The Difference Between Strategic Management and Strategic Planning

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The Difference Between Strategic Management and Strategic Planning | The Change Leader

What’s the difference between strategic management and strategic planning? Both strategic management and strategic planning are keys to business success in any industry, but few know the difference between the two. According to a 2009 Harvard Business Review article “Four Fatal Flaws of Strategic Planning,” 88 percent of companies engage in strategic planning, yet few adequately manage their strategies, and even fewer see their goals completely met. Companies must make plans and then manage their plan implementation. That’s the key to long-term success. Here’s how to do it.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning usually consists of a vision and a mission statement, a financial or operational objective, an estimate of the resources required, and a summary of how the initiative fits in with the company’s overall mission. Strategic plans are what inform action. Hopefully, no company makes major decisions based on hunches or gut feelings. The most important aspect of strategic planning is the financial and operational objective. A financial objective should be something specific, like achieving a certain cash flow, the number of sales, or return on investments. Operational goals should also be objective. One example would be lowering operating expenses. Set a clear dollar amount, that way you’ll know whether you’ve met your objective or not.

Strategic Management

Strategic management is the annual cycle of strategic planning and plan implementation memorialized into an organization’s culture. Now that you’ve got a mission statement, a financial or operational objective, an estimate of the resources required, and a summary of how the initiative fits in with the company’s overall mission, you can determine whether or not your strategic plan is working through benchmarking against your KPIs or metrics.

Still, that isn’t enough. If your company is having success, wouldn’t it be nice to identify exactly why you’re having success? Strategic management can help. It allows you to recognize areas of success to sustain them while also identifying areas of weakness to improve which, is done annually.

How to Manage Your Strategies

The key to managing your strategies is by setting short-term goals. Setting lots of short-term goals is the only way to gather enough data to stay on top of your strategic planning and see whether or not it’s working. Here’s a metaphor. A bat uses echolocation to determine where it is. It sends out noise and it measures how long the echo from that noise takes to get back. The more noises it makes, the less chance it has of flying into something. Now imagine what would happen if a bat only sent out one signal every 10 minutes? It would be flying blind, right? And that’s exactly what your company is doing if you don’t frequently create short-term goals to direct your actions.

There is one other piece to strategic management that is critical, and that is leadership and accountability. We’ve all heard the three legs of the stool of leadership – authority, responsibility, and accountability. Without all three, your plans will go nowhere.

To be successful, we must hold our leaders accountable for the plan’s execution. This should be written into performance and compensation plans. Without this critical step, how can we execute our plans?

Organizational Change with The Change Leader

The Change Leader offers change management services that build high-performing institutions and cultures. We offer strategic management,  strategic planning, and plan implementation consulting services for higher ed and we can help guide your organization toward sustainable success with program evaluations, change management, and leadership development.


To dive deeper into strategic planning and management for higher ed institutions check out our webinar on the subject and our podcasts and blogs with expert insights into strategic planning and management. 

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