Strategic Planning: The Missing Bits that Make it Work

Over the years I have read hundreds of strategic plans developed by non-profit, educational and business development organisations.  You know the process – the senior staff meets for a day or two with a facilitator, a great plan is produced, everyone gets excited, and the CEO gets the job of directing the implementation.

Then what?  Some initiatives get started and some don’t.  When the plan itself is dusted off towards the end of the year we realise that we have achieved some goals but not others.  It’s rarely the fault of the planning process, though that sometimes gets the blame.  It is usually the fault of the execution process – the means by which the recommendations in the plan are implemented by the CEO and his/her senior people.

Research (for example, Kaplan, Robert S. and Norton, David P., The Execution Premium, Harvard Business Press, 2008) indicates that very few businesses, governments or non-profit organisations actually have a recognisable strategy execution management process to guide the CEO and his/her senior staff throughout the plan’s implementation.  If you don’t routinely measure the organisation’s progress against its implementation expectations, what’s the use of all the effort that everyone put into the strategy?  Little or none.  The same research shows that having such a process markedly enhances the organisational performance in achieving the plan’s goals.

Key performance indicators and goal achievement measures?  These were invented decades ago because we didn’t have any strategy execution management processes we could rely on.  Balanced scorecards?  These might demand a whole measurement system underneath them to make them work.  Both can work reasonably well and they are usually better then nothing.  But neither do the whole job and they can be time consuming, cumbersome and expensive.

How can you move a good planning organisation to a good execution organisation – which is where we all need to be if we are to fulfill our mandate and meet our community responsibilities?  Here’s one way.

First summarise the key elements of the strategic plan on one page.  Include the organisation’s vision, mission, objectives, strategies and action plans (initiatives) for the whole organization.  Keep it simple.  If it won’t fit on a page, your plan is probably more complex than it should be.

Next do the same for each department or function, with names, assigned responsibilities, scheduling, priorities, target dates and progress measures.  Do you see any gaps between the initiatives and the capabilities of those responsible for executing them?  Here’s where you might need some assistance from your professional advisors.  Better to identify them now than later in the year.

If you need a guide to this process, the best we have seen is The One Page Business Plan for Non-Profit Organisations, already used by over 5,000 non-profits and available from  Use the many examples in the book and the templates from the CD inside the back cover.

Do you know any organisations that have a real strategy execution management system that works, answers your implementation questions as soon as you ask them, responds to the CEO’s (and the Board’s) particular interests and doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to manage?  I know there aren’t many – I ask every CEO I meet.

So take a look at a web-based strategy execution management tool.  You can search for one on the web or you’ll find one described in my recent prize-winning article in the Journal of the Financial Management Institute of Canada.

If the CEO has a more important job to do than developing the strategy, communicating it throughout the organisation and making sure it is properly implemented, I’d like to know what it is.

Taking the above steps can make that happen.

StrategyLink Consulting

Author Chris Jones MBA, CMC FCMC is a Certified Management Consultant and an Associate Faculty member at Royal Roads University where he teaches management consulting and non-profits management to mid-career MBAs and MAs. He is a Community Advisor with the Victoria Foundation and a member of the Greater Victoria Advisory Board of the Salvation Army. He welcomes comments and questions either by email or on the blog.