Turning strategy into action seen as critical

Implementing strategic plans
Implementing strategic plans

Putting strategic plans into action can be tough for nonprofits, which should invest as much in implementation of a strategy as in developing the strategy, a new guide says.

The Bridgespan Group developed Living Into Your Strategic Plan: A Guide to Implementation That Gets Results, after it surveyed staff members at over 120 nonprofits that rated their employers’ capacity to put their strategies into effect 10 percent below their average rating for all other capability areas at their organizations.

Respondents gave their organizations particularly low marks “on their abilities to break down their strategies into manageable pieces, communicate their visions and the change required to achieve them, allocate the staff and resources needed to achieve plan goals, and monitor progress and adjust course when change is needed,” the guide says.

Those weaknesses, it says, “can result in a lack of awareness of an organization’s strategic priorities, and disengagement between what staff members do on a daily basis and progress on those priorities.”

They also can result in “under-resourced priorities that are important in name only, and ultimately, disappointingly slow progress toward achieve the organization’s goals.”

The guide offers six steps for putting strategies into action.

Nonprofits, it says, should:

  • Translate multi-year, high-level strategic goals from the strategic plan into specific initiatives the organization should undertake in the next year to 18 months.
  • Sequence its initiative and make sure each leader and department understand their roles and see how they connect to others.
  • Mobilize its team by communicating a compelling case for the change the strategic plan will require, and align individual staff members’ performance goals to the organization’s strategic priorities.
  • Shift finances or acquire new resources to support strategic goals.
  • Systematically measure and evaluate progress toward the goals to remain focused in executing the strategies.
  • Continually revisit strategic plans and repeat the implementation steps.

The guide says a strategy should serve as a tool “for evaluating opportunities to pursue and how to respond to setbacks,” and that staff and board should be reminded continually “of what you are trying to achieve, why, and how you will do so.”

Nonprofits should remain flexible in putting strategic plans into action, the guide says, “finding a balance between maintaining a consistent strategic focus and adapting to changing circumstances.”

Successfully executing a strategy “requires that all of your stakeholders be acutely aware of your priorities and direction,” the guide says.

“Many, if not most, strategic plans are formulated between executive teams and boards,” it says, but “too often, the organizations leaders delay or neglect the crucial act of communicating the new or revised organizational staff members.”

Nonprofits also should “empower ‘change champions,'” encourage “staff ownership of implementation” of the strategic plan, designate someone to “take responsibility for coordinating efforts and maintaining momentum,” and make sure the organization’s leadership champions implementation “as passionately as they did strategy formulation.”

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