Strategic plans don’t go from plan to action on their own as most people think–or rather, hope. A strategic plan is a simple document or road map. People must be learn new behaviors and take actions not previously committed to implement a successful strategic plan. Much like people must take roads not previously traveled to arrive at a new destination.
In the same way that the strategic plan has discrete features (core values, vision, mission, action plans, accountabilities, etc.) a plan’s implementation has distinct and necessary features.
Communicating Conscious or unconscious, every organization is in a state of constant change. Programs and departments are constantly defending themselves, trying to gain market share, seeking to improve internal and external customer service practices, utilizing its dynamic and diverse people, refining its processes or striving to otherwise grow its strengths. In the implementation phase of strategic planning, the organization will be facing any number of changes and challenges; however, because we will have a common destination and common purpose as well as clearly defined checkpoints along the way, we will be better suited to talk to each other about our needs and successes.
People do better with change and challenges if they have a sense of what’s coming and what they need to do to prepare. (help them take the proverbial blind folds off and show them the beauty of the destination you have in mind). When leaders engage in intentional, positive and proactive communication practices, their people will have a much greater sense of security and commitment. In essence, tell them in clearly defined language about the destination and then remind them how much you need their input and commitment while on this journey together.
Getting Buy-In Getting buy-in or commitment means just that: getting people to invest themselves into this idea, process, program or procedure. Luckily, most people will agree to buy-in when they can see how their individual investment will deliver a sound return. Simply put; how will this directly and positively impact them, their department, their family and well-being of the company they rely on for their economic survival? So when leaders empower their people with the ways and means to influence their work, those people will more readily buy-in to better plans. Empowered employees will support and nurture a plan and its implementation whereas powerless employees will just stand by and watch as if the plan and implementation do not apply to them. To get buy- in, leaders will need to provide visible, tangible and meaningful rewards and recognition for positive actions that lead to successful outcomes. If leaders have chosen and grown the right people (and created rewards and penalties that motivate their people accordingly) then the people themselves will seek out the opportunities to buy-in on the implementation of each variable of the strategic plan.
Inspiring Interdependence Leaders who know their people will be able to spread personal and institutional passion as well as inspire higher levels of thinking and professionalism. Through this process of inspiring others, leaders will help their people implement a strategic plan each step of the way. Through knowing what intrinsically motivates their people, leaders will be able to guide people to recognize and share in the value of micro and macro accountabilities (those day-to-day measures along with the long-term results.) It is through this interdependence of accountabilities that employees themselves will sustain individual and departmental optimism and direction for the long haul required for a successful implementation.
Giving and Receiving Meaningful Feedback Defined also as a “feedback loop,” this feature allows leadership and line staff to inform practice in timely and meaningful ways. As each person and department moves through the day-to-day realities toward micro and macro goals and objectives this feedback loop continuously looks at human behaviors and qualitative measures that inform positive change toward specific goals and objectives. Because timeliness matters, leaders and managers need to implement changes in real time based on feedback. Equally as important, leaders and managers need to communicate those changes back to their people to show how employee feedback has successfully informed positive adjustments. Feedback loops should be internal: top-down, bottom-up and lateral, as well as external: outside (customer driven).
Leaders Acting as Exemplary Role Models What employees see, employees will do. In every sense, for internal as well as external communications and actions, perception is reality. Without fail, people will believe what they see over what they read or hear. Leaders who model high standards of conduct especially in times of difficulty, such as when an organization is facing challenges or changes in the status-quo, are leaders who will have people who are committed to integrity and character. Leaders who create a culture that rewards and supports good judgment at all levels will have more success implementing their strategic plans. (On the flip side, leaders or managers are not acting as strategic role models if they “pass the buck” or otherwise model less than professional behaviors or values including supporting silo-type responses to challenges like, “That’s not my problem. Our department is doing fine. ” Or other “CYA-cover your assets” attitudes.) Exemplary role models are those leaders, managers and individuals whose actions and statements are consistently focused on the successful implementation of the organizational strategic plan.
Offering and Supporting Strategic Professional Development Perhaps most important to the successful implementation of any strategic plan is an organization’s commitment to regular and specific individual and organizational development. This piece is huge because it is in its people that an organization will find its success. Growing people strategically will allow an organization to exceed its goals. Leaders need to ask themselves how much time and money the organization spends to maintain equipment and buildings?
How much is spent on copy paper, utilities and even sick leave? Are you spending more on maintaining your building and equipment or your people? If you are, then you need to seriously look at your most precious asset–your people! Invest in them consistently but wisely. (I don’t care how it is framed or sold; bowling, trust-fall mats, rope-climbing and other frivolous outings are entertainment, not sustainable and enriching team development). If the goal is to take the organization to the next level, a carefully planned and implemented professional development program and budget should be one of the organization’s highest priorities and successful implementation of a strategic plan requires good people who are skilled, knowledgeable and willing to grow.
So, where does your organization want to be one year from now? What behaviors, actions, beliefs, statements, systems, procedures and people would make up your organization in 12-24 months? The answer to that question is your vision. Now, thinking backward incrementally toward the present day, at each step and time along the way, what behaviors, skills, actions, etc., need to be in place at that stage?
These are your benchmark goals. As you backtrack to the present you will see that there are many steps along the way that require additional and highly-specific objectives. In order to succeed, your people need to be made aware of these big picture mile-stones as well as many details. Perhaps you can imagine it as if you are giving your people a road map with key stops highlighted along the way. Make it possible for each person to see how their part supports the whole journey. If you want to arrive at your destination on time and in good condition, your strategic plan will need to include quality assurances (you want to have a safe and sane trip), systems and procedures that take into consideration of variables known (vehicle choice, drivers’ skills, etc.) and unknown (weather and road conditions). Then, it’s time to hit the road and start your journey. This is the implementation; the process of actually moving your organization and your people across time and space to new destinations. If the strategic plan is the “what and why,” then the implementation is the “who, how and when.”