We have a Strategic Plan, Now What?

“Nothing happens until something moves” Albert Einstein

Ask an Executive Director or CEO if they have a strategic plan. Many will say, “Of course we do – it’s here somewhere”. Then they will reach to the top shelf of their bookcase, blow off the dust and say – here it is!  This leads me to believe that a lot of strategic plans end up as bookends or dust collectors.

We recently posted an article that discussed how the most critical part of the strategic plan is actually the planning process. If that is the case, then what do you do when the ‘planning process’ is over and how do you bring those strategies to fruition?

To be relevant for more than a year (or even a day!), strategies must be fluid. So, how do you take something that is fluid and translate it into concrete action? I have found that implementing the following steps can keep boards and management focused on the priorities you agreed upon during your planning process.

1)     Assign Each Strategy to a Board Committee or Task Force. Accountability plays a significant role in maintaining focus on the things that matter. Having a team responsible for keeping an eye on a particular strategy goes a long way to keeping that strategy front and center. Standing Committees, such as Finance Committees, are a good place to delegate any financial aspects of your plan. Programmatic initiatives should involve a task force (or several) comprised of management and staff to develop key initiatives, conduct research or engage community constituents. Ownership of a strategy is what puts a strategy into play.

2)     Develop Action Steps for each Strategic Initiative. The best way to tackle a grand initiative – is one step at a time. This is the work of the committee or task force. Action steps often begin with gathering research. The research leads to analysis and conclusions – which then leads to options. This is where the fluidity of the strategy comes into play. The options present opportunities which can be pursued based on factors internal or external to the organization.  In other words – those activities an organization needs to take on to help it pursue its mission.

3)     Establish timelines and share progress. Inertia is the downfall of many a plan. How you safeguard against inertia is by creating a blueprint which lays out how you will move things forward.   Then hold yourselves accountable by setting deadlines and reporting on progress at each Board meeting. I often recommend embedding the action steps and timelines into the Board agenda. If the Board and management agreed that specific strategic objectives are the priority for the organization – then it only makes sense that the Board has regular discussions relative to whether it is moving forward on these strategies. Timelines hold you accountable.

4)     Develop dashboards to mark progress. Dashboards are a great visual for reporting progress – and should be a tool every Board uses. For strategic planning, I think it should be straight-forward. Each strategy has action steps it needs to undertake each year.   Create a simple table, with the action steps listed in rows and three columns across the top: Not Begun; In Process; Completed. This way you can see at a glance whether you are moving your strategy forward, or falling into the trap of inertia. Color coding them – green for good, yellow for caution and red for problems – can help you see the progress with a quick glance – and focus strategic discussions around problem areas.

5)     Review. While each step along the way is important – review is probably the most essential. We talk about plans being fluid for a number of reasons: assumptions change, organizations face unforeseen challenges; the world changes on a dime.  Reviewing your plan twice a year – or minimally once a year, allows you to evaluate what has happened internally or externally which may impact your plan. And it is ok to change and adapt your plan. You may need to consider going in a direction that wasn’t apparent when the plan was made. That is why plans should be fluid. If you strategies are broad enough, you will be able to accommodate these fluctuations in direction.

The final take-away should be that even when you think the planning process has ended – it really never does. Your plan is your guideline and there are action steps you need to take. But planning and strategy is an ongoing discussion – one that is essential for effective Boards. A good strategic plan should be able to provide the framework.

(Next week look for our post on When Not to Plan, or refer to our prior post on What makes for a good strategic plan? And Click Here to see D&A’s planning process