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Strategic Planning and Management

What is the difference between Strategy, Policy and Action Plan?

Strategy is used when action is needed from more than 1 organisation or group of stakeholders to achieve a desired outcome. It is essentially an 'umbrella' document from which individual action plans and policies can be written to achieve the common aim. It sets out the problem and provides a vision for the future. It also articulates the solution by setting priorities for each area, allocates resources and outlines the co-ordinated action to achieve the best outcome.

Action plan derives from the strategy and lists in detail what needs to be done by an individual or group and all actions required. It also outlines the resources needed, who is going to do the work, the timeline and the audit mechanism.

Policy dictates what individuals need to do in their everyday work. It is a statement of intent about quality of the work you are undertaking and a formal expression of the culture of the organisation.

Differences Between Strategic and Action Plan Levels

Leadership is linked with vision and strategy. Management is linked with tactics/planning and action (plans). Public health consultants are usually tasked with leadership and strategic thinking although this does have to be balanced with the management role of the consultant, implementing the organisation's strategy (or national strategy)locally.


Vision (purpose) is the overall statement of what you are doing together. This influences your values (both personal and shared) and your strategies (the path, means or method of converting your vision into action). Achieving a vision is not that difficult, it is simply knowing where you want to go. This will entail being out and about listening to ideas. A vision has to be shared though - people need to 'buy in' in order to make it happen.

Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning defines mission and objectives, assesses both internal and external situation to formulate strategy, implements the strategy, evaluates the progress and makes adjustments as necessary to stay on track.

Mission & Objectives - purpose, aims and objectives.

Environmental Scanning- context/background (i.e. evidence, literature review), PEST/SWOT analyses, audience, available resources.

Strategy Formulation- identify local expertise/stakeholders, organise into a group (roles, motivation, leadership), identify service developments/actions, how to delivery the actions such as milestones and timescales, training and evidence, costs, communication.

Strategy Implementation - involves the organisation of resources and motivation of staff to achieve objectives.

Strategy and Targets

Strategic decisions are driven by:

  1. the direction the organisation is heading in
  2. products and services that will be delivered
  3. design of the organisation's processes, knowledge systems and people development mechanisms
  4. specific targets that will identify whether the organisation is deviating from its plan.

Targets are goals and objectives and you can measure the success against realisation of goals. However, there is the danger that the attention on lack of success in attaining goals is at the expense of more meaningful forms of analysis - e.g. performance assessed relatively against different standards.

What is Strategic Management?

Not to be confused with strategy, strategic management is about the long term planning and direction of an organisation. It sets out the underlying aims of an organisation, the most appropriate goals to achieving those aims and how these can be obtained. It is about where the organisation is going in the long-term future. This is usually contrasted with operational management or tactical planning which is basically about short-term gains and processes and can be concerned with achieving monthly, quarterly or annual outcomes or targets. Planning on an operational level usually takes place in the context of immediate or near future events, which have a fair degree of predictability about them. Strategic management encompasses determining the long term goals and objectives of an organisation, adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals. It is a process usually directed by top management.

The basic strategic management cycle

Like strategy, strategic management can be seen as a cycle of decisions which have an 'knock on' effect on subsequent decisions. The Basic Strategic Management Cycle is a term used to describe the model of strategic management containing:

  1. The overall purpose or mission of the organisation
  2. The long-term aims and goals of the organisation - these can be changed over time
  3. Mechanisms to ensure that the strategic thinking process does take place - these can include data collection mechanisms and consultation arrangements, decision-making meetings, position in the market and competitors
  4. The key product market, resourcing, quality and other major decisions (which are agreed by senior management)
  5. Appropriate organisational structures which are put in place so that strategic decisions are cascaded throughout the organisation and implemented in accordance to agreed policies
  6. Results are reviewed and appropriate changes made as necessary to aims/goals and objectives (which completes the cycle)

Don't forget Mintzberg's 5 Ps

Mintzberg (1991) identified 5 Ps as being important to strategy - plans, ploys, patterns, position and perspective. 

Patterns relate to the consistent behaviour and processes which emerge from strategic thinking whilst position is what plans, ploys and patterns are aiming to achieve - an acceptable place for the organisation in the environment. Perspective is the conceptual and cultural approach to strategy - e.g. looking inside the organisation and at whether senior management have a shared view or vision. Views can be political, cultural, logical, visionary or due to 'natural selection' (i.e. having to adapt to keep up with changing markets. Strategic management needs all five in order to be successful.

Components of Strategic Management

  1. The purpose of the organisation.
  2. The principal aims and goals
  3. The fundamental values or culture of the organisation
  4. The organisation's interaction with the external environment - e.g. community, customers, competitors etc
  5. The future profile of the organisation in the longer term
  6. The structuring of the organisation's internal resources
  7. The decision-making mechanisms of the organisation
  8. The renewal and replenishment of the organisation's key resources - e.g. people, materials
  9. The effectiveness of resources

So what has strategic management got to do with public health? 

Well, firstly public health work is dispersed amongst a number of different organisations, like Public Health England, NHS England and local authorities. Each organisation will have a strategic management process and corporate viewpoint. It may help to reflect upon the organisation's strategy and long-term future and where public health fits in and how public health's operational management links in with the organisation's strategic management and indeed, how public health work can influence the aims and goals.

Secondly, there are strategic management questions which can be adapted to looking at the long-term future of public health's work in the respective organisations, such as:

*How satisfied are we with our present purpose for public health in the organisation?

  • How relevant are our aims and goals? To the organisation? To the population?
  • What other aims should we consider to fit in with the organisation's aims?
  • What changes do we anticipate in our external environment and what impact will they have on our work in the organisation?
  • What new or different markets (e.g. communities, groups, partnerships) should we be operating in? Any competitors?
  • How effective are our current organisation structures and will they suffice in the future?
  • What are the underlying values as an organisation? How do we relate to these? Any additional values we need to adopt?