Do you need a microscope or a telescope?

Making the distinction between strategy and planning is the same as distinguishing your vacation destination from the route you'll travel.

It takes two very different mindsets.

I lead a lot of sessions where businesses decide what they want to become (strategy), and what to do next in order to head there (tactics). Since it's very easy to confuse the two, the best approach is to treat these as separate conversations for separate occasions.

For Strategy we use a telescope. For Planning, we use a microscope.

Planning is an incremental process. You look at where you are today and set out to replace bad things with good. "This year, we will grow revenue by 8% and break-even. We will increase customer sat by 5 points and initiate an employee sat program."

But Strategy creates a picture of what you can become. It's best formulated by focusing on what the future should look like, unconstrained by tactical discussion of how to get there, and stripped of unnecessary detail. "In 5 years, margin will be 24% on revenue of $750m. We'll have customer and employee sat scores in the 90s."

Planning is vital in order to take action towards your goal, but it's a poor way to determine your best destination.

Start with Strategy and you'll plan a route to get there.


You can do this exercise on your own, but it's more effective if you buddy up and do it in a pair. Two groups would be even better. One of you takes steps 1 and 2, the other takes steps 3 and 4.

4 simple steps:

1. Pick a timeframe (3 years is common but I prefer 2 and 5)

2. Paint a picture of the best your business could be at the end of that time frame. Describe what that looks like—revenue/ margin/ free cash flow, customer list, employee culture, product lines, and social contribution.

(If you're doing this alone, set aside and resume the exercise in a day or two.)

3. Write down the 5 major weaknesses of your business, the areas most in need of improvement.

4. Now describe your business when these things are fixed using the same terms as #2.

Compare the two businesses you have described. Which feels right?

You know the drill—call me Friday between noon-3pm Eastern on (647) 400 2514 and we can talk about the differences you noted. First come, first served but if I don't pick up, leave a message and I’ll call you back promptly.

... and if you missed these related articles, go back and take another look:

What do we do on Monday?

Pinpointing Value

The Decision Action Loop