Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Stumbling Blocks to Implementation

There are several reasons why implementation of strategic plans fails. I’ve listed 4 here. In each case the problem is addressed by designing and facilitating the planning process in such a way that the issue doesn’t arise during the implementation phase.

1. Lack of board, staff, volunteer, member, partner and stakeholder commitment to the strategic plan. One of the hallmarks of a successful strategic planning process is high levels of understanding, enthusiasm and support of the resulting plan among the aforementioned constituents. The most effective way to achieve this is to build into the process a variety of engagement opportunities: participation on the strategic planning committee, involvement in information and data gathering and analysis, service on other planning committees and workgroups, focus groups, community partner dialogs, and others. Sometimes, involvement of many in the planning process is avoided for fear that large numbers are unmanageable. If clear roles and responsibilities are communicated and if meetings and tasks are carefully structured, large numbers of involved and engaged people contribute to a successful process. For one thing, it ensures a broad range of perspectives on critical issues, absolutely essential to innovative thinking. As a practical matter, we want and need large numbers of people at all levels of the organization and community who are committed to achieving the vision and strategic goals outlined in the plan. In designing the planning process, the strategic planning committee needs to assess the most effective ways to involve all internal and external stakeholders.

2. Lack of alignment between governance structures (especially committee and workgroup structure) and the strategic plan. In nonprofit organizations, implementation depends on the support and involvement of professional staff, board leadership, other volunteers, members, and community supporters. Organizational structures that align with the strategic plan ensure that all of these individuals can be effectively organized to carry out their work and that they will be moving in the direction of the strategic vision. To the degree that the resulting strategic plan represents a new direction -- in some cases, a radical departure from old ways of doing business -- organizations will discover that many former governance structures constitute unintended barriers to implementation. New structures need to be created if implementation is to succeed. Current board committee and workgroup structures will need to be reviewed in light of requirements of the strategic plan.

3. The design and format of the earlier strategic planning process does not easily translate to action planning and implementation. One of the greatest frustrations in strategic planning is the failure to complete the transition from the “visionary blueprint” (mission, vision, goals, and strategies) to the concrete plans of action (objectives: who accomplishes what, by when, at what cost, to be measured by what indicators). In order to avoid this disconnect, I have found it useful to do the following: From the beginning, it’s important to describe the strategic planning model in sufficient detail that it is clear to all how and when the transition to concrete plans of action occurs. Begin the conversation about performance indicators earlier in the strategic planning process. The identification of key performance indicators sets the stage for developing objectives that are concrete, measurable and tied in directly to the mission, vision and strategic priorities.

4. Related to the third hurdle is lack of an effective framework for ongoing monitoring of implementation. The strategic planning process presents an opportunity for the organization to develop an important tool for ongoing monitoring of the strategic plan implementation. It’s called the organizational dashboard (also referred to as a scorecard). Using the metaphor of the dashboard in a car, this tool is based on selection of key performance indicators that need to be tracked on a regular basis by the Board of Directors. In a future post, I will outline a process for developing a dashboard. Using this process will link the dashboard monitoring tool directly to the strategic plan, thus providing important support for implementation.