Strategic Planning: Glossary of Key Terms

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SEE ALSO: Strategic Plan


  • Strategic Commitment (or Priority or Issue): limited number (e.g. 3-5) of broad areas on which to focus resources during the relevant planning time horizon
  • Strategy: broadly stated means of deploying resources to accomplish the strategic initiative; several strategies may address a single initiative or issue; should have quantifiable outcome and assigned responsibility for achievement
  • Tactic: specific breakdown of strategies into manageable areas of activity; multiple tactics for each strategy; should be quantifiable and assign personal responsibility for achievement
  • Action steps: specific listing of steps and activities to accomplish a specific tactic, including people responsible and time frames for completion; multiple action steps for each tactic

Action Plans

Statements about how to implement strategies in the short run (day-to-day).


Basic setting for decision-making.


See “Weakness” below


Person who has primary responsibility for managing the strategic planning process on a day-to-day basis.

Core (Distinctive) Competencies

An organization’s strongest abilities and most effective actions and strategies, or the resources on which it can draw routinely to perform well.

Core Values

Principles by which an organization wishes to be guided.

Critical Success (Balanced Scorecard) Indicators

Quantifiable or demonstrably reliable qualitative measures of successful outcomes directly related to particular strategic commitments (or priorities or issues); answer to the question "How will we know if we have achieved our strategic objective in this area?"


Set of shared assumptions concerning 1) the world and the way it works; 2) values about what is right and wrong; 3) beliefs about what are or should be the consequences of those values; and 4) norms about expected behavior.

External Scanning

A process of regularly and systematically gathering, analyzing and interpreting information from external environments about key issues and trends that pose actual or potential threats or opportunities.


Person who gives structure to the strategic planning process and who manages group interactions; generally has no stake in the outcome.


Basic setting used to create shared meaning through dialogue and discussion.


Strategy specific desired states requiring effective strategy implementation; broadly stated aspiration; specifically internally or externally mandated area of responsibility; long-term target or direction of development.


Making sure the organization is doing the right things; “public” leadership is the inspiration and mobilization of others to undertake collective action in pursuit of the common good; taking people where they otherwise wouldn’t go.


Making sure that the right things being done are being done in the right way.


Requirements (expectations) imposed on an organization by formal or informal governing bodies, stakeholders, culture or other force.


Concise, targeted (toward specific stakeholders) communications designed to produce specific responses.


A significant event or date during the execution of a project; end of phase or sub-phase.

Mission Statement

A declaration, many times using inspiring language, of organizational purpose. The mission, combined with an organization’s mandates (i.e., identifiable social or political needs and expectations), provides the social justification for its existence. Many times the language is inspiring to those committed to the organization.


Inter-organizational and/or interpersonal connections that effectively convey appropriate information to targeted internal and external stakeholders.


Specific milestones or targets to be reached during strategy implementation


An external, future oriented possible activity or action that would benefit the organization.


Ramifications (larger meanings) of outputs [symbolic interpretations]


Actual actions, behaviors, products, services or other direct consequences produced by policy changes [substantive changes]

Performance Measure

Means of objectively assessing the results of programs, products, projects, or services.


An acronym representing political, economic, social, and technological categories of information that is evaluated as part of an external environmental assessment.

Person who possesses sufficient prestige, power and authority to commit an organization to strategic planning and to hold people accountable for results.


Any person, group, or organization that can place a claim on an organization’s attention, resources, or output. It includes those both within the organization and outside it.

Strategic Commitment

Strategic Issues restated as declarative statements. Affirmative statement of the nature and scope of commitment to an area.

Strategic Initiative

Specific response to strategic issues; can also be synonymous with a strategy (see below)

Strategic Issues

Fundamental policy questions or critical challenges that affect an organization’s mandates, mission, and values; product service level and mix; clients, users or payers; or cost, financing, organization, or management.

Strategic Planning

Disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why.

Strategic Planning Coordinating Committee (SPCC)

Group that oversees the strategic planning effort; would be composed of sponsors, champions and facilitators, at a minimum.

Strategic Planning System (SPS)

Strategic planning process applied to an organization as a whole (or to significant parts of it) on an ongoing basis.

Strategic Planning Team (SPT)

Group that provides the requisite staff work for the strategic planning process; would contain planners, change advocates, and critics, at a minimum.

Strategic Planning Systems

Organizational mechanisms or arrangements for strategically managing the implementation of agreed-upon strategies.


A pattern of purposes, policies, programs, actions, decisions, and/or resource allocations that defines what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it.

Strategy Change Cycle

A system of interrelated activities which is repeated over the course of time in the life of an organization which engages in strategic management and planning. It consists of iterative steps that ultimately lead to strategy formulation, planning, review, implementation and assessment.


An internal positive attribute

Success Factors

Things an organization must do or the criteria it must meet in order to be successful in relating to its external environment.


An acronym representing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; an integral part of the process of identifying strategic issues is a SWOT analysis.


Short-term, adaptive actions and reactions used to accomplish limited objectives.


An external, future oriented possible activity or action that could harm the organization.


The way things should be; desirable ways of interacting with others

Vision of success

A future state which occurs after the organization or entity has successfully implemented its strategies and achieved its full potential.


An internal negative attribute; sometimes called challenges (to focus on the opportunity for improvement)