Every Nonprofit Strategic Plan Needs a Plan
By Barbara Sierota
A typical nonprofit strategic plan takes months to create, and when the final plan is approved it can feel like the process is complete, but creating your organizations strategy is just the start of a larger, more comprehensive process.
The end of the planning process marks the starting point for executing the strategic direction envisioned for the organization. In order to ensure success, a well thought-out and detailed plan for implementation is essential.
In fact, implementing the strategic plan is arguably more important than determining the organizations strategy, for how well the plan is implemented will determine how well that the desired changes envisioned in the plan will be realized.
To maximize success, 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.
An organizations 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.
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.
During the planning process nonprofits create business plans at the tactical level, which includes timelines and assignments. These tactical plans become the foundation for each departments 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.
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.
Performance management and reward systems should also be considered to provide a structure to reinforce the contributions of top performers in moving the organizations strategic vision forward.
Involving employees at all levels throughout the strategic planning process not only keeps them informed and engaged, but helps ensure their involvement with implementing the plan, leading to better long-term outcomes.
Barbara Sierota is a consultant with Curtis Strategy, which helps nonprofits generate breakthrough growth. Email her at Barbara@CurtisStrategy.com or call her at 508-397-8415.