DNA StringLabeling 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.

And even in the event a plan avoids being tossed aside, can we agree that 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. 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  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.

  • 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.
  • Target Driven. Strategic business development efforts begin with target identification and intentional listening. Initiatives built around broadcasting a solution to the vast universe of potential clients/customers are rarely strategic.
  • Focus. Though often aspirational, a strategic plan doesn’t have to be the stuff of audacious dreams. It should facilitate a laser-like focus — on what to do tomorrow, and what will be in the event a plan is executed. Focus keeps a strategy on course.
  • Value Definition. Sound strategy provides parameters for ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ This is the yardstick for evaluating, prioritizing and even eliminating opportunities that, regardless of potential and (seductive) return, are not consistent with the core of what your plan is about. Beware the strategy that never results in you saying “no.”
  • Terms of Alignment. Whether measuring human capital or liquid assets, solid strategy provides for the alignment of 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.