Implementing a Strategic Plan

Your organization has embarked upon and completed a strategic planning process. You have clarified and strengthened your mission and have developed a strategic approach to implementing the mission while building the board of directors. Your professional staff and volunteer leadership have all “signed on the proverbial dotted-line” and are enthusiastic about moving forward. Now what? What enables an organization to move from the conceptualization process to actually seeing the plan become a reality?

What must come next is a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished and a realistic time line for reaching specific milestones. In other words, a work plan or implementation plan that spells out the steps that will be used to achieve the agreed upon goals that were detailed in the strategic plan. Once the leadership completes its deliberations and has reached both a sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm, it is time to move on to detailing the months and years ahead.

The strategic planning committee has not completed its work when the plan is approved; there is still the development of the work plan that must be achieved. One recommended approach is the creation of an Implementation Committee composed of staff members and volunteer leadership to approve the implementation process and monitor its progress in following the timeline. There is a two-fold purpose in establishing this group. On one hand, it maintains the agency’s commitment to adhere to the principles of the plan and on the other hand, it provides a structure for adjusting the plan as needed if the social and/or economic climate of the community changes.

When it comes time to putting the strategy into a specific time frame it is usually best to have one person take responsibility for the first draft. It could be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a member of the professional staff, an articulate and skillful volunteer leader or a consultant, if one was engaged to facilitate the process. It is not really a good idea to assign the task to a committee as a whole, as the saying goes, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

The draft should have the following sections:

  • Introduction;
  • Short summary of the strategic plan;
  • Clear statement of the goals and objectives;
  • Timeline for accomplishing specific tasks and periodic reporting to the board of directors on the implementation;
  • Identifying who is to lead the implementation and the people responsible for specific tasks;
  • Milestones for evaluating the progress;
  • Summary.

Once the draft is written it should be circulated among the members of the Implementation Committee and at a follow-up meeting their responses are reviewed and discussed. Adjustments are made to the plan based on the feedback and once approved, the clock starts ticking. Sticking to the plan and the timeline is the best way to ensure that the organization achieves its goals and objectives.

Of course, there will be revisions to the plan and adjustments to the timeline. As the plan is implemented and the committee, the board and the staff all see progress being made, though, there will be a sense of accomplishment. This will have an impact on everyone because it validates the fact that the time spent developing the strategic plan was worthwhile. The more realistic the plan, the greater the chances will be for implementing it successfully.

Often, all the goals of the plan will not be accomplished and when this happens that does not mean the process was not successful. As the weeks and months go by and the Implementation Committee sees progress is being made, there will be a feeling of satisfaction among the members of the staff and volunteer leadership that it was well worth the time to engage in the planning process. The adjustments that are made either to the goals and/or to the timeline will enable the leadership to recalibrate how they evaluate and implement the strategic plan.

A number of years ago I worked with an agency that had not had a strategic plan since its founding more than 60 years ago. They created a strategic planning committee to develop a plan for the creation and implementation of new programs and for the relocation to a new site. The process itself infused new energy and enthusiasm in those working on the committee, as well as the leadership of the community who were impressed by the agency’s leadership to make a much needed change.

Within a year after the plan was completed the agency had relocated into much needed office space, developed satellite offices to serve members of the community that were in outlying areas, formed new partnerships and cooperative relationship with other organizations and schools in the community, attracted new volunteer and professional leadership and increased its donor base as a result of the excitement generated in the community about all the changes that were taking place in the agency.

For the first time in a number of decades the status of this nonprofit organization both in the Jewish community and the general community had changed. It went from an agency that was archaic and functioning on a minimal level to a renewed organization that had not only changed its image, but also was providing services on a professional level that was responsive to the community’s needs. The new strategic plan also impacted the organization’s ability to attract new staff members as it suddenly became a place where people wanted to work. The bottom line is that a strategic plan is only as good as its implementation.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.