With our focus on collaboratively developing strategies to transform results for clients, executives frequently ask Brainzooming how we define strategic.

Here’s our simple answer:

An opportunity or issues is strategic when it is important for what an organization is trying to achieve.

Let’s go deeper into our definition of strategic, spelling out:

What We Don’t Include in Defining Strategic

I suspect that most definitions of strategic include the phrase long-term. We specifically exclude long-term and any sense of time in our definition. We firmly believe that time is not a factor in defining what’s strategic. Here is what we share with executives when they question us on that:

  • What you’re having for lunch 3 years from today is not strategic simply because it’s long-term.
  • On the flip side, I’ve had senior executives claim that important issues, such as reducing quality performance, were tactical because they were meeting on them that afternoon.

Time is irrelevant in defining what’s strategic. If it’s out, what’s central to the definition. Cue the next section.

Defining What’s Strategic

At Brainzooming, we translate abstract business concepts (like what’s strategic) into functional definitions and formulas. That makes strategy more accessible and actionable for everyone.

Let’s start with: Strategic is anything important to what an organization is trying to achieve.

What Are You Trying to Achieve?

The granddaddy of all strategic thinking question is: What are we trying to achieve?

This vital question focuses on significant organizational goals. During conversations focused on tactics and tasks, addressing this question elevates discussions to strategic levels. Answers should include outcomes and results, not items for a to-do list.


Routinely asking this question grounds any conversation, request, directive, and even new idea in helping the organization achieve its important goals. That sets the stage for strategic thinking.

Another great about this question? The answers will differ for varied departments, levels, and initiatives in an organization. In strategically aligned organizations, though, common threads will be apparent anywhere the question is addressed.

Finally, answers to this question will assist in creating strategy, prioritizing tactics, developing metrics, building support, and influencing an organization to act.

What’s Important?

Perceptions about what’s important for achieving goals generally differ across any organization.

  • Line leaders will focus on revenue growth and cost management at the top, along with quality
  • Support organizations more likely focus on new capabilities and resources

The key?

Money must be coming in to keep things running. That’s why it’s always at or near the top of the important list. Everything else relates, including profitability, addressing the mission, satisfying customers, etc.

Three Ways to Identify What’s Strategic

1. Critical Success Factors

One way to solicit broad input for identifying strategic issues is conducting a critical success factors exercise. This exercise asks people to identify what conditions, situations, and enablers are vital for achieving desired results.


2. A Strategic Assessment

Another way of identifying what’s strategic is a brief assessment Brainzooming recommends. Answer the following seven questions whenever you are trying to determine if an opportunity or issue is strategic. Count how many Yes answers these questions produce.

  1. Is it central to the brand, its representation, or delivering the brand promise? Y or N
  2. Does it broadly and/or directly affect key audiences for your brand? Y or N
  3. Could it significantly attract or disaffect customers and prospects? Y or N
  4. Does it significantly affect organizational structure or alignment? Y or N
  5. Could it materially affect the brand’s financial prospects? Y or N
  6. Does it touch the heart of the core purpose, values, and/or vision of the organization? Y or N
  7. Will the organization’s supply of resources or raw materials be dramatically affected? Y or N

The more questions you answer affirmatively, the more likely something is strategic. The question list may look somewhat different at a department level, yet the idea of importance defining what’s strategic holds.

3. Surfacing Strategic Issues through Conversation

I’ve worked with plenty of people who have oddly formed ideas about strategy. It’s not uncommon for them to be close to the vest when you try to engage them about strategic issues. Especially as someone seen as a strategy guy, these people are often loath to bring up things that they think don’t fit a time-based strategic definition.

In these cases, ask the following questions to prime conversations and move them toward strategic topics:

  • What’s a big deal for you right now?
  • What is keeping you up at night?
  • Where are you spending your time?
  • Where do you want to spend your time but can’t?
  • Where are you spending too much time?

Answers to those questions will surface opportunities and issues that could be deceptively strategic.

Operationalizing Strategy Definitions

As stated earlier, we break down definitions to create starting points for taking strategic action.

These related definitions all help you operationalize strategy as a leader:


Successful strategy represents a mix of thinking and implementation. Innovative ideas require action if they are going to create results; successful actions rest on smart thinking.


This definition opens contributing to organizational strategy for everyone engaged in thinking and/or implementation. That’s a radical shift for most organizations that unlocks the potential of collaborative strategy.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking involves addressing what matters with insights and innovation.


Leaders should work toward everyone being able to:

  • Understand what matters
  • Form thoughtful perspectives on what they are learning to help the organization operate better (otherwise known as insights)
  • Identify new ways to improve current performance (or, if you like, innovation)

With everyone developing their skills in these three areas, your organization will improve, even if it’s already great.


Strong insights result from implications-oriented information. Think of insights as the intersection of information and implications.


At its heart, an insight must be more than speculation, hearsay, or unfounded conjecture. Insights are grounded in information of varying types:

  • Quantitative data
  • Experiential
  • Observations
  • Logic
  • Strategic realities
  • Other relevant inputs.

And implications? An insight should suggest meaning or action, even if the action is to wait, do nothing, or continue to monitor the situation.


Brainzooming defines innovation as a fundamental improvement in the status quo. The definition isn’t sexy; it opens the door, though for everyone to generate innovative ideas.


To meet the innovation hurdle, consider whether ideas for new ways of doing things:

  • Address important opportunities
  • Could deliver a marked change in current activities and situations

If a concept is somewhere between “what you do” and “no one will ever notice the change,” then it isn’t innovative.

Strategic Implementation

In many organizations, implementation is the most difficult aspect of developing strategy. Failure to implement is at the heart of the traditional criticism of strategic plans sitting on shelves without anything happening.


We define strategic implementation as collaboratively delivering on strategic thinking. It’s about engaging the organization and its activities in ways that bring strategy to life to deliver results.

One important way to break down implementation barriers?

Turn developing strategy into a collaborative process where individuals with the broadest set of perspectives possible actively contribute thinking.

Taking Your Next Steps


If focusing your organization on strategic issues while opening strategy to more employees is your goal, let’s talk sooner than later.

Through hundreds of strategic client engagements, we understand how to streamline strategy and deliver the best combination of thinking and implementation to deliver transformative results.

There’s no single way that we apply the Brainzooming method. That’s why a no-cost conversation will help us get the right resources to you, whether those are readily available tools from our website or a customized strategic planning initiative to activate your organization. - Mike Brown

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Originally published: 05/15/2008
Updated and republished: 3/10/2023