Labeling something as Strategic does not make it so.

The presence of a plan, no matter the number of pages or accompanying detail, should not be mistaken for the existence of a strategy. Desk drawers are littered with detailed business development and marketing plans that are decidedly not strategic. (I know this from personal experience.)

And even in the event a plan avoids being tossed aside, can we agree that mere activity does not insure progress?

The moniker Strategic Planning is so overused that it is in danger of meaning nothing.

There are a number of reasons. But at least part of the challenge lies in the fact that rarely are any two challenges, opportunities or pursuits identical. The thoughtful response to any business challenge is, at some significant level, unique. Cookie-cutters and templates are of limited value.

And while it must be acknowledged that a one-off approach to marketing and business development can realize measured success given enough resources and luck, this is not the path to long-term growth and stability in a highly competitive environment.

An Idea-String That Signals Strategy

What constitutes a strategic plan? There are a handful of indicators — ideas or elements — that reside at the heart of the thinking, conniving and mapping that rise to the level of strategic. If you’re working on or adopting a plan, look for these five characteristics.

  1. A Foundational Nature. Though able to shift in order to accommodate a changing landscape, baseline strategy doesn’t get rebuilt every year.  Solid strategy breeds stability, even when market or organizational realities insist on adaptation or evolution. Strategic entities have a way of enduring.
  2. Target Driven. Strategic business development efforts begin with target identification and intentional listening. Initiatives built around broadcasting a solution to a universe of potential clients/customers are rarely strategic.
  3. Visionary Focus. Though often aspirational, a strategic plan doesn’t have to be the stuff of audacious dreams.  It should, however, facilitate a laser-like focus on the vision of what will be in the event a plan is executed. A visionary focus keeps a strategy on course.
  4. Value Definition. Sound strategy provides parameters for ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ This is the yardstick for evaluating, prioritizing and eliminating opportunities that, regardless of potential and (seductive) return, are not consistent with Visionary Focus. (“If you never say ‘NO’, you have no strategy.” — Allen Fuqua)
  5. Terms of Alignment. Whether measuring human capital or liquid assets, solid strategy provides for the alignment of all resources in pursuit of defined goals.

Few things can impact a market more swiftly or more dramatically than a plan derived from strategic purpose. For every organization and leader striving to build business, develop a practice and have positive impact on the bottom-line, the distinction between activity and strategy is a critical one.