5 Tips to turn your Strategic Plan into Action
We’ve all been there – we spend significant time and resources creating a strategic plan, and then when it comes to executing it, something else takes priority. While we understand the benefits of creating clear goals for our teams, they can sometimes be challenging to translate into tangible actions.
Successfully implementing your strategic plan helps you engage your team and stakeholders, show meaningful progress, and demonstrate transparency. It also allows you to track and measure results and make the most of budgets and allocated resources.
Alternatively, failing to implement a strategic plan can expose your organisation to various risks. Setting a course without anyone steering the ship in the right direction can result in unutilised resources, wasted time, and investment.
So, what usually goes wrong? After creating a strategic plan, we tend to focus on what to do next and become stuck in the weeds. We rarely create a well-defined action plan that aligns with the budget, sets clear priorities, or measures progress. On top of this, not every action plan is created equal. Many are loosely defined, not adequately assigned, or aligned with key performance measures.
We discuss the elements of a well-designed action plan and provide tips on how you can execute it for ultimate success.
Strategic Plans vs. Action Plans vs. Execution
Your Strategic Plan
Looks at the big picture. It creates a vision of your destination, the significant steps or initiatives it will take to get there, and looks at what roadblocks may arise along the way. It is likely community focussed and represents the vision of your elected members.
Your Action Plan
Translates your strategic plan into specific steps and performance measures. It covers the nuts and bolts of what steps you will take when you get there, how much it will cost, and who is responsible. Action Plans help staff connect to your broader strategic goals through what they do every day.
This is where all your planning comes to life. You can have the best-laid plans, but execution is about getting things done and knowing when to pivot or change direction when things aren’t going to plan or have changed course. It's essential you have the right people in the right seats to deliver on your strategy and implement your actions.
5 Best Practices to turn your Strategic Plan into Action.
1. Align your plans with the budget
Even the most innovative strategy will fail without dollars behind it. Early on, ensure your strategic goals are genuinely reflected in the budget. Consider building your budget process around contributing to the outcome areas in the strategic plan. It’s essential that council, policymakers, and the public can see how the strategic plan feeds into operations and capital improvement expenditures.
2. Be Specific with your initiatives.
Vague action plans will result in ambiguous outcomes. Without specific, concrete steps and tasks, an action plan lacks urgency and feels separate from everyday reality. The high-level goals of your strategic plan come alive when you break them down into a series of bite-sized initiatives or tasks. Rather than serving as a glorified to-do list, each item should tell the person completing precisely what they’ll be doing. Here’s what you should consider when breaking down your initiatives:
What are the moving parts of each initiative?
Who will tackle each task?
What are the start and end dates for each? Are they realistic?
How will you know when the initiative or task is complete?
How will you know if each task has been successful?
3. Consider the WHY
Once you’ve set your action items, take a look at each and ask yourself two questions;
What problem are you solving?
What does success look like?
This helps to define why each action step is essential. The people assigned to each action item need to understand why it exists and what they’re aiming for—otherwise, it simply won’t happen. 4. Set Clear Priorities
When you’re creating a plan, it’s easy to be optimistic about what you’ll be able to accomplish. Prioritisation will help with the tough decisions necessary to ensure the important things get done.
Setting priorities can be tricky—after all, everything in your strategic plan is important. However, the oft-repeated saying, “if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” applies here. Without a pecking order, you may do a lot of running around without any results.
Here are some tips to help you set clear priorities:
If possible, arrange a time to sit down with your leadership group and a calendar.
Start by staggering the start and end dates for each action item. If nothing has a due date, or if everything is due at the end of the planning period, then your team could spend valuable time guessing what a priority is.
Staggered end dates also avoid the rush of delivering everything at once. For each initiative, discuss where you are now and where you’d like to be in a year and put the action items necessary to do so into the calendar.
In doing this, everyone can see how much work will be involved and where they will have to prioritise.
5. Involve the Entire Organisation
Too often, the flow of information surrounding the action plan stops with department heads and supervisors, leaving front-line staff in the dark. However, to implement a plan, everyone - down to interim and seasonal employees - needs to understand where you’re going and how they fit in.
It’s essential to reassure the council and stakeholders that their priorities are top of mind. It also motivates staff and managers, affirming their hard work is paying off and builds trust with the community, showing steady progress towards meaningful goals.
Here’s some tips to help you with internal communication:
Use a visual dashboard: A performance management program with a visual dashboard lets you share strategic plan updates and KPIs openly and quickly. Everyone can work towards common goals with the same accurate information.
Leverage existing meetings: Ensure that the strategic plan is on the agenda of every monthly departmental meeting - and use this time to discuss progress on the plan.
Performance evaluations and employee recognition programs: Both are excellent opportunities to highlight how individual team members contribute to the big picture.
Other regular communications: Many organisations already have a regular employee newsletter or intranet. It’s a simple way to add a strategy update when there’s news to share.
Implementing your strategic plan is no easy task - but it’s incredibly worthwhile. Envisio aligns people, plans, and performance data and helps local councils to develop and execute plans, track and improve performance, and communicate results. Discover how you can enhance Strategic Planning and Execution today.