Sometimes it seems like we get “hung up” on moving forward with some initiative, because we cannot separate vision from strategy, and strategy from policy. I want to posit some definitions of these terms that might help us to keep making progress. One of the reasons that we conflate these is that they all have goals. In my initiatives, I see many goals, some of them are complementary, others are conflicting. Vision, Strategy, and Policy each have goals, but the goals are different, and understanding the origin or alignment of goals with vision, strategy or policy can help us stay on the path.
Vision – a description of the end state of some change initiative. The vision should be a picture of what the “world” looks like when this change initiative is successful. The “world” is determined by the scope of the change. From the vision, one should be able to discern the differences from current state, and define clear success criteria for the initiative. The goals deriving from the vision, are clearly detailed success criteria articulated so as to be measurable.
Strategy – a description of the plan to change from the current state, to the end state as described in the vision. The strategy should be articulated as a series of changes from current state to end state, encompassing interim states necessary to acheiving all success criteria. From the strategy, one should be able to develop an action plan, consisting of a series of distinct changes in a defined sequence providing a path to arriving at the end state described in the vision. The goals defined by the strategy are really the success criteria for each distinct change in the action plan.
Policy – a description of rules that we will hold ourselves accountable for following. Policies can be designed to maintain the status quo, or they can be designed to support the end state, or interim states defined in the strategy. Policies define constraints necessary to implement the strategy, and the goals of policies define the desired behavior of individuals and organizations that are impacted by the change initiative.
— I am sure that people will pick these definitions apart, but at the end of the day, if we don’t articulate vision, strategy and policy in ways that make the objectives of a change initiative clear, confusion will swallow the change.