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Strategic Framework vs Strategic Plan

March 25, 2017


From time to time I get asked, “What is your strategic plan for Saline Area Schools?”  First, I respond with, “We don’t have a plan…. instead we have a framework.”  Using the term, “framework” to define the mission and direction for the Saline Area Schools gives me the opportunity to explain why a framework is more advantageous than a strategic plan in the current era of fast moving policy changes and technological advancements.  

A plan is defined as, “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.”  In theory, a strategic plan is a good thing for organizations like school districts to have in place.  Research shows that employees want to feel like they know the direction in which they are headed,  and that a sense of purpose helps stakeholders feel connected to the greater cause.  Most schools work on three to five-year plan cycles.

A framework is defined as, “a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text.” The framework provides the structure within which an organization can operate. Research also shows that employees prefer some degree of autonomy in their work. With a strategic framework, teachers are afforded the autonomy to experiment creatively with a variety of instructional strategies and learning spaces. In the case of Saline Area Schools, the framework is reviewed and revised annually.

A strategic plan tends toward short-term, actionable tasks. A strategic framework, while focused, allows the flexibility to adapt to changing global trends, policy mandates, and marketplace needs.

We see the benefits of a framework vs. a plan as these:

  • A framework is more flexible in adapting to marketplace changes.  Plans are often too rigid and precise to adapt quickly enough to meet emerging needs and shifts in policy.
  • Frameworks provide clear guidance without being too prescriptive.  Plans can easily become too detailed to allow staff the autonomy to make their own decisions.
  • Frameworks provide an umbrella for all organizational activities. Plans become so specific in some areas that staff do not see a connection to the greater outcomes.
  • Frameworks are easily understood and communicated.  Plans can become lengthy and cumbersome.

Here is a link to the Saline Area Schools’ current Strategic Framework.  The original framework was adopted by the Board of Education in 2011 and has been reviewed and revised annually.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jkrouskoff permalink
    March 25, 2017 11:05 am

    Thank you for articulating the differences so precisely. Flexibility, appropriate levels of autonomy, collaborative reflection, and the annual revisions make a powerful recipe for sustainable change and ongoing improvement!

  2. March 22, 2018 11:26 pm

    Agreed. Not everyone needs a full-blown plan. We cover some of the key strategic frameworks here:

  3. Carolyn permalink
    September 17, 2020 5:14 pm

    I just came across this while searching for design-build approaches to strategic planning for a new non-profit project I’m involved in. I like your description but have some questions about how you got to this point and how it looks on the ground. Can I contact you directly?

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