Translating the Strategic Plan into an Action Plan

After investing significant amounts of time and money developing a strategic plan, nonprofits often struggle with “operationalizing” their plans, squandering opportunities the planning process has created and rendering a low return on the time and resources they’ve invested.

In order to successfully turn your strategies into actions, think of the plan as a multi-layered process that needs interconnected tools and activities to help you achieve your strategic goals. The easiest way to do that is to work your way down from your high level strategic goals and detail out multi-year action plans, annual plans with budgetary goals, staffing and board structures, and methods for ensuring accountability.

What follows are a few suggestions to guide you in breaking the process down into interconnected pieces so that you can maximize the organizational development and engagement potential a strategic plan presents:

High level strategic goals

The highest-level strategic goals—your strategic priorities—reflect reflect your multi-year aspirations. Once approved by the board, these should be communicated back to everyone who participated in the process and publicized on your website. Then the real work begins to define how you plan to achieve those goals.

Creating your action plan

After the high level goals are approved, the board should charge the executive director with bringing back an action plan and timeline for plan implementation. This is where strategy needs to be boiled down into action, and it is the ideal time to engage staff and board leadership to build shared ownership. As such, executive directors should engage appropriate members of their management team and board leaders in identifying the specific actions that are needed to achieve each of the plan’s goals, detail them out and present that action plan back to the board for discussion and tweaking. As you move through this process, be sure to consider current staff capacity and skill-sets for possible realignment opportunities.

Developing annual action plans and monitoring progress

After the multi-year action plan has been finalized, go back to your management staff and break that down into a very specific annual action plan. In order to preserve flexibility, its best to focus on the current year (rather than attempting to develop action plans for multiple years) and break the actionable items into the quarters in which you expect to accomplish them. Then create a spreadsheet against which to monitor your progress. This spreadsheet effectively becomes a working scorecard to which you can hold yourself accountable. Quarterly check-ins with management staff present opportunities to discuss how progress on the plan is going, celebrate success, and adjust timeframes on items that haven’t yet been accomplished.

Tying goals to budget

It is ideal to develop the next year’s action plan in the final quarter of your fiscal year to ensure that it is integrated with your budget development process. Break down how you’re going to achieve revenue growth into specific actions, processes and accountability, and plug those numbers into your budget. Then break your annual financial goals down further into quarterly goals and monitor progress in your quarterly check-ins, as this will hold everyone that developed the process accountable.

Engaging the board

Many of the identified action plans will be staff driven, while others will need board involvement to maximize impact. Identify what the board can do to assist in the achievement of goals and then work with board leadership to create the appropriate committee structures, committee leadership, and staffing support to successfully involve board members in helping you achieve your goals. Developing an engaged board takes care and feeding, so leverage the energy the board invested in developing the plan to gain their participation. Pay special attention to leadership development opportunities during the planning and implementation process and be sure to engage your future board leaders and foster their sense of ownership for accomplishment of the plan and your strategic goals.

Reporting to the board

Develop a grid that details the annual action planning goals and desired numerical outcomes on a quarterly basis and use that as a tool for board reporting. This quarterly reporting keeps the plan and its goals alive with the board, holds them accountable for what they committed to do, and allows for discussion to address any challenges being encountered.

In the end, the old adage “keep it simple, stupid” is good guidance for organizational leaders looking to achieve complex goals over an extended period of time. So, break your plan down, connect the dots, build accountability and tracking tools, and develop a culture of shared ownership for achievement of your goals. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll accomplish, as well as the increased engagement you’ll build in the process.

Consulting Partner, Scott Schnapp, authored this blog post, and it is an example of the advice you’ll find on the Starboard website: If you would like to speak with a member of our consulting team or get more information, please use our contact form to get in touch now.