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“I hate to tell you this, but that’s not strategic”.  I have had to say that a few times while talking with teams and team members.  A confusing fact for many management teams is how to tell the difference between something that is strategic and something that is improving process.  What about innovative?  If we are being  innovative then we must also be acting strategic as well?  And if I am being efficient then I am focusing on process and so being efficient is not strategic?  What if we are being transformational, or evolving our program?  Maybe a better question is why should I care to know the difference?

I think the answer to that question is pretty straight forward.  If you are not paying attention to your business and improving your product or service, then there is not much reason to be thinking about the future of that business.  It will cease to exist based on poor quality and performance.  In the same regard, if you are not looking to see where your agency fits in the future and simply keep your head down, doing what you always do, even in an excellent way, you can drive right off a cliff.  Think Blockbuster, Blackberry, AOL, Kmart, JCPenny. It is important for every company to balance between focusing on the strategic, and thinking about existing practices.  That balance is different for each company, and each industry.

So let’s keep it simple.  Whether what we are doing will transform the industry, make us more efficient, or is considered innovative it all starts from the same two places.  You are either being strategic or focusing on process.  How do we tell the difference?  I find that 80% of this confusion can be solved by agreeing that if we are talking about something we are already doing, then we are dealing with process improvement, and if we are not already doing it, we are having a conversation that is strategic in nature.  That seems easy enough to follow, but I know it still can be confusing.

Example:

Company A wants to start providing employment services to people with a developmental disability.  Company A does not currently provide such services.  Company A is thinking strategic.  Its reasons for doing this and what will define success are measured in strategic ways.

Company B needs to revamp its orientation because its outdated and does not appear to be effective.  Company B wants to improve its current orientation.  The current curriculum is already in hand, but it needs totally changed.  Because it will be unrecognizable this feels like strategic planning, right?  No, this is improving on a process you already have in place.  A poor one, perhaps, but one that is already present.  The reason for this change is in order to respond to a key metric that is tanking, and one solution to impact the negative trend is a revamped orientation.

Keep in mind that change for the sake of change, is not process improvement and should be avoided at all costs.  Any improvements to a current process or tool should have a significant impact to a key performance indicator for your business.  Strategic Goals, on the other hand, should align with your companies vision and will be measured based on executing goals and objectives and ultimately having success with what new tool, service, or product you brought on line.

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