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How do we increase our chances of implementing our strategic plan?



Organizations and their leadership are often reluctant to commit time and resources to a planning process because of the fear of the plan "ending up on the shelf." This article addresses a key question regarding the strategic plan: What can I do to ensure the plan does not end up on the shelf?

There are three areas that must be addressed to ensure that the planning process and resulting strategic plan are valuable and useful for the organization:

  1. The process that is used to develop the plan can guarantee success or failure. Credibility and ease of use are often direct results of how the plan was created.

  2. The format of the plan will influence how and when people use the document in the workplace. Complex, outdated documents are doomed to remain on the shelf.

  3. Management's use and respect for the plan influences the acceptance for the rest of the staff and board members. There is no reason for program directors to refer to established goals and objectives if the executive director does not.

Ensuring the Plan Has Impact

During the strategic planning process, it is important to include the following process, content, and usage elements to ensure the usefulness of the strategic plan to the organization.

Process Elements

Engage leadership 

Include the informal and formal organizational leaders when conducting a process. Active involvement communicates a message of organizational importance and priority.

Work from a common understanding 

Provide training on the process and establish a list of expectations and results to ensure that everyone is working towards the same outcomes.


Include individuals who will implement plan 

Encourage all levels of staff to contribute to the process. Involving these individuals will ensure that the plan is realistic and help motivate staff to implement the plan.

Address critical issues for the organization 

Failure or unwillingness to put these critical issues on the table for discussion and resolution might lead staff to implicitly or explicitly challenge the credibility of the plan, its priorities, and/or its leadership.

Agree on how the plan will be operationalized 

Specify who will implement which parts of the plan, scheduling routine evaluation meetings to review progress.

Content Elements

Include an internal and external focus 

Remember to address structural, board/staff development, and communication issues in your plan.

Do not get too detailed 

Use the strategic plan to articulate the broad framework, direction and, priorities of the organization and its programs. Extremely specific plans become quickly outdated and end up on the shelf.

Create a balance between the dream and reality 

Ensure that your plan is grounded in the reality of what can and cannot be accomplished.

Keep language, concepts and format simple 

Make sure that the language is easy to understand, especially for those that are unfamiliar with your organization. Structure the document so that it is user friendly.

Usage Elements

Actively use the plan as a management tool 

Actively using the plan for short-term guidance and decision making will establish a model for use.

Incorporate sections of the plan in everyday management 

Formalize the usage of the plan into the day-to-day activities of the organization. For example, one organization reads the mission statement at the opening of every business meeting to remind the membership of the organization's focus and purpose. In another organization, the executive director requires that all ideas for program changes or expansion directly address how the changes relate to the organization's mission.

Organize the work of the organization in the context of the plan 

Establish operational goals and activities within the context of the strategic plan (e.g., include goals and objectives in individual and program evaluations or have program directors refer to the plan to provide guidance in decision making).

Design a system for controlling the process 

Ensure that there are mechanisms (e.g., evaluation meetings, monthly reports against plan) to inform management on progress.

By employing the strategies listed above, you can be sure that the effort you put into the strategic planning process will direct your organization and become a useful tool to both management and staff.

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