Defining strategy

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Some fundamental concepts and definitions of terms - from notes provided by Shri Footring in September 08 (Thanks Shri)

What is a strategy?

At the simplest level a strategy will answer the questions “What is important to us?” “Where do we want to go?” and “How are we going to get there?”

It will contain:

  • a vision
  • a set of strategic objectives
These are the things which are important to us, things that we want to prioritise as a group / organisation
  • a strategic plan
How we intend to achieve our prioritised strategic objectives. It may contain time scales, targets, costs / budgets, monitoring requirements and possibly detailed action plans.

It will lead to the design of programmes of activity (or it may reference existing ongoing programmes) (Note: programmes will have their own action plans)

What is a programme?

A series of activities that focus on one strategic objective (occasionally more). (that is, we choose our main focus and devise a programme of activity that will realise it).

In an organisational context, individual members of the senior management team will usually be responsible for and therefore focus on individual strategic objectives. This means that one senior manager would typically be responsible for one programme of activity (though sometimes it may be more that one).

Who owns the strategy?

Stakeholders. Stakeholders are people who have an interest (stake) in the success of the organisation / initiative. This is not limited to staff / employees. It includes learners, external partners and the wider community. Stakeholders are dependent on the strategy.

Who writes the strategy?

Senior manager puts a draft together + aims to make it inclusive. This can be done in “consultation with stakeholders”. (Note that consultation has the potential to be quite manipulative, for example the old FEFC consultations. (John’s example: “Would you like your leg chopped off or would you prefer a bullet?”. Report: A detailed consultation process showed that 90% of respondents from the FE sector expressed a preference for having their leg chopped off).

How can we encourage broad ownership?

Usually happens when people have been given an opportunity to contribute and comment. (Important to identify key stakeholders at the start).

Note that whilst a number of people can contribute to and inform the process of strategy development, the senior management team take responsibility for it.

Very importantly, one person needs to take ultimate responsibility for it. (Make sure it is the right person. Who does the success of the strategy depend on?)

What would help you to recognise a good strategy when you see one?

  • Brevity
  • Realism
  • Clarity
  • Achievability
  • Evidence of monitoring / review
  • Currency
  • Evidence that it is being shared
  • Evidence that it is having the desired effect
  • Links to other strategies and other key documents

What things should be avoided when writing a strategy?

  • Operational detail
  • Waffle
  • Self assessment as part of the strategy document

What would be the effect of not having a strategy at all?

  • Lack of shared understanding
  • Lack of direction
  • Knee jerk reactions
  • Short termism
  • Increasing isolation
  • Lack of corporate growth
  • Poor results
  • Low morale
  • High turn over of staff


  • Flexibility?
  • Opportunity for individual Innovation? (Any achievement through innovation outside the organisational strategy is likely to be short term and unsustainable).

(When advising on strategy, ensure staff have an awareness of key drivers (international, national, regional and local. Help organisations to recognise external / internal drivers)