By Claire Rosenzweig, CAE
A strategic plan enables your organization to accomplish its mission and realize its vision. But it can be so much more: it can be a living document if you make choices that bring it to life; it can be a helpful roadmap to guide you through the year if you use it as a navigation tool. Given the speed at which forces change the world around us, keeping on top of a strategic plan can keep everyone focused in spite of the rapidity with which the world turns. It can set you up to deal with events and influences that may not be affecting you yet, but soon will. At worst, if not communicated and executed, the strategic plan will prove to be an ineffective strategy. If it’s executed but not evaluated and adjusted consistently, the strategic plan can become stale and irrelevant.
It probably took significant time and effort on the part of your professional team and your board to prepare, develop, and approve your strategic plan. During this process, the strategic planning team articulated your mission, values, and vision. It went through a SWOT analysis with internal strengths and weaknesses examined, and external opportunities and threats identified. Then an action plan was developed, and a few achievable strategies were defined with priorities for the next 12 months noted. The plan detailed the steps to take, who would be responsible, and noted milestones to indicate progress stated.
Once approved, however, what happened next? When was the last time you looked at your strategic plan? When did your board last review it? How old is it?
In our organization, the approval of the strategic plan is an annual event. Approval is followed by the professional staff working hard to create the operational/action plan, which will be relevant only for that year. To do that, we analyze the initiatives, develop integrated departmental teams to accomplish all goals, and get to work on the detailed plans that follow. We communicate the plan on a quarterly basis with our board to keep top-of-mind awareness. We touch on the milestones set and status of each. Throughout the year, the staff provides thorough analysis for me to review in order for me to offer relevant dialogue and recommendations to the board.
Monitor Plan Status
Each year, we organize an annual board strategic planning discussion during which we share and examine the status of the plan. The board reviews progress on our initiatives, as well as challenges and opportunities identified during the course of the year. They evaluate based upon the metrics of success that were agreed upon in the plan. Dialogue is encouraged by preparing questions to be posed to the board, such as: Do we all agree that this is still the right direction for our organization? Do the strategic initiatives still represent what we want to accomplish? Do we have the resources we need? What can we do to make this happen? What is the board’s role this year? What are available options? What are the pros and cons of each?
The board, with staff input, determines whether any adjustments need to be made. Following the approval of the plan, the staff once again develops an action/operational plan for that year. This pattern is repeated for the life of the strategic plan, which in our case is five years.
Through this process, the organization evaluates our programs against measurable goals as set out in the strategic plan, enabling us to recommend future actions to the board. All is documented in a written report that can also help inform an annual report.
Communicate with the Board
A strategic plan update can be provided at every board meeting. Doing this keeps your board engaged and informed. It keeps the mission and vision front and center. It creates an environment where the energy and enthusiasm felt by the staff and board, as they meet milestones, can be demonstrated and shared. It encourages dialogue with the board regarding the status of the strategic plan and keeps them informed in terms of their responsibilities of governance and oversight.
Communicate with the Staff
Have regular staff meetings that include discussion of your action plan deliverables. Encourage sharing a brief overview of the plan, and review progress towards meeting goals. Re-enforce with senior staff that they need to obtain regular status reports that can be shared with the team. Encourage discussion about the challenges revealed and confronted, as well as adjustments that are to be recommended. Celebrate successes when meeting milestones. Nurture an environment in which initiative is rewarded, accountability is expected and the belief that achieving success is possible, reigns. During regular meetings about the strategic plan, be sure to encourage conversation by asking questions, such as: What challenges are we facing? What’s working, what’s not? What could we do to be more effective? What recommendations or suggestions do you have to offer?
With plans in place, the staff implements the action plan.
Evaluate and Adjust as Needed
Conditions will change in the business environment, and adaptation of your plan will be important in order to maintain relevance. Communication among stakeholders regarding the goals and objectives, along with effective execution, can keep a strategic plan alive and on track. Adjustments that need to be made will happen and the organization will retain its ability to drive its mission.
Remember, to be effective, once a plan is developed, implemented, evaluated, the process starts all over again.
Claire Rosenzweig, CAE, is President & CEO, BBB of Metropolitan New York. She is a Past Chair of NYSAE and is currently a member of the Public Affairs Committee. 212-358-2810; www.newyork.bbb.org.