Strategic planning

Do You Have a Plan for Your Plan?

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A typical strategic plan takes months to create and when the final plan is voted in, it can feel like the process is complete. However, creating your organization’s strategy is not an end in itself. The culmination of the planning process marks the start to executing the strategic direction envisioned for the organization. In order to ensure success, a well thought-out and detailed plan for implementation is required. 

An implementation plan should be devised in conjunction with the strategic planning process. There are four areas to consider before implementing your strategic plan: Culture, Resources, Accountability, and Systems.

Culture
An organization’s culture is formed over time through shared values. Organizations that have successfully implemented their strategic plans value employee engagement and communication at all levels. The staff will ultimately be responsible for executing the plan so it makes sense to involve them in strategic discussions throughout the process by listening to their ideas, obtaining feedback, and acting on their suggestions when applicable. This not only builds trust between leadership and staff but also helps set the stage for ownership and accountability during implementation. When everyone in the organization is working toward the same purpose, productivity and morale increase leading to more successful outcomes.

Resources
Organizational capacity is always a factor when designing strategy. Without sufficient and capable resources, an organization cannot move forward with its strategic vision. An assessment of both the financial and human resources needed to move the plan forward is required for success. Budgets should be reviewed and aligned with strategic priorities. If the organization is lacking the appropriate staff or skills, additional resources may be needed. In certain situations, it may also be necessary to review the overall organizational structure to ensure the structure aligns with strategy. Without this alignment and the right resources necessary to implement the plan, it becomes difficult to impossible to make progress.

Accountability
During the planning process we guide clients in creating business plans at the tactical level, which includes timelines and assignments. These tactical plans become the foundation for each department’s role in carrying out the overall strategic plan. Incorporating strategic initiatives into employees’ job responsibilities assigns accountability and increases engagement since this helps them understand how they fit into the overall strategy. Empowering employees by encouraging decision-making and providing a safe space to take risks also helps with accountability and ownership. Regularly scheduled strategy meetings at each level of the organization are helpful as long as the intent is to review progress, provide a means of escalation and problem solving, and to hold people accountable to their tasks and objectives.

Systems
Management and tracking systems help drive the implementation process by providing a snapshot of how the team is doing against the plan. The use of a project dashboard, scorecard, or other tracking tool keeps leadership engaged and provides a means of accountability for those implementing the plan. The use of a system gives teams support by providing a platform to discuss barriers and solutions with leadership. The system also helps to structure meetings and directs focus for time in between meetings so that it is spent working on the right priorities. Whichever tool is used, timeframes, progress tracking, milestones, and issues requiring escalation should be included to provide a complete picture of the implementation status. This helps eliminate any surprises as to why deadlines may go off course. A sample dashboard is included below. Performance management and reward systems should also be considered to provide a structure to reinforce the contributions of top performers in moving the organization’s strategic vision forward.  

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Implementing the strategic plan is arguably more important than determining the organization’s strategy. It is what will determine how impactful changes will be made within the organization. Implementation planning should be done in conjunction with strategic planning to maximize success. Involvement of employees at all levels throughout the planning process keeps them informed and engaged, leading to better long-term outcomes. The best thought-out strategy does not go very far without the right culture, resources, structure, and systems to move it forward. With careful planning, an organization's strategic vision is better attainable.

Designing Transformational Strategy

Last month, our Nonprofit Strategy Report focused on the importance of developing engaged trustees for the board. In this month's report we are going to look at how to design transformational strategy. These are the three major levers that nonprofit CEO's need to be focused on consistently to break the status quo:

  • Developing Engaged Trustees
  • Designing Transformative Strategy
  • Developing Staff

Transformation is about creating a future that does not exist. It is about thinking differently and outside the scope of the existing business model. Designing Transformative Strategy is to look beyond what the organization is currently doing, and determining new ways of achieving the mission and goals.

There is a great saying, "If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten." This means that breaking the status quo requires bold thinking and action. It also requires strong leadership! 

There are three key steps to designing transformational strategy:

Step 1 - Assess

Gain a deep understanding of the business model of the organization. It is critical to know what drives the economic engine, who the real customer is, the value proposition to those customers, and the partnerships that support success.

This assessment will allow leaders to better understand their organization and how new ideas will impact operations. This will increase the ability to implement change with the staff in a pragmatic way.

Step 2 - Engage

Identify stakeholders internally and externally to the organization that will be engaged in the strategy design process. Stakeholders can include: Trustees, staff, donors, foundations, "customers", local or state government, other nonprofits, partners, vendors, and other important individuals or organizations. 

We engage stakeholders to understand where they see opportunities and threats for the organization. This is similar to crowd sourcing ideas from large audiences. The CEO should not sit in a room and try to think up a strategy or vision. This should be done through the feedback and insights of the stakeholders interviewed.

When we engage stakeholders to be part of the strategy design journey, we are enrolling them in the future success of the nonprofit organization. By doing this, we will have created ownership and buy-in to the future direction. The strategy design is co-created with multiple viewpoints, ideas, opinions, and different ways of thinking.

Here is an example of why engaging stakeholders is so important: Did you ever have a job performance evaluation? Performance evaluations can be done by a supervisor, which is the feedback and evaluation from just one individual. Now compare that to the different levels of perspective you would receive with a 360 degree feedback from your supervisor, peers, colleagues, and subordinates. The benefit of the 360 degree evaluation is going to be far more valuable because it is from multiple levels of perspective and from more than one source.

The same value can be attributed by engaging multiple levels of stakeholders during the strategy design process. This allows ideas to be shared that may become the organizations next strategic area of focus. It also generates a significant amount of momentum when transitioning from plan design to implementation. That momentum can help drive the change and transformation needed for ensure success.

Step 3 - Assemble

Once the assessment of the business model has been done and the stakeholders have been engaged, now it is time to put the data and ideas together. What we are looking for during this step is the ideas and opportunities that align and corroborate from all the interviews and data points. The more the feedback corroborates the more relevant and applicable the idea(s) becomes to the strategic direction of the organization. 

The future strategy design of the organization should be generated through the stakeholder feedback. This creates transformational ideas to assemble into a plan for the leadership team to implement and achieve.

Next Steps

Having a transformative strategy will inspire the staff towards new thinking, but there must be a solid staffing team to deliver the results. Developing a Staff Team is the #3 lever to success, and will be the subject of our July 2015 Nonprofit Strategy Report.