This interview with Roger Martin is all good.
But, the best bits:
Don't mistake non-choices for strategy
The very essence of strategy is explicit, purposeful choice. Strategy is saying explicitly, proactively: "We're going to do these things and not those things for these reasons."
The problem with a lot of strategies is that they are full of non-choices. Probably most of us have read more than a few so-called strategies that say something like, "Our strategy is to be customer centric." But is that really a choice?
You only know that you've made a real strategic choice if you can say the opposite of what that choice is, and it's not stupid. So, think about 'customer centric.' The opposite would be what? We ignore our customers? How does that work? Can you point out many companies that succeed and make lots of money ignoring their customers? Well, then being customer centric is not a strategic choice.
Here's another example: "We're going to be operationally effective. We're going to show attention to execution." You see these sentences all the time in strategies, but they're not strategic choices. Always think of the opposite. "We're not going to be operationally effective." If the opposite is stupid and is demonstrated by the fact that nobody who's had any kind of success has ever done it, then it's not strategy. You get a little bit of credit for that—like getting a D-minus grade—but I would hope that most nonprofits aspire to be greater than that.
I often use the mutual fund industry as an example of where the leading players have made real choices. Vanguard's founder John Bogle says, "Picking stocks is stupid. It's bad for the investors. It wastes their money. Just buy index funds." That's all Vanguard offers. How do we know it's non-stupid, that it has a strategy? Because Fidelity says the opposite, "Portfolio managers are the absolute heart of the strategy. We put together portfolios that are customized to our clients' needs." So we have two super successful mutual fund companies making the opposite choices. That's strategy, and that's what you should seek.
Don't confuse planning with strategy
What happens too often is that cyclical planning overtakes strategy development.
This is because setting strategy is an art form, but it comes with a lot of bureaucratic baggage, and often the baggage gets ahead of making the purposeful choices. We know we have to organize things. We know we have to tell people what they're going to do. We know we have to have and budget for initiatives. So, developing strategy ends up being an exercise in agglomerating initiatives, assigning responsibilities without a coherent set of choices that help bind them.
I would argue that 90 percent of the strategic plans I've seen in my life are really more accurately described as budgets with prose. Lots of prose at the front end of a budget. In some sense, that's a better budget than simply a budget that has only numbers. But it's still a budget; it isn't a strategy.