Many people are confused between the concept of setting strategic direction and the art of creating a strategic plan. Moreover, I continue to hear questions on whether creating a five year strategic plan is a thing of the past, meaning that five years is perhaps too long of a window in our time of great change. Here is the fundamental difference and the distinction between the two.
The reality is that every organization needs to have a North Star, or a picture of a preferred future, that never changes, but gets reinterpreted on a regular basis. While the plan for reaching or achieving that preferred future may look different every three or five years, depending upon circumstances and progress, the North Star never changes. Google has long been focused upon organizing all of the worlds’ information, yet that has looked different over the years. Initially, it meant organizing core products and services around email and search, followed by multimedia, and now and in the future, about AI and other assistive technologies. Google has not changed their preferred future or destination, just the path to get there.
All organizations need a clear vision for where they are going, but need to reinterpret their strategies for accomplishing it every three to five years. That is where strategic planning intersects with strategic direction. Times change and organizations must reevaluate their strategies and adopt new technologies and paths forward, but they don’t change their destination. That would be foolish and would mean that they are never truly making relevant progress toward a long term destination.