One of the most challenging aspects of strategic planning (public or private) is implementing the plan – realizing the vision, goals and objectives set-out in the plan. There are numerous private sector studies that show a feeble relationship between strategy formulation and execution. During a keynote address, Robert Kaplan, a paragon in the field of business management and Baker Foundation Professor at the Harvard Business School revealed that less than ten percent of strategic initiatives are effectively executed.
While there are stark differences between private and public sector strategic planning landscapes, this is a sobering revelation – if strategic plans of multi-billion dollar corporations have such an unflattering track record, what is the performance record of public-sector strategic plans? While there are exceptions, how many municipal strategic plans are you aware of that are left languishing on a shelf?
Based on HSAL’s experience, we propose the following guidelines to ensure that your strategic plan gets implemented successfully and translates into real results:
- Get buy-in from senior leaders. It is critical that senior leaders are committed from the outset and share support for the plan within the organization. This commitment will build organizational capacity leading to broader support for the plan. While strategic plans should be developed from the bottom-up, organizational support for their implementation should be a top-down process. This will keep the strategic plan top of mind and off the shelf.
- Keep the plan visible. Keep the plan visible by incorporating it into staff meetings and other public events. Identify strategic plan directions and demonstrate how they are related to daily activities. Some municipalities have a synopsis of their strategic plan in every office and meeting room. This maintains plan visibility and relevance by acting as a reminder to keep the big picture, vision and priorities in mind.
- Develop an action plan. For each goal and/or objective, prepare an action plan. The action plan should at minimum identify what resources are required to accomplish the action as well as a realistic deadline by which the action is to be attained.
- Identify action champions. Designate a champion for each action. This person assumes responsibility for implementing the assigned action. Responsibility translates into urgency.
- Identify overall implementation champion. Identifying one person to bear ultimate responsibility for overall plan implementation is vital. This responsibility should rest with someone with high visibility in the community and the organization and with someone how has the authority to make decisions.
- Create a clear sequencing blueprint, including quick-wins. Set priorities to make sure actions are achieved in logical order. Identifying and achieving quick-wins will build much needed momentum.
- Identify measures. In order to track progress and have explicit expectations, it is vital to develop appropriate measures. This will allow you to track how you are doing, if (and to what extent) progress is being made, and when a goal and/or an objective is achieved.
- Assess progress often. Identify an internal project team member to assess progress. The more frequently progress is assessed the better, but be realistic – quarterly assessments are appropriate. Also, consider building-in action implementation progress into personal performance reviews. If champions know their progress will be assessed, they will tend to do the job better and in advance of performance reviews.
- Track progress, but focus on implementation. It is important to track progress. Recognizing accomplishments is motivating and maintains momentum. However, assign the majority of resources on implementing actions, not tracking them.
- Review and repeat. During implementation, continually monitor progress, review the strategic plan and implementation approach. Also monitor economic and political trends and make adjustment to your action plans accordingly. Repeat the steps identified above.
Andrzej Schreyer , R.P.P. is a senior land use and environmental planner with Hardy Stevenson and Associates and a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planners. His experience includes developing and implementing public participation and communications plans, managing social impact assessments and land use studies in support of infrastructure projects and preparing community-based strategic plans.