You Don’t Need a Plan. You Need a Strategy.

Before you start creating another annual plan for your business, make sure you have a solid strategy. A plan is not a strategy. It is merely a list of activities you plan to undertake. It cannot help you position your business to succeed.  

According to Roger Martin, the former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and one of the world’s leading thinkers on strategy, most businesses excel at planning but fail to engage in strategy.  

Planning feels productive. There’s something comforting about having a plan in place as you start a new year. That list of achievable tasks that are entirely within your control gives you a sense of agency and confidence in the future of your business. It tells you what to do and when to do it, so you never have to guess. Your plan gives you a list of tasks to complete. Each time you check an item off the list, you experience the satisfaction that comes with making progress.

But Planning Without Strategy is Meaningless.

Plans are based on SMART goals, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They are typically organized by initiative and include a budget. But a strategy is based on a theory that may or may not be true. And for many people, that feels risky.

In a video released by Harvard Business Review, Roger Martin defines a strategy as “an integrative set of choices that positions you on a playing field of your choice in a way that you win.” In other words, a strategy sets forth a coherent and realistic theory about which playing field you should be on and how you will serve the people on that field better than anyone else. 

Your strategy specifies an outcome you wish to achieve. Achieving that outcome depends on the behavior of the people you serve — if enough of them purchase your product or service, you will achieve the specified outcome. If the people you serve don’t buy your product or service, you won’t achieve the specified outcome.

Strategy thus depends upon the behavior of other people; it depends on something entirely outside of your control. Strategy requires you to acknowledge the fact that the people you serve are the ones who decide whether the products and services you provide are worth buying. But unlike planning, strategy specifies a theory about how you can achieve the outcome you seek. And as you learn more about the people you serve, you can refine your strategy.  

Related Article: Three Strategies Every Successful Business Needs

Strategy Translates Theory into Action to Achieve an Outcome. 

A great strategy starts with a theory and specifies an outcome. It then translates that theory into actions designed to help you achieve that outcome. Strategy is about positioning. If your theory is right about how the people you serve will react to the products and services you provide, you will be in a great position to create a thriving business. If your theory is wrong, you can learn from the experience and try again. 

Every strategy must answer basic questions about who you serve, how you serve them, the problem you solve, and the value you offer. Answering these questions requires you to make assumptions about yourself, the industry, your competition, and the people you serve. Clearly identifying the assumptions underlying your strategy will help you identify where you went wrong and allow you to refine your strategy. 

Related Article: Why a Strong Brand Identity is Crucial for Fast-Growth Companies

Strategy is Branding. Branding is Strategy.

Strategy helps you achieve a specific outcome. It positions you to succeed in business by identifying your market, the people you serve, and how you serve them. Branding takes your theory about the people you serve and how they will react to the products and services you provide and makes it tangible so you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace and stand out from the competition. 

As a brand strategist and designer, I can help you create a strategy and powerful brand story that reaches your audience in a way that is both relevant and resonant. We will dive deep into your business to understand what you do and who you serve, how the people you serve feel when they work with you, and the characteristics and values that define your work.To learn more about how I can help position you and your business to thrive in the coming year, schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation today.