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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

What is Your Strategy?

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #138

In the October 23, 2023 edition of Dr. Thomas Butler's blog, The Learner-Centered Leader, he wrote, "Leaders get in trouble when they mistake activity for a strategy and allow themselves to believe that all new information should change the course they are on."

In this issue of Leadership Thoughts, we will look into the idea: sure, you have a strategic plan for your organization, but do you have an actual strategy?

The terms' strategy' and 'strategic' are often thrown around interchangeably, but there are distinctions. Strategy is a plan or scheme; strategic describes specific selections or actions within that plan. The strategy focuses on the big picture and long-term goals while strategic applies to short-, medium-, or long-term objectives used to reach those goals. Strategic highlights the intentional nature of activities in the larger strategy.

In this blog, you will come across mentions of "Strategic Design" and "Results by Design." I must give much credit to Dr. Charles Schwahn for his influence on my thoughts about strategic planning, as he co-authored the book with William Spady called Total Leaders. Since 1996, several colleagues and myself have been fortunate enough to get the chance to work with him. His teachings encouraged us to produce a field book entitled Results by Design, which has been implemented in schools, intermediate units, non-profit organizations, and various businesses in Pennsylvania.

Schwahn and Spady deviated from the widely used term of Strategic Planning by making up a new phrase: Strategic Design. This includes three principles to abide by: being centered around the customer/client/student, based on research, and focusing on future conditions. When put together, these criteria fit perfectly with what a leader must consider when developing an organization's strategy.

Following my analysis of strategies and strategic planning, I deduced that many organizations rewrite their plans every 3 to 5 years. Unfortunately, after writing the plan, it often sits on a shelf for years without any action taken. Only when it's time to start drafting a new plan is the old one looked at again.

The Strategic Design and Results by Design process is valuable for leaders who want to ensure their strategic planning yields the desired organizational changes. This method consists of two parts: deciding which direction the organization should take (mission, vision, values, and beliefs) and aligning people, practices, policies, and structures with this goal. This definition is simplified; however, it captures the essence of the process. Effective leaders are capable of both aspects.

  • Set a Strategic Direction.

  • Align the organization with that Strategic Direction.

When leaders fail to set a strategic direction, people have difficulty knowing where to go and what to do. (the strategy) When leaders fail to align the organization with a strategic direction, it cannot effectively use its resources. The process is simple to understand but challenging to accomplish without an intentional process. The strategic design process creates alignment between the organization's direction and the energy of its people. As Dr. Butler wrote, "Leaders get in trouble when they mistake activity for a strategy…"

Understanding an organization's goals (strategy) requires identifying and analyzing its mission (purpose), beliefs, values, and vision. Equally important is strategically aligning people, practices, policies, and structures to meet those objectives. Personnel and structural alignment must be aligned for alignment to be genuinely effective.

There is a difference between people's alignment and structural alignment. Both are important, but the people aspect is critical.

  • People Alignment: Focusing the attitudes, energy, expertise, and efforts of all staff members on the organization's purpose and vision.

  • Structural Alignment: Intentionally creating organizational structures, strategies, policies, and practices to accomplish the organization's purpose and vision.

Once everyone is on board, the leader can rest assured that people will make decisions that ensure alignment with the organization's core principles, plans, and structures. Lasting alignment between people and the organization's values, mission, and vision cannot be achieved without a full-hearted and long-term investment from everyone.

Leaders take action all the time, but are these decisions and activities consistent with the overarching strategy? Without a clear mission, purpose, vision, and agreed-upon core values and principles, the organization is limited to merely responding instead of being deliberate.

To put it another way, an organization that fails to be intentional. "… allow themselves to believe that all new information should change the course they are on."

What is your strategy?

If you want to learn more about "Strategic Design and "Results by Design" contact me at


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