survival. But not all planning produces the same results. Some focus on building a fantastic plan, while others create a strategy.

Not everyone understands the difference between a strategy vs a plan, which they need, and how to make their planning process produce what they need.

A Plan: A plan is the details: who, how, when, how much to achieve a goal or objective. It aligns resources, timing, and expectations. A plan has a more limited scope than a strategy, and the process to develop it should be more focused and quicker, so you get into action as soon as possible.

A Strategy: A strategy is the story of an exciting journey; it explains how you plan to move from where you are today to where you eventually want to end. A strategy outlines how you will overcome challenges, confront vulnerabilities, and leverage all your assets and favorable forces to prevail through the journey to arrive at your ultimate destination.

Both define expectations, outline milestones and targets to measure progress and performance. Still, a strategy is frequently long-range and more directional than the near-term specifics found in a plan.

You can have a plan without a strategy, but a strategy without a plan is a story unfulfilled.

But how do you know which one your team or company needs?

A plan is needed to …

  • allocate and align resources, especially when they are limited.
  • manage people and processes efficiently.
  • ensure clarity and alignment so you can get into action!
  • clarify roles and responsibilities.

A strategy is needed when …

  • you are not clear on your destination or when there is no agreement on the destination.
  • you have been through a great deal of change, and there is confusion about how to regain traction.
  • even with all your grand plans, hard work, and dedication, you are not getting the performance you want or need.
  • you are new to your leadership role and want to define an exciting new direction.

How does the process to produce a plan differ from one to create a strategy?

If you need a plan, you focus on a goal, break down the goal into smaller goals or objectives, then work out the what, how, when, how, and how much for each objective.  Straight forward for sure, but rarely easy.  Plans take time to build as they are usually iterative—the more complex the goal, the more complex the plan. 

If you need a strategy, your process should disrupt typical problem-solving practices to invite new ideas and divergent points of view into your strategy discussions. As you begin strategy development, your thinking will feel more divergent, eventually converging when your planning team achieves alignment.  A strategy will emerge from robust planning discussions that then lead to highly satisfying plan development.

Understanding what you need is the first step but aligning your processes to satisfy that need is equally important. Share this post with your team to clarify if you need a strategy or a plan, and then build the right approach to complete your planning with that need in mind.

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Post Tags: Strategic Planning

CECILIA LYNCH, Author, Founder and Chief Strategist


As the leading authority on strategic thinking, Cecilia Lynch is the founder and chief strategist at Focused Momentum® and creator of Strategy Class®. Her first book, “Strategic Focus: The Art of Strategic Thinking” a groundbreaking work that demystifies the overwhelming task of beginning strategy development.  READ MORE...

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