Articles: Blog

What is the difference between strategy and planning?

I get this question a lot.  It is not that people don’t understand planning, but there is often an unclear line in their minds between where strategy stops and planning starts.  I have met senior people in “Strategic planning” roles who describe their job title as an oxymoron;  a contradiction in its own sentence.

When I train people in strategy thinking, I provide a clear distinction between strategy and planning.  It is straightforward really (but frequently over complicated).

Strategy is about understanding your environment and making choices about what you will do. Planning is about making choices about how to use the resources you have and the actions you will take to achieve the choices made in your strategy.

Put very simply, imagine a box on the floor that represents your organisation: Strategy is choosing where to put the box, its size and even whether it is a box. Planning is working inside the box, deciding what to do about the choices that were made.  Of course you still need action, executing those choices.

If you want to learn more, I have some recommended reading: Have a read of “Strategy Safari” by Henry Mintzberg or “Good strategy – Bad strategy” by Richard Rumelt. Both are must- read books on strategy and the whole breadth from strategy, through planning to action.  Mintzberg’s “The rise and fall of strategic planning” is an important book on this topic.  Sun Tzu’s “The art of war” is insightful, though somewhat confrontational in the choices of strategy and also can be a little obscure, depending on the quality of the translation.

Alternatively, if you want to cut through all this material quickly and effectively, we do provide strategic thinking training and strategic thinking workshops.  I have helped organisations as diverse as Oil & Gas and Charities, Central Government Departments and start-ups.  So, if you are serious about being strategic, (as well as planning and acting strategically) give me a call.  My contact details are on the page.


If you are serious about delivering your strategy, through your people, then get in touch...