After the Strategic Plan

We have written many articles about strategic planning to help boards. They cover the pre-planning phase and the creation of the plan. This article will help you lay a foundation for the successful execution of the plan.

Implementation begins immediately after the plan is written. This is when the operational changes begin. When most boards think about the operational changes, they limit their thinking to what the staff will be doing. Though the staff’s job is important and probably the bulk of the work to implement the plan, the board must change too.

The success of the new strategic plan depends on the board making operational changes. If the board’s role remains unchanged by the strategic plan, the plan is really an operational plan. A strategic plan will affect all elements of your business model. Some will be more affected than others. If there are unaffected elements, the strategic plan is too narrow in its scope. At best, you have a tactical plan but it is probably just a complex operational plan, often referred to as a long-term plan.

The strategic plan will change the way the staff meets its obligations to the clients. Those changes in the operational activities ensure the clients receive the benefits envisioned by the strategic plan. If a strategic plan can be implemented without bringing additional benefits and value to your clients and community, you know it is an operational plan instead of a true strategic plan.

A strategic plan will change the way the board meets its obligations to the mission. At a minimum, the board must set new goals, standards, and policies. It may need a new committee structure. It probably needs additional skills and new success measures for itself, your nonprofit, the clients, and the staff. It probably needs to establish new expectations for each stakeholder group. It will be the board development committee, other board committees, and your staff’s responsibility to implement most of the changes.

Part of your board’s responsibility is to ensure that everyone is proud of your nonprofit, its mission, and leaders. Pride in an organization promotes loyalty, which is important for staff retention, engaged board members, generous donors, and engaged referral sources and advocates. Stakeholder pride starts with a strategic plan that is truly strategic, which means it elevates the meaningfulness, measurability, and durability of everything your nonprofit does. It also means that your board must promote the new value the plan brings to your clients and community.

The bigger the step forward, the more pride the plan generates. A bigger plan with bigger impact will probably take more time to implement. It will also generate more support because supporters want to be part of something big and important.

The board must be fearless. Big and important can seem like high risk. Since big and important draws additional support, the risk is lower than small and incremental. When a nonprofit misses a small incremental goal, people are disappointed because it seems like success should have been easy. Even when incremental changes are successful they often do nothing more than support the current level of sustainability in an environment where sustainability is being undermined daily.

On the way to reaching a big and important goal, there are many small successes. Those small successes help to create goodwill, patience, and optimism, which sustain supporters when things go amiss. Big and important has a big impact on sustainability.

Next Step:

Ensure your strategic plan is truly strategic

Ensure your board has a clear understanding of how its role is changed by the strategic plan and that the board is committed to doing its part

Ensure your board is committed to letting the staff handle the operational changes

Your staff is up to the implementation challenge. They have been successfully operating your nonprofit for years. There have been times when your board has been intensively involved but those have been rare. It may feel otherwise but, remember, running a nonprofit is a full time job. Boards lack the resources to be a full-time manager for more than a few months.

If the board starts by ‘helping’ the staff in the early days, it will handicap the staff and make success in the future more difficult. The hard lessons that cause a stumble in the beginning are there to prevent a tragic misstep later. If the misstep never occurs because a wise board member foresaw it and prevented it, the absence of the institutional learning will ensure the problem will arise later when its impact is likely to be more harmful. Growing sustainability depends on learning lesson early.

Take It Further:

Add a high-level list of operational changes for each element of the business model to the strategic plan before adopting it

Ask each board member to formally commit to fully supporting the strategic plan and doing what is necessary for its success before adopting the strategic plan

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