We’re all familiar with strategic plans that gather dust on a shelf (or these days, never even get printed out). What’s the difference between plans that get implemented and those that don’t? Plans that get implemented are designed to be executed. Here are five steps to successful implementation:
1. Get the do-ers involved in the planning. While many of us think we know the answer before we start the planning process, both the process and the execution will be stronger with broader involvement throughout. This is because diversity of thoughts and experiences held by the various stakeholders will improve the ideas themselves, but also because of the “Ikea Effect” – people are attached to things they help build.
2. Test the ideas during the planning process. Just because a strategy works somewhere else or just sounds good doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for your community. Test the ideas – hold a public hearing on proposed strategies; conduct a survey on social media; run a pilot program. All of these are designed to learn about concerns, unintended consequences, and alternative approaches. Don’t take forever to test, and learn from the results, by improving the strategies and tactics based on the input received.
3. Measure, measure, measure. Include metrics along with your plans, so you will be able to demonstrate progress and identify problems towards implementation. Commit to and provide resources for regular measurement of key metrics, and report to your stakeholders on progress. Use this process to surface issues, concerns, or opportunities for improvement.
4. Have a System! Good planning should be a process, not an event. It should be part and parcel of how you operate your organization. Make annual reviews of the environment you are in a part of your work and implement annual planning retreats with your Board. Collect data and review progress on the plan and prioritize next steps at least quarterly. Encourage staff and stakeholders to stay alert to and share changes in your competitive landscape, best practices and emerging opportunities.
5. Treat the plan as a living document. Make improvements to the tactics along the way. Take advantage of new opportunities that arise. Adjust to changing circumstances, technologies, and challenges. Build into the plan a way to get approval and buy-in to major shifts and retain the flexibility to do what seems right.