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?

Groups need a plan …

  • to allocate and align resources, especially when they are limited.
  • to manage people and processes efficiently.
  • to ensure clarity and alignment so you can get into action!
  • when the goal is clear, but roles and responsibilities are not.

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, expand your problem-solving process to include a context step between your assessment and your evaluation of the alternatives. By stopping to understand your planning situation more deeply, you will stimulate new thinking and find new options to strengthen your plan.

This approach will still be focused and fast but will produce a more robust plan.

If you need a strategy, your process should disrupt thinking to open a gap in typical problem-solving dialogs to invite new ideas and divergent points of view. Your assessment will need to include gathering information from more sources – especially those outside your management team so that you have a good scan of your environment and the dynamics at play. Then you leave the assessment behind to define a shared understanding of where you ultimately want to go.

Closing the distance between your assessment and your destination is the story your strategy will tell.

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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