We Have a Plan... Now What?

In October and November I wrote about the planning process, its iterative nature, and the need for it to be data informed. In November, I focused on the benefits of integrated technology to generate the data as critical to managing a plan effectively. So, assuming we have a plan that has mission-derived goals and strategies and that each strategy is tied to tactics to be implemented and to metrics drawn from various sources, now what?

From Strategic Plan to Shared Vision

Strategic plans notoriously land on a shelf to be dusted off periodically and without a life outside the C-suite. The reasons for this often lie in a poor development process – one that fails to connect to mission, to lack relevance to the current environment, and/or fails to take into account the availability of needed resources for its implementation. But plans also die for lack of dissemination and universal buy-in. A plan developed with appropriate information, considering internal and external conditions needs to become a shared vision for the organization’s direction and activities. Staff at all levels need to know where they can contribute and how they are part of creating the organization’s success. Tying individual performance to organizational performance helps each person understand their role in the organization.

Whether a team member from finance, maintenance, clinical/service staff, or management, everyone has a role to play and needs to know where the company is headed. So, while the plan goals may be high level, the strategies, tactics and objectives should be meaningful and provide guidance to all departments and reporting units. Metrics should let each team know how they are progressing. I used to tell managers that they should think of their program or department as a franchise of the organization – an opportunity for innovation while maintaining quality as required by agency standards and contributing to a larger goal.

Sharing and Owning the Metrics for Success

The structure of reporting should allow for tracking success consistently from one organizational level to the next. If teams know their role in the plan, they should also know and own their data. That means their data needs to be presented as a scorecard, with the ability to drill down and assess the sources of success, variances, and issues to be addressed. Having a real-time data capability makes this process much more effective. Retrospective data can make timely action impossible, and reports that do not permit the analysis of variances in real time delay the process even more.

Another way to maintain a strategic plan focus is for periodic reports across levels to be formatted consistent with the plan organizational structure (e.g., organized in the same order, permitting data and analysis for each goal or strategy). At least quarterly, there should be reports that summarize progress toward meeting the objectives and goals, and an analysis of whether the tactics being implemented are working. As I noted last month, a strategic plans proposed strategies and tactics are really a hypothetical positing that doing x will lead to y.  If the strategy is not working, then it is time to reassess. It is important to ask: Are we seeking the right outcome? Is it timely? Is there a better way to get there (do we have the right resources or expertise in place)? In a volatile environment, tactics need to be re-tuned to meet the demands of the day.

A Bottom Up Approach

One approach we found helpful in ensuring departments’ ownership of their specific goals and objectives was to have department managers present their results to leadership – with bragging rights as part of their presentation – rather than leadership sending down reports with requests for corrective action.  Live quarterly meetings allowed for a back-and-forth discussion, which in turn led to better identification of the contributions to success and failure and a real-time allocation or reallocation of resources. Managers often came prepared to discuss their concerns and had already developed or implemented revisions to their processes to address issues they themselves had uncovered by drilling down into the more granular level (which they understand better than others in many cases).

Mission and goal focused presentations are also important when addressing Boards and community leaders. Non-profit human service organizations are ultimately responsible to the community they serve. “We’re the good guys and do good work” is not going to get an organization recognized as a go-to community problem solver, one worthy of continuing and growing support. Organizations need to be able to report to the community what has been accomplished, for whom, with what outcomes and cost. Donors and local governments have an investment in these organizations and the goals of the organization, and its effectiveness, are of great importance to those funders, and therefore, to the organization’s sustainability. 

A mission-driven, data informed, continuously monitored living strategic plan is key to an organization’s success and ability to thrive, even in times of volatility and disruption like those we currently operate in.

About the Author

Maggie Labarta

Maggie Labarta is Founder and Consultant at Impact Non-profit Consulting, having previously retired as CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Labarta holds a Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology and has extensive experience in both administration and clinical practice. She also has particular expertise in strategic planning, data and analytics as management tools, and organizational development. She provides consultative services for numerous community organizations.

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