Navigation mobile icon
Mobile navigation close window icon
Capabilities icon
what we do
Expand section icon
additional services to ask about:
talent strategy & development
employee engagement & retention
total rewards
change strategy & enablement

Why You're Probably Using the Word "Strategy" Incorrectly

Just because you say you're operating strategically doesn't mean your plan is strategic.

One of my previous mentors always used to say, "Everybody always wants to do strategy."

The word "strategy," much like "aesthetic" and "agile," is a buzzword that gets people excited. It exudes an air of intelligence and importance. People are rarely challenged to elaborate when they say they're operating strategically, and promising employees vying to climb the corporate ladder are swift to use "strategy" at every opportunity. 

High-potentials aren't wrong to use the word to their advantage. After all, leadership wants proof that employees are capable of implementing plans that increase revenue and bolster productivity. That said, here's a reality check: just because you use the word "strategy" doesn't mean your plan is strategic.

It's a word that's long been misused. High-potential employees need to understand its nuances--and more importantly, determine the difference between good and bad strategy or risk derailing their best-laid plans. 

What Strategy Isn't 

"Strategy" gets frequently thrown around in organizations, from small startups to large corporations. But the true meaning is often lacking, and most people conflate strategy with other concepts. 

Strategy is often confused with planning or intelligence--when in fact, it's both. Here's an example: "Let's create a strategy for increasing our webinar viewership." The plan includes the methods and tactics used to present content and garner views, but that plan may or may not be strategic

"Strategy" is also often used to mean "smart" or "intelligently." How many times have you heard a colleague say, "We need to be strategic about this," when they really meant, "Let's be smart about this"? It goes without saying that a good leader acts and thinks strategically, but strategy in itself is more than sitting at the helm and calling the shots. 

So what does "strategy" really mean? To understand how it applies in a business context, let's take a quick look at its origins. 

The History of Strategic Thinking 

"Strategy" is derived from the classical and Byzantine Greek "strategos," which means "general." It was the Romans, however, who introduced the term in a wartime context, referring to compilations of strategema--or, literally, "tricks of war." Ultimately, strategy stemmed from the need to overcome enemies, win battles, and gain control of resources necessary for survival and expansion. 

Let's look a bit deeper into this historical context. By the time Julius Caesar was invading Gaul, the Roman Legions were using precise military tactics--taking into account environmental context, fatigue, time of day, availability of water, you name it. Of course, their plan was to defeat said army or occupy said territory, but it was strategy--that is, how they used their military intelligence to execute said plan--that led to victory. 

In a business context, strategy has taken on a similar (albeit less bloody) meaning. Business strategies involve carefully executing plans built to play on strengths, synergizing with other business elements and opportunities while avoiding pitfalls, and compensating for weaknesses. Simply put, strategy considers all the plan's contextual variables in order to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

How To Do It Well

With all the variables to consider, here's an easy place to start: 

  • Identify the problem to solve or the goal to reach
  • Assess your own strengths and weaknesses 
  • Evaluate external opportunities and threats 

This is the easy part. Many organizations and teams rely on SWOT templates (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to inform their strategies. For individuals, simply taking a few minutes to reflect on your internal strengths and weaknesses as related to the project and considering the neighboring initiatives of your cross-functional partners can go a long way. 

SWOT analysis can lead to good strategy, but great strategy also involves utilizing data insights to make informed decisions.

Let's go back to our example of increasing webinar viewership. A SWOT analysis can give us a sense of the topics where we have the most expertise and our competitive set, but robust data can provide critical details on optimal streaming dates/times, and viewer retention during a stream. Even more important, analytics can provide key insights into the things we may not have caught in the SWOT. Maybe it's not the webinars themselves that aren't garnering viewership; maybe we're just advertising through the wrong channel. 

Finally, a great strategy also has positive externalities. In economics, an externality is a side effect or consequence of a commercial activity that affects other parties without being reflected in the cost of said project. In strategy, it's the same thing: the more that your plan's outputs benefit your community (whether they be neighboring projects, initiatives, or associates), the better it is. 

In one of my favorite examples, Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began its saga with Iron Man and a number of other films with independent storylines. While each story stands alone, the positive externality of each film was that viewers were hooked by stories within the same universe. Small after-credit snippets also helped to connect the dots between the independent stories, again helping to boost the total gross of subsequent films. The rest, as they say, is history: When you consider the total gross of every MCU film in chronological order, with few exceptions, every film grossed more than its predecessor. By phase II, the MCU was grossing between 125%-200% more revenue from sequels than original films, with each Avengers movie grossing $1.5-$2 billion worldwide--making the MCU the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Yes, the movies are good, but it's the strategy that's great. 

Final Thoughts

In keeping with the Marvel metaphor, everyone wants to be a hero, but understanding the difference between a simple plan disguised as strategy and true strategic action is key to unlocking your professional superpowers. Leaders want to see authentic strategic capability, and employees who can demonstrate it are those who will ultimately rise to the top. With this in mind, high-potentials have the possibility to drive impactful results at work— without simply using performative jargon in hopes of achieving the desired result. 

more insights


Subscribe to our newsletter for regular insight and news

Our Latest White Paper!
Human Led, AI Assisted
Uniting Artificial and Human Intelligence to Combat Bias in Hiring
Download Today

more insight

Building the Foundations of a Startup Team Culture

An in-depth tutorial and set of worksheets to help startup leaders establish a positive culture from day one is now available.

How to Execute an Effective Total Rewards Program In 3 Simple Steps

Current workforce realities such as competing job opportunities and The Great Resignation make Total Rewards programs vital for attracting and retaining talent. Here’s how companies can do it right.

As Right-to-Disconnect Laws Hit Europe, Will U.S. Follow Suit?

Over the last five years, there’s been an increasing focus on laws centered around digital protections and worker’s rights, specifically the “right to disconnect.”

Many Companies Are Saving Incredible Amounts of Cash During the Pandemic. Where Is It Going?

By downsizing or giving up office space altogether, companies can—and should—redirect money to their employees in meaningful ways. Here's how.

AI & Recruiting: Leveraging Artificial Intelligence While Avoiding Bias

As employers contend with the Great Resignation, the use of artificial intelligence for talent acquisition is more important than ever.

Fear Drives More People at Work Than You Think. Let's Change That.

No matter how scary the prospect, striving to achieve your career goals will always yield better results than staying stuck and afraid.

Lack of Digital Adoption Is Becoming More Common in the Workforce, and That's Problematic

When employees fail to understand or properly utilize important tech tools in the workplace, it can have far-reaching implications and may even impact an organization’s bottom line.

AI Recruiting Tools May Be the Future, But Proceed With Caution

AI recruitment tools--while incredibly useful--can also introduce bias. What can companies do to ensure they increase efficiency without harming equity?

How Companies Can Leverage AI Recruiting to Increase Representation in Hiring

A range of approaches to designing and utilizing AI can actually help diversity hiring.

I Use This One Tool to Get 125% More Done

We're trending towards longer and longer work days--but by embracing a decision-making ideology and a task management tool, we don't have to.

New Hires Weigh In: How Do You Survive The Working World?

Navigating a new job is hard--and managing its ups and downs as a new hire during a pandemic is arguably even harder.

Stress Is Rewiring Our Brains. Can Training Like Navy SEALs Help Combat It?

While few employees are running miles in combat boots, mentally training like the elite military unit may help us reclaim our brains from stress.

Working From Home Has Changed Your Brain and Body. Here’s How.

The virtual workspace isn’t going away. Here’s how WFH is affecting us — and how these changes could reshape the workforce as we know it.

The Life of an HR Executive: a Roundtable Discussion

Human Resources executives are central to the success of an organization, setting the tone for how employees can contribute and thrive. Here, a few industry leaders share their insights.

The Ahmaud Arbery Trial's Social Justice Ramifications Affect Companies and Their Employees. Here's How.

Processing emotionally charged events can impact people in ways that are difficult to manage. What can be done to support them?

Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Workforce in Ways You've Never Imagined

From cobots that collaborate with humans to HoloLens, a wearable holographic computer, AI is no longer science fiction.

Yes, Your Nostalgia Is Valid. That Doesn't Mean It Belongs At Work.

As old paradigms fall by the wayside, how we shape corporate culture and do business altogether is transforming at breakneck speeds.

How the LGBTQ+ Movement is Dismantling the Gender Binary System

Uniqueness of identification has grown and blossomed into a spectrum of diversity, challenging the way companies think about DEIB.

The Big Quit: How Burnout Is Reshaping the Workforce

A number of complex forces are steering people away from the workforce, but arguably the most common one is burnout.

Is the 5-Hour Workday the Answer to All Our Problems?

Of all the theories that aim to engender better work-life balance, the five-hour workday is one of the most compelling.

Why You're Probably Using the Word "Strategy" Incorrectly

Just because you say you're operating strategically doesn't mean your plan is strategic.

No, You Can’t Always Just “Be Yourself” At Work. Here’s Why. 

Yes, “be yourself” is definitely sound advice--and these days, employers are known to tell their employees the same thing. But there are limits.

Is Fear a Barrier to Inclusion & Belonging? Why Companies Balk at Action

DEIB programs are surging across the American workplace. Why are some employers still not taking action?

Speed vs. Quality: The Timeless Dilemma

It's not always easy to know when to prioritize speed vs. quality in business. There may be more than one right answer.

Intent vs. Impact: The Communication Disconnect

Your words often don't have the impact you intend them to--which can be problematic, especially in the workplace.

Feedback Doesn't Have to be Scary

Giving and receiving valuable feedback isn't always an easy task. Here are some insights to help you along the way.

Does Unlimited PTO Work?

Unlimited PTO sounds like a dream come true. Is it here to stay, or just the flavor of the week?

Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Webinar

Join us for a dynamic discussion with neurodiversity experts on the benefits of employing a diverse team.

Lessons in Biases from the Olympics

Our biases manifest everywhere--and even during our most celebrated and joyous traditions, they can leave an impact.

A New Norm? Exploring the Four-Day Workweek

Are we truly our most productive when we work five days a week? Recent studies suggest otherwise.

Reflections on LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Corporate America

For Pride Month 2021, Enspira interviewed two pioneers in the LGBTQ+ business community who continue to inspire change.

How to Address & Support Mental Health

Chances are we all know someone who's struggling with unspoken issues. Here's  how to recognize it, thoughtfully reach out, and help.

Four Steps to Cultivating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

If we want to see real, sustainable change, we all must continue to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in the workplace.

Caregivers: Working Women in a Pandemic

The raging pandemic has pushed people beyond reasonable limits, and has adversely affected women disproportionately.

Propelling Gender & Racial Equity in STEM

The world is facing monumental challenges in the time of COVID-19, widening existing gaps in racial and gender equity.

Your frontline managers’ capability & effectiveness matters now more than ever. Here’s what you need.

It’s now more important than ever to ensure your organization has strong people manager capability and effectiveness.

Disrupting Your Workplace Culture with “The 3 Bs of Belonging”

How inclusive is your organization? Simply checking the representation boxes and creating policies isn't enough.


explore our offerings & capabilities

additional services

Hand holding plant icon

talent strategy & development

Creating innovative talent management strategies to help build and retain a world-class workforce.

Hand shake icon

employee engagement & retention

Developing comprehensive employee engagement and retention strategies to improve productivity, reduce turnover, and foster innovation.

Gift box icon

total rewards analysis

Identifying optimal combinations of benefits, compensation, rewards, and recognition to enhance employee engagement and performance.

Potted plan icon

change strategy & enablement

Guiding organizations through complex and challenging evolutions to keep employees engaged throughout the journey.

Project development on a desk

Enspira reimagines and revolutionizes the human-work experience with innovative HR solutions that put the power of business purpose in the hands of your people.

contact us
No items found.