Strategic planning is essential for organizations who want to achieve their priorities. This said, the plan is not the “thing itself”, the plan is like a team practicing to win a championship. Good strategy is planning and action integrated and synchronized. The strategic plan is the everyday practice to create organizations that are winners and make an impact. Too many organizations celebrate a good planning process as if it was the World Cup Final instead of just the final day of preseason training.

Execution, execution, execution…

It is the execution of a strategic plan that determines the quality and success of the planning exercise. Strong execution requires that staff and stakeholders see themselves as co-creators of the plan and understand the connection between their day to day work and the priorities in the strategic plan. People need to see how their activities impact and achieve the organizations goals.

In a lot of post planning or evaluation there is the “monitoring” aspect. The definition of “monitor” includes observation and checking. I’ve always felt the word monitor was too passive when it comes to strategic planning evaluation…because again, there is too much emphasis on the plan process and less focus on how to implement and execute priorities. It is like we are watching from the stands instead of on the field playing and adapting to other people and situations. Executing a strategic plan requires strenuous efforts to do things the organization has probably never done. From my experience there is too little execution and too much observation after planning processes. Planning efforts fail for two reasons- the plan is not fully engaged in the post planning phase and/or staff and stakeholders do not understand how the plan directly connects to their work.

Complexity requires Adaptive Planning

One thing I recommend is Adaptive Planning in context to targeting longer range goals. Doing this correctly means that appropriate staff/stakeholders continually monitor weak signals and trends – and a dynamic strategic plan and organization should be ready to pivot and adapt to transformative and unexpected changes.

Depending on the scope of the plan and its complexity the plan should be adapted quarterly by a core group who are actively seeking out weak signals and trends; using techniques like Futures Generative Dialog. The core group and their recommendations should be part of a yearly organizational retreat and ask four critical questions:

  1. Is the plan helping us do what we wanted it to do?
  2. What has changed over the course of our work/mission environment that impacts the plan?
  3. Are we picking up any weak signals or trends?
  4. What updates should we incorporate into our plan?

Measure the right things

A good evaluation process in a strategic planning cycle is useful only if you are measuring the right things. There are often things to measure that directly apply to the internal workings of the organization including the accountable staff and there are the outward impacts particularly in non-profit and governmental organizations that serve constituencies. A question to ask about any planning initiative is “are staff/stakeholders seeing the plan as a tool to serve the constituency better or is the plan how they see their own performance measured by?” I have seen staff who were more focused on “covering their ass” than actually serving their public.

There are at least *three primary ways to measure organization effectiveness:

  1. Goals based: An evaluation that particularly focuses on quantitative data and specific activities.
  2. Process based: An evaluation that focuses on the processes an organization uses to achieve objectives. There is often a more qualitative aspect to this kind of evaluation.
  3. Outcomes based: An evaluation that can be a combination of goal and process based evaluation. This kind of evaluation can incorporate a lot of nuance and requires that responsible parties agree on what the major outcomes are that are to be measured and how to do that.

*This is an incredible simplification of an entire field devoted to measurement and evaluation.

It is fantastic when an organization creates a great strategic plan and more so if there is real execution, authentic measurements of success and processes in place to adapt to changing circumstances. These three components planning, execution and adaption are the process for success and achieving the best possible goals of any organization. Just Do It- and do it right!