Quick--do you know the difference between a strategy and an objective? Is a mission the same thing as a goal, or a vision? Which, if any of these, can be measured? And how do they all relate to one another?

If you think this is just terminology knit-picking, think again. Confusion over planning terms can reflect a poor understanding of underlying planning processes and desired outcomes. And this can spell bad news for your business.

What's in A Name?

Faulty strategies, inconsistent planning techniques, and poor execution account for much of the misery corporations are feeling today. Fortunately, sobered by the dot-com industry's breathtaking nosedive in recent years, many organizations have gotten religion about the importance of doing careful and thorough strategic planning. For them, it's an absolute survival issue and well worth investing in.

The bad news, however, is that many don't know where to start, how to involve their organizations effectively, or what results to expect as the process unfolds. Much of the problem traces back to a fuzzy grasp of key planning terms, processes and relationships.

Efforts at getting a vigorous and productive planning initiative out of the starting gate quickly become bogged down when members of the same organization can't agree, for example, on what makes a goal different from a strategy, where objectives fit into the mix, or what connection some activity has to the company's core mission. This can quickly take the steam out of even the most well-intentioned efforts and drag organizations back into a dangerous “business as usual” state.

This article discusses strategic planning as a comprehensive hierarchy of integrated elements and processes. Drawn from many different sources and rooted in hard experience, it offers a proven roadmap, based on consistent terminology, for moving an organization successfully from mountaintop vision to measurable results.

Planning for Success

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Basil Harris, Jr. is the founder and president of MarketStreams (www.marketstreams.com), a strategic and product marketing consulting firm based in New Hampshire. He can be reached at bharrisjr@marketstreams.com