The term ‘strategic planning’ has become ubiquitous in modern business parlance, but the truth is that the two words represent fundamentally different concepts. In fact, it is precisely because they are so different that it makes little sense to combine them into a single term.
First, let’s define our terms. Strategy refers to the overarching approach a business takes to achieve its goals, while planning refers to the process of creating a detailed roadmap to execute that strategy. Strategy is about making choices about the big priorities and to differentiate from competitors, while planning is about allocating resources to specific tasks and projects.
Emotionally, it can be easier to focus more on planning than on strategy. After all, planning gives us a sense of security. In what has become a routine practice for many businesses, we allocate costs, create timelines, and define responsibilities. It’s something tangible that we can hold onto for the near future, which gives us the illusion of control.
In contrast, strategy is about the longterm, about the years ahead, and it comes with a certain amount of ambiguity. Only people with a certain mindset will enjoy the feelings that come with not knowing. And it is human to try and avoid insecurity-related stress.
The reason why strategic planning doesn’t make much sense is that the two concepts are inherently different.
A strategy is a high-level framework for decision making, while planning is a lower-level, tactical process. Strategy is about creating a vision for the future and defining the priorities to reach that vision. Planning is about breaking those priorities down into concrete, actionable steps. Strategy is about setting a direction, while planning is more about cost planning and timelines.
By combining these two concepts into a single term, we risk blurring the distinction between them. This can lead to confusion and inefficiency, as people conflate the two and fail to give each the attention it deserves. For example, if a company spends too much time on planning, it may lose sight of its overall strategy, leading to a disjointed and ineffective approach. Conversely, if a company focuses too much on strategy without proper planning, it may struggle to execute its vision effectively.
Moreover, the term ‘strategic planning’ can be misleading. It suggests that if you do enough planning, you will automatically have a good strategy. This is not the case. A good strategy requires creativity, critical thinking, and a deep understanding of the business and its environment. Planning alone cannot provide these things.
Instead of using the term “strategic planning,” it is better to think of these concepts as separate but complementary.
Strategy and planning are both necessary for business success, but they are distinct processes that require different skills and approaches. A business should start by developing a clear strategy that outlines its vision, goals, and competitive advantages. Then, it should use planning to break that strategy down into concrete steps and allocate resources effectively.
A clear and well-executed strategy is essential for success, and planning is the tool that helps turn that strategy into action. By understanding the differences between these two concepts, businesses can develop more effective approaches that drive growth and profitability.
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Main image by Jason Goodman via unsplash