Is Your Strategic Plan an Operational Plan in Disguise?

By Joseph Krause

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Is Your Strategic Plan an Operational Plan in Disguise

When I think of disguises the first thing that comes to mind is the ending of every episode of Scooby Doo when they finally catch the “ghost” only to find out it was the owner of the abandoned amusement park all along. For the first 28 minutes, you’re led to believe that ghosts are real, because you saw something that looked and acted like a ghost… right up until the big reveal during the last two minutes.

The same can be said for many of the strategic plans I encounter on a regular basis.

When a client signs up with AchieveIt, one of the first things we do is begin to discuss their strategic plan. We talk about the format, the scope, the history and a variety of important facts about the plan itself. When I hear our clients talk about their strategic plan I say to myself, “Yep, that sounds like a pretty standard plan.” However, once I get my hands on the documentation, I sometimes have my own personal Scooby Doo moment and realize that the strategic plan was an operating plan in disguise.

What’s the Difference Between Strategic and Operational Plans?

Let’s take a step back to define the terms we’re using to ensure we’re on the same page. A strategic plan is developed to help the organization achieve its long-term vision. Conversely, operating plans involve the process of deciding what needs to be done to achieve the tactical objectives of the business.

Operational planning is done to support strategic planning efforts. They’re the action plans, so in a perfect world the strategic plan comes first, quickly followed by a robust and measurable operating plan. Operating plans should help you run the day-to-day activities in the company as efficiently as possible.

To be clear: this post is not about choosing between an operating plan or a strategic plan because you need both to be successful. My colleague Jonathan Morgan touched on this topic in one of his recent blog posts. What you don’t want is one huge document that blurs the lines between the two very different plans, which results in mediocre performance for both.

How to Tell if Your Operational Plan is Playing Masquerade

You’re probably thinking about your plan right now and wondering if it’s blurring the lines between being strategic or operational. Here are a couple ways to spot the items that need to be moved out of your strategic plan and into a more focused operational plan.

  1. Does your strategic plan have hundreds of items in it?
    • Strategic plans are successful due in large part to focused effort. It’s nearly impossible to have your organization focus on hundreds of strategic items. If you have too many items to focus effectively, move some of your items into an ideas parking lot or, if the items are tactical and specific, move them into your operational plan.
  2. Do the items in your plan have a definitive end date or are they ongoing?
    • A strategic plan is all about creating new capabilities to help your organization leverage future opportunities. As you begin to decide how to create new capabilities you’ll usually develop a variety of projects. Projects by their very definition are temporary with a defined beginning and end. Once that project is done and you’ve created a new capability, hold a graduation ceremony for that item because it needs to move into the operating plan.
  3. Are the items in your strategic plan reoccurring?
    • Do the items in your strategic plan need to be completed monthly? If so, get them into your operating plan. Items like this are usually the result of solid strategic plan execution but once again, they’ve graduated into a different plan.

Accomplish Your Strategic and Operational Goals

Friends don’t let their friend’s strategic plan become an operating plan in disguise. Your homework assignment is to go and review your strategic planning documents. If you encounter any of the symptoms I’ve outlined above, please let us know and we’d be happy to help. To learn more about how AchieveIt can help you accomplish both your strategic and operational goals, click here.