Building on the need to invest time and energy into action planning as outlined in the blog post, "Committing to Action: The Missing Step in Strategic Planning," action planning is an integral part of the strategic planning process.
The action planning process breaks down the goals into manageable steps that guide the staff and set metrics that can be used to measure performance and progress toward the tactical goals. In essence, the action plan is the road map of how the strategic goals will be achieved, showing each step and action and how they all come together to accomplish the whole. It defines the who, what, where, when, and how. See sample action plan below.
As mentioned in "Feedback Loops: The Key to Strategic Planning Success," success only occurs when your strategic plan becomes a living document that people reflect on when making decisions, measure progress towards established goals, and adjust as the marketplace changes and new needs arise.
Why is a strategic action plan essential?
As previously mentioned in the “Feedback Loops: The Key to Strategic Planning Success” blog post, a strategic plan and resulting action plan only come to life when they are used for decision-making and when the metrics defined by both the Board – and subsequently by the Management team – are regularly reviewed and assessed. When a regular review and assessment is in place, the Board and Management team can refine and adjust the plan while focusing on the long-term goals.
Much like a strategic plan, an action plan is only helpful if the staff and management teams use it. Having a plan that states what we will do and how we will do it is efficient and effective. However, the “magic” of the whole planning process occurs when staff understand that the action plan is a road map that guides their day-to-day activities and that they play an instrumental role in bringing the goals to fruition.
When creating an action plan, staff involvement is essential in defining how the goals will be achieved. The staff implements the activities, so engaging them in the action plan is the next natural step. From a strategic perspective, the planning process flows as follows:
As illustrated in the above diagram, when the staff understand how their actions impact overall organizational success, they take ownership of the KPIs and the activities. When this happens, they look to the strategic plan for guidance when making decisions around daily priorities, programming, grant applications, marketing, budgeting, etc. They begin to ask themselves:
How does this decision help me achieve the activities I own in the action plan?
How does this activity help me move towards my KPIs?
Based on my KPIs and the activities laid out in the action plan, today I will focus on …
Does this decision move the organization toward its strategic goals?
The Role of Accountability Meetings
Management can reinforce questions like these with short daily or weekly “accountability” team meetings where everyone reflects on the priorities from the previous week and progress towards them AND defines new priorities (or carry forward priorities) for the coming week. These quick huddles (consider a limit of 3 minutes per team member) ensure each staff member stays focused on what matters and lets the other less strategic activities slide.
There are three key benefits of regular accountability huddles:
a) you understand where every team member is at and what progress they are making;
b) management can quickly step in and coach struggling team members to ensure no momentum is lost;
c) management has a clear picture at all times of progress towards goals and what obstacles may be arising and can work with the staff or board to refine the plan as needed to achieve the strategic goals.
The Action Plan as a Reporting Tool:
These accountability meetings are not meant to be onerous for anyone. If you’ve set up your department action plans well, staff should easily be able to review the action plan, scan for what they specifically were responsible for, understand the metric, and identify when that activity was to be completed. As you can see in the table below, HIP's action plan template has a column for staff to reflect on their progress.
Whether they have completed the task (yes, it’s done), have selected 3 of 5 top candidates, or completed 2 of 5 interviews, these notes can quickly be recorded. By breaking activities down into small, manageable steps, everyone knows what is expected of them and how their success will be measured. If challenges are identified, they can be addressed promptly.
For example, if the Executive Director feels only 3 of the 15 applications are qualified, they have a decision to make. Do they re-open the job posting and put off hiring for another week? or do they proceed with the interviews, hoping that one is a ROCK STAR?
Likewise, suppose the Administrator doesn’t get 15 qualified applicants by June 25th. In that case, they can approach the Executive Director and recommend whether more time is needed, the job ad should be changed, or perhaps feedback has been that the wage is too low for the skills desired.
What’s also great about this format is that it can be shared on a google drive between staff and their direct supervisors and notes can be added daily, so that everyone is up-to-date. It also allows supervisors and managers to track progress and step in to coach earlier if they deem it helpful.
When you empower staff to create their own action plans that respond to organizational goals, help them break these actions into manageable steps with key performance indicators (KPI/Metrics), provide them easy-to-use tracking tools (the action plan), and offer a regular opportunity to connect and discuss progress, you set them up for success. Employees who feel successful, empowered and supported are loyal and committed to their employers.
How do you track progress toward key performance indicators? What reporting system do you have in place? What works best in your organization? Would love to hear more about what others are using and how it is working to ensure accountability and performance. Please share in the comments below.