Is Your Strategic Plan Really Strategic?

If you’ve worked in business for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard of (or experienced) a corporate retreat where managers get together to develop a “strategic plan”. But at the end of this, have they produced a plan with a strategy?

If you get a group of managers together and ask them to give you an example of a strategy, you’ll get a variety of answers, including initiatives (“optimize the production floor”), activities (“make more outbound calls”, “reduce unused inventory”), and goals (“grow our customer base by 20%”).

The problem is that none of these are actually a strategy.

Why does this matter? Understanding what strategy is, and isn’t, makes a big difference in how we approach and plan what we need to reach our goals, and gives us a path to get there.

When managers think ‘strategy’ they tend to focus on what they do, but strategy is actually between goals (where you’re going) and objectives (what you do to get there). This makes strategy intangible and hard to relate to, but vital to understand since strategy saves you when tactics fail.

To make sure we’re all on the same page:

  • A goal is a broad primary outcome
  • A strategy is an approach you take to achieve the goal
  • Objectives are measurable steps you take to achieve a strategy
  • A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective that helps achieve your strategy

Let’s break this out in an example to help illustrate. For a company that produces well-monitoring instrumentation it might break out like this:

Goal: Attain 50% market share in North America for well-monitoring instrumentation within the next 5 years

The goal would take a long time and a lot of effort to achieve, along with several shifts in strategies and tactics along the way. But that’s what we want. The goal doesn’t often change — it’s where you’re headed. It’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Strategy: Become the most recommended and best-supported brand by leveraging well-established distributors

Your strategy is what you keep doing even if you walk away from a tactic. This strategy becomes the foundation on which your objectives and tactics are based. It doesn’t have a set action but instead is an overview of the direction you’re taking to achieve your goal. The key word is “by” — how are you going to make this happen?

Objectives: Establish distributor relationships with these 3 companies. Hire and train new staff to support distributors. Create higher engagement with existing distributors A, B, and C.

I like to think of objectives as mini-goals that support the overall goal. They’re still a direction you’re moving in, but much more specific and actionable than your overall corporate goals. A great way to frame an objective is to start by saying “In order to achieve my goal I must…”

Tactics: Hire a new sales rep for distributor support by the end of the month. Set up a toll-free manned phone line for distributor support. Host monthly lunch and learns in key distribution areas. Start a meetup group for distribution professionals. Sponsor a golf tournament to get an ‘in’ with this company we’re trying to sign on as a distributor. Keynote at these 2 trade shows and then reach out to contacts from potential distributors at the show.

There are hundreds of tactics that can be used to achieve our objectives, and, in turn, our goals. Not all tactics will work, but having several tactics contributing to the objective will give you the chance to see what works and cut the ones that don’t.

Now that you’ve got GSOT under your belt, I encourage you to take a look at what you’re doing/planning and how it fits into Goals, Strategies, Objectives, and Tactics. Often one of these areas will be underserved, and working out those pieces will help not only yourself but the team around you achieve clarity and direction.

Even if you’re not in management, there’s still a lot of value here. Ask yourself questions like “does this tactic support our overall strategy”, “which objectives can I help with”, and “which tactics am I participating in that really aren’t working”. These questions pull you out from your day-to-day tasks and turn you from a “getting my work done” employee to someone working towards the common good. Your manager will thank you for it.

Originally published at Industrial B2B Marketing Blog.