Strategic Themes

Have you identified ‘Strategic Themes’, which clearly define where you must excel?
A. What are ‘strategic themes’?
B. We have a strategic plan, but have not ‘clustered’ in into strategic themes.
C. We have too many strategic themes.
D. We have identified a couple of ‘Strategic Themes’.
E. We have identified 1 or 2, maybe even 3 ‘Strategic Themes’, which clearly define where we must excel. 
[Score:  A=0, B=1, C=2, D=3 and E=4]
Why this question is important.

For each agreed strategic theme, specific objectives and targets are set and the means of measuring performance outlined.   These are then tracked and continuously monitored.

Like the pillars of the Parthenon in Greece, themes hold up the structure of a plan.  They are the very pillars that define the shape and distinctive thrusts of new growth and new direction.

From this basis, detailed plans, measures of achievement and detailed strategy implementation actions, underpinned by agreed time lines are developed.

Themes provide a mainstay for strategic planning.   Whilst recognising that ‘the devil is in the detail’, themes actually facilitate final agreement at the detail level.


Can you list 10 things to get done that are important?  But when push comes to shove, what are the 3 really, really most important of these?

It helps to think of strategic themes as “load bearing walls”.  They provide structure, support, and often boundaries for your strategic balanced scorecard.  More importantly, they define your business strategies and business model.

In your business, achieving focus on your priority strategic goals for the next year, 2 or 3 years will be hindered by a long list, and helped with a small number.  The fewer there are and the more clearly and strongly they are articulated, the more likely they will be remembered by you and your team, thereby helping to sustain focus and aligned action.

We are not for a moment suggesting you leave gaping holes in your overall plans for growth.  Strategic Themes need to be well balanced, ensuring they include all the most important areas of growth as a rounded set. Your set of ‘Strategic Themes’ should represent a sound coherent strategic structural base.  The must be supported by detailed operational plans, and adequately resourced.

Strategic themes are the main, high-level business strategies that form the basis for the organization’s business model.  They are part of the strategic planning work of building a balanced scorecard.  Once you have agreed upon the vision for your organization (your picture of your desired future), then you systematically cast that vision into 2, 3 or 4 (at most) strategic themes, sometimes referred to as “pillars of excellence”.   The strategic themes are very broad in scope.  They apply to every part of the organization and define what major strategic thrusts the organization will pursue to achieve its vision.  Themes affect all four of the balanced scorecard perspectives (financial, customer, internal process, organizational capacity).  A strategic theme is an area in which your organization must excel in order to achieve your vision.

Strategic Themes are the strategic focus areas of an organization. These themes are mostly linked to customer or financial perspectives.  All Strategic Themes are focused on the end outcome.  While there are strategies associated with operational excellence, internal processes and shareholder returns typically are not part of the themes.

A review of the success of strategic themes indicates that well balanced themes have a life of 18 months to 3 years, depending on the industry, company and scope of planning.  Thus, a thematic approach provides ‘compass bearings’ that point the way for a long enough period to allow for significant effort, specific projects and activities and tangible changes to be achieved.

Another simple distinction is that strongly articulated Themes begin with a verb. The action word puts in energy and indicates movement in a stated direction. As well, you may observe the power of brevity in the language used.

Developing Strategic Themes

Many organizations use strategic themes on their strategy map.  Strategic themes can help organize, or group, related strategic objectives that work together to deliver a specific, valuable business result. Strategic themes can help simplify the communication of the strategy map to stakeholders by providing a concise bridge between the mission and vision and the details of the strategy map (i.e. the strategic objectives).

Examples of strategic themes include:

  • Service/Operational Excellence
  • Clinical Leadership
  • Innovation in Service Delivery
  • Product Development Leadership
  • Focus on Continuous Improvement and Knowledge Generation, etc.

Strategic themes are very specific to your company, its ultimate business objectives and goals, and its business strategy.

One approach to building themes into a strategy map is to define the 3 – 5 strategic themes that are critical to mission and vision achievement before creating the strategy map.  Once the themes have been defined, the next step is to define and establish strategic objectives on the strategy map in relation to each strategic theme.  Some businesses create “mini” strategy maps for each strategic theme, displaying only the relevant strategic objectives and cause and effect arrows on each mini strategy map.

Putting Themes to use

Like the pillars of the Parthenon in Greece, Themes can hold up the structure of a plan. They are the visible pillars that define the shape and distinctive thrusts of new growth and new direction.

From this simple basis, detailed plans, measures of success, and resource and activity time lines can be developed.

Themes provide a mainstay for strategic planning.  Whilst recognising that ‘the devil is in the detail’, themes can facilitate final agreement at the detail level.

A great strength of Strategic Themes is their power in communicating your strategy to the entire team.  They provide a simple, memorable reference frame, that over a period of time, become recognised and permeate the thinking of people at all levels in the company.

Ultimately, strategy design is based on a series of assumptions about cause and effect relationships, and trade-offs between many different possibilities and ones that are deemed most likely to succeed.

Strategic Themes, succinctly, and with high visibility actually articulate the really important assumptions about what is important to achieve strategic success.