The thing about strategy is that it’s too often not a strategy

Want a challenge? Write down a strategy. Go ahead. I’ll wait. It’s not as easy as you might think. For one, a strategy doesn’t exist on its own. It has to be tied to a desired result — a goal. And therein lies the problem with most uses of the word. When it comes to strategic planning, the word gets in the way. Planning for the future of an organization is smart. It’s responsible. It’s healthy. Is it necessarily strategic? Maybe, but probably not. Much depends on how you go about it.

Strategy: How to get to the other side of a mountain

The most important thing to remember is that a strategy is always tied to a goal and can encompass multiple objectives and tactics. So, let’s take a look at a classic analogy to set this all straight. Let’s say your goal is to get to the other side of a mountain. One strategy is to climb the mountain. Another strategy is to take the river around it. A tactic is using a boat versus swimming.

Illustration of a mountain, river, and a boat meant to show the difference between a strategy, a goal, and a tactic.

Of course, there are some objectives you must reach before setting off on your journey. You may have to buy a boat, for example. To do that, you’ll need a strategy for financing a boat. A financing strategy might be selling some of your stuff. A tactic would be listing that stuff on eBay or holding a garage sale.

A real-life example of strategy vs. tactics

I recently heard this said in a Clubhouse room talking about social media: “Our strategy is to use Facebook Groups as a way to connect to our volunteers.” It sounds like a strategy. It was put forth as a strategy. Yet, it isn’t a strategy as-is. I say that because it is tied to a weak and unmeasurable goal. The stated goal is to “connect to our volunteers.” To me, that sounds like a strategy and not a measurable goal. After all, what do you want volunteers to do with this connection?

Maybe you want those volunteers to access volunteer opportunities faster so that none go unfilled. Perhaps you want to increase cooperation and teamwork (as evidenced by an increase in volunteer teams). Perhaps your goal is to answer questions they encounter so they are better prepared (measured by post-event surveys of volunteers). Whatever the goal, it must be measurable. If you complete the sentence with, “…so that we/they ____________, as measured by ____________.” then you’ve got yourself a goal, a strategy to achieve it, and a tactic to take you there.

Keeping with the same example you now have, “We use Facebook Groups to connect our volunteers, so we can fill volunteer vacancies more quickly as measured by the time it takes us to fill those opportunities.” The goal is to decrease the time it takes to fill volunteer opportunities. The strategy is to create ways to connect volunteers to those new opportunities. Facebook Groups become a tactic to achieve that goal. In fact, the strategy of connecting volunteers to new opportunities may have more than one tactic. That might include a regular email, a webpage, or text messages.

Why it matters to strategic planning

It may sound like parsing words, but grasping the concept is important because it keeps you within a clear and consistent method to approach your nonprofit or business. When it comes to strategic planning, many believe the act is inherently strategic. Most of the time, it is not. Sadly, many strategic plans stop at goal setting and lack specific strategies, tactics, and measurement. But going through a planning process that is focused on a strategic approach to setting goals, choosing appropriate strategies for each goal, and carrying out and measuring the targeted tactics has a MUCH higher chance of success. It also keeps your strategic plan from gathering dust, which is far too common.

Clear Wisdom Public Relations and Consulting uses a tried-and-true methodology to set research-based goals before selecting the appropriate strategies and tactics. This method assures greater success. Whether it’s planning for the future, strengthening communications, or building stronger relationships with all those you rely on to fulfill your mission, give me a call and let’s talk about it.

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