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Strategic Planning: Launching Implementation

The term “strategic planning” gets tossed around quite a bit in the nonprofit field. To help demystify the process, our consultants will weigh in as a Strategy_Implementationpart of an on-going series on subjects related to strategic planning in the nonprofit sector – process, trends, fresh perspectives and tales from the field.

As detailed in the last entry in this series, the process of actually drafting the plan is done as a group through a series of meetings, hopefully facilitated by someone who has studied your organization and heard from stakeholders.  Goals have likely been cemented, with corresponding objectives and strategies that have been discussed in some degree of detail but perhaps not greatly in-depth.  So how does that high level expression of strategic direction get translated into an action plan?

A classic mistake of strategic planning is expecting the same group of people who helped you clarify high-level vision and goal-setting to roll up their sleeves and create the tactical implementation plan as well.  In reality, that group is likely to be running out of steam and glad to be rounding the corner with an end to the planning process in sight.  It’s not that the strategic planning process is a tremendous burden; rather, it is important that you reward those individuals who have likely been working together for several months with a rest.  Congratulate them on a job well done, but encourage them to stay close as you look to launch implementation.

With a clarity of direction provided by volunteers (many of them board members), it is staff’s role to carry the baton forward.  Consensus strategies should each have a timetable placed on them by a staff that knows its limitations given the need to also continue day-to-day operations.  Areas in need of greater clarity should be brought back for discussion, but not before a sketch of implementation is created.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when putting together that implementation plan:

  • Create Activities in 90-Day Increments – If you know PMA, you know that we love 90-day plans.  Outcomes are easier to breakdown into specific activities when considering in the near-term.  What needs to happen in the next 90 days to advance a specific strategy?  If it is a new fundraising event nine months from now, then what operational components need to be addressed ASAP?  For a new program, which grantmaking stakeholders interviewed during the discovery process need to receive an update now?
  • Build in Accountability – As Genesa Greening, Director of Resource Development for Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver, British Columbia, says it: “If you can’t measure it, is it even worth doing?”  Accountability is critical to implementation – you are traditionally going to be asking folks to add to their plate, and the more specific you can be, the better.  Make clear assignments to staff and volunteer groups, create milestones and be specific in the measurement expected.  How much money needs to be raised? Who needs follow-up and by what date?  How many new board members are needed, and with what profile?
  • Get a Quick Win – Creating a strategic plan is a bit like giving birth, but if the plan is whisked away by staff with no chance to celebrate its ambition, your volunteer leadership may not be as enthusiastic when you bring it back up 6 months later.  Within the goal area, consider a very near-term, 1-3 month “quick win” that can demonstrate to all participants that the plan is well on its way.  As we’ll discuss in the next entry about marketing your plan, a few quick wins garner even more buy-in from those who weren’t directly involved in creating the plan, but are important to seeing it successfully implemented.

A beautifully-rendered strategic plan is worthless if it goes on a shelf and is not utilized. Implementing the plan is all about structure – bringing it forward as a companion to your committed-to-memory business plan and referencing it whenever possible. Ninety-day implementation plans that build in accountability and seek out quick wins will help you stay on the strategic path you’ve worked so hard to co-create.