Developing a strategic plan engages our creativity and allows us to articulate our hopes for the future. Academics are GREAT at ideation. I’m sure you have found yourself at meetings where more ideas are generated than could ever possibly be implemented. We often have more ideas than the resources to carry them out. I have actually felt a tiny bit of a letdown after a plan is finalized because the creation process was so much fun. Once the plan is finalized, however, you have to begin executing the goals and activities identified as critical to your institution’s success over the next several years. Because, when it comes down to it, your plan is only as good as your execution.
Here are some thoughts on setting your organization up for success in implementing your strategic plan.
- Identify a lead implementor for each goal or priority. Ideally, members of the executive team have ultimate responsibility for monitoring implementation and reporting on progress. There’s a great video of Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Company talking about his Business Plan Review process that demonstrates the power of executive leadership’s role in strategic implementation (start at minute 25).
- Consider the resources needed for success. What technology, materials, facilities, or professional development will assist in achieving your strategic goals? Who do you need on board to execute the goal? What skills and expertise are needed to get the right things done? What community or employer relationships will help?
- Align the plan’s goals with the budget process. This can be done in a few ways. If you have cost center managers submit annual budget requests, you can ask them to draw connections to the strategic plan. Some colleges set aside a line item for activities directly associated with strategic initiatives. Budgets are policy; how your organization spends funds speaks volumes about what is important.
- Assess your organizational culture. Strategic plans are aspirational. They require big and bold thinking , which involves risk taking. The video I referenced above about how the Ford Motor Company was about to lose $17 billion exemplifies the strong connection between culture and results. How safe is it to take risks at your college? How much time do leaders spend blaming others versus identifying solutions? Is it safe to speak the truth? When faced with obstacles, do your teams engage in candid conversations or suffer intolerable silence? There is a direct relationship between the health of your organizational culture and the accomplishment of your strategic goals.
- Identify data that informs your progress. Ideally, your plan includes metrics to help you determine goal achievement. Typically, some goals are easier to create metrics for than others. If you plan to double the amount of student emergency funds, you can easily track your fundraising efforts. If you aim to increase students’ sense of belonging, you will need to identify a strategy or measurement tool that will help you understand your progress.
- Monitor & track progress consistently and regularly. How you monitor progress on your strategic goals is unique to your institution and team. It can be as simple as notes on a whiteboard or a sophisticated data dashboard. Regular and consistent discussions of progress increases transparency and allows for making midcourse adjustments.
- Over communicate progress with internal and external stakeholders. Employees need to hear something three to five times for the message to sink in. Employees need to receive messages in multiple ways – emails, forums, presentations, etc. Talk about the college’s progress on achieving strategic goals often. Even better, amplify the work of faculty and staff who are contributing to the success of the plan by publicly thanking them. Regularly report progress to the governing board and external groups.
- Align the strategic plan with the accreditation process. The New England Commission for Higher Education has an accreditation standard dedicated to planning and evaluation. When writing the self-study for a comprehensive visit, colleges need to provide evidence of strategic planning as well as results of the most recent plan. It makes sense to streamline areas of emphasis from previous visits into the strategic plan (for everyone’s sanity).
I recently finished Daniel Prosser’s book Thirteeners: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy – and How Yours Can Be One of Them . This book inspired me to think about what is important in successful execution of strategy.