Are you confident your leadership team can properly define strategy and, thus, leverage it as a business-thinking tool for accelerated growth?

A frequent take on strategy is that it is about planning. We eschew the term “strategic planning” in our consulting, but sometimes, we have to tolerate it with folks who don’t know the difference.

Strategic Planning Is An Oxymoron. Too many consider strategy to mean planning and implementing budgets, projections and management. Yes, some profitable companies only have annual strategic-planning retreats, but two things are probably true for most of them. First, they walk past growth opportunities left and right. Second, when they have breakthroughs and innovations, much of them have to do with serendipitous strategy dialogues that could be multiplied if they implemented the principle of high-growth levers and ongoing strategy dialogues.

Early in Peter Drucker’s career, a publisher told him not to use the word “strategy” because it was a military term, not a business one. He came up with the phrase “self-assessment.”

Nowadays, people overuse the word “strategy” because they think it makes them sound smart. If that is your goal, then consider another word that will make you seem even more erudite: stratagem. It means a plan or scheme, especially when used to outmaneuver an opponent. Use “stratagem” when you speak of tactics, and you won’t be guilty of misusing the word “strategy.”

Working Definition. Strategy is the formulation, communication and refinement of a vision (a picture of an organization’s future state) and the determination of the optimal angle, focus and primary source of leverage that will lead to divergence and defensible points of advantage in the marketplace.

Good strategy will optimize the odds of success, minimize competition and enable management to make decisions aligned and pointed in a specific direction. This is management echeloned!

In the simplest of forms, strategy includes a vision and involves identifying your most advantageous angle and focus to achieve that vision.

Tactics, in simple terms, are:

• the planning.

• the implementation.

• the “how” in getting strategy executed.

• the actions that execute the mission and vision and ideally give advantage.

Tactics are the intelligent balancing and allocating of limited resources (human, physical, financial) to outmaneuver the competition in serving customers and stakeholders. Here’s a way to differentiate the two. Strategy without tactics will be slower. Tactics alone cannot win the war.

So now you can begin to realize why strategic planning is an oxymoron. The phrase should be discontinued.

Strategy and tactics are two very different animals. The more you look at them, the clearer it becomes as to why conversations about the two should be kept separate. Many a good strategy has been quelled by prematurely discussing tactics.

The bottom line is, when your team understands the difference between strategy and tactics and you give each topic its due, you will benefit from more effective strategy dialogues and more productive tactical planning.