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How to create an action plan that supports your strategy

Don’t skip over the details

Action planning should be viewed as the architecture of your strategic goal setting. Without a realistic set of incremental steps, overarching strategies are not likely to form in the way you would like (if at all). Powerful strategies are made from the right building blocks ─ and a willingness to act.

This point becomes critical when working across large teams where the desired goals can be complex and made up of many individual, technical components.

For the board of directors, action plans form the foundation of the strategies found in the 3-4 year strategic plan. Your strategic plan should be a robust document that outlines the key priorities of the organization into the future, and the necessary steps to get you there in an agreed time frame.

If your action plans do not support your key strategies, there is little to no chance that you will successfully realize the strategies in the time frame allowed, or within resource limitations.

 

Good action plans are the true enablers of the strategic or business plan

To ensure a strategic plan is brought to life, there need to be specific action plans for each of the strategies set.

This is a simple process of taking your desired outcome for a given strategy, brainstorming what it would take to reach this goal (working backwards), before filling in the practical details of how it will be accomplished.

During this process, it’s important to deal with any ambiguities. Acknowledging any unknowns will help you resist the trap of paper strategies ─ whereby a desired strategy looks great on paper, but the action plans are not strong enough to bring this unrealistic goal into reality.

If an Early Childhood Learning Center proposed a strategy to increase the public awareness of its services, one resultant action plan may be organize a series of public ‘open house’ events, with a framework put in place to measure whether this was successful in assisting the strategy. Without the accountability of action plans, the strategic plan runs the risk of being just a wish list.

 

Doing justice to your action plans: the 9 components to include

While the specifics of your action plan will vary, the underlying structure is critical. One proven way of structuring your action plans we have found to be the following:

1.     Action Plan description; 

2.     Scope of project;

3.     Resources; 

4.     Start date; 

5.     Finish date; 

6.     Project manager; 

7.     Success measure; 

8.     Ethical implications; 

9.     Risk issues.

Keep in mind each strategy (of which there are normally three to four) will probably have more than one action plan ─ in which case each action plan would seek to accomplish a different aspect of the strategy. Typically you may find there are between two and five action plans per strategy. You may be required to develop a hierarchy of action plans that need to be completed in a particular sequence. Short and long term action plans can be catergorised differently, even if they relate to the completion of the same strategy. 

Using this framework, what what might a completed action plan look like for an organization wanting to develop partnerships and alliances?

 

Sample completed Action Plan #1


Strategy 1: Develop partnerships and alliances

Action Plan 1.1:

Develop strategic relationships with partners to take advantage of scientific advances in manufacturing and technology

Scope:

-Identify who the main players are and who we want to partner with

-Establish formal relationships

-Develop protocols for translating relationships into projects that will enable manufacturers to take advantage of changes in science and technology

-Investigate ways of implementing national rollouts and the benefits for the region.

Resources:

Nil

Start Date: 

Sept 2016

Complete Date: 

Sept 2017 (review Feb 2017)

Project Manager:

General Manager

Success Measures:

All identified partners have a formally signed memorandum of understanding (MOU)

Ethics:

Manage all intellectual property (IP) implications. Manage relationships with universities and TAFES and comply with their regulations.

Risks:

May be seen to be taking the side of vested interests

 

the elements of an action plan

Action Plan description

This is the description of the action plan to achieve a strategy that summarizes what the action plan is about. It's helpful to be descriptive here to avoid any misunderstanding.

Begin your description with a verb, to better frame the action plan for executed. Notice also the action plan is deliberately numbered to correlate with the broader strategy. This numbering system also make it easier to find related action plans, especially if they are due to occur at different times.

The example above shows that the first action plan under Strategy 1, would be numbered 1.1, the third action plan under strategy 2 would be numbered 2.3, and so on. This helps immensely in keeping track of the items and for accountability, so nothing is missed.

Scope of project

This is the logical, step by step approach to implementing the action plan. The scope provides a start, middle and end to assist the project manager undertake the action. The scope may change as the project gets underway.

Resources

Dollars, materials, assets, consultants, external staff or anything that will have an impact on the budget, are all resources which should be included here.

The specific dollar amounts do not need to be quantified at this stage. Staff then need to develop costings and relevant financial models to further quantify the impact of this action plan.

It is important at this stage not to get distracted by whether the organization can afford the resource required. That is up to the Board to decide, not the planning group. And there are many ways of accessing resources....

Start date

Estimate when the best start date might be. This should be by month, rather than week or day. This will be reviewed later when all Action Plans have been completed, and analysis of time lines can occur, for example, ‘May 2017’.

The question to ask here is “What is the most logical date to start this project, when the Board should start focusing attention on this action plan and start receiving progress reports?”

Completion

This is the month when the action plan should be completed. Estimate how long you believe the project will take, for example, ‘November 2018’.

Never use “ongoing” as a completion date, as this discounts any accountability requirements. If something has achieved its success measure within the agreed time frames, then it is worthy of becoming ongoing, and thus falls off the strategic plan and becomes another operational component of business.

Each action plan is essentially a project which has a start and completion date, after which that action is evaluated whether it is robust enough to then become an ongoing activity of the organization. The question to ask here is “How long should this project take? Is it 3 months, 6 months, twelve months, eighteen months or longer?”

Note that the time frames can be amended by the Board, but only if the staff petition the Board for a variance.

Project Manager

Allocate a person to this responsibility, not a committee. There needs to be an identifiable individual who will be held accountable for the delivery of the action plan and who will take a leadership and accountability role for the delivering of the action plan.

This is often the CEO or a senior executive, but can also be a Board member if it is a true Board matter. For example, a governance review or Board succession planning project.

Success measure

This is one of the most critical components of the action plan. Identify what the Board would consider a suitable outcome. Each action plan must have a success measure that is identifiable and measurable (and everything is measurable!). Success measures are the most commonly ignored items of a Strategic Plan, yet are the linchpin behind accountability. The questions to ask here are

(1) What would the world’s best job look like with this action plan?

(2) How would we measure it?

(3) What level would we be happy with?

Ethical implications

This section identifies if there are any issues of rights, obligations, fairness, or integrity inherent in the action plan. Once these have been identified, the results need to be fed back to the plan's scope. This scope section should be rewritten to take into account the identified ethical issues. This enables the project team to look at the action plan from a different perspective of ethics and fairness.

Risk management

Identify all the risks associated with the action plan. Identify how each of these can be turned to strategic advantage, and write back into scope section. These risks can then be added to the organizational risk library.

 

Sample completed Action Plan #2


Strategy 3: Align Resources and Staffing with the needs of the strategic plan

Action Plan 3.1:

Development of infrastructure to meet service needs

Scope:

-Completion of an integrated health service for both sites

Buildings/land to suit services

-Redevelopment plan for all sites, funding and development strategy

-Complete range of health on one site

-Land acquisitions required?

-Suitable accommodation infrastructure to support development

-Environmentally sustainable design

-Science and technology (IT networking).

-Completion of an integrated health service for both sites

-Buildings/land to suit services

-Redevelopment plan for all sites, funding and development strategy

-Complete range of health on one site

-Land acquisitions required?

-Suitable accommodation infrastructure to support development

-Environmentally sustainable design

-Science and technology (IT networking).

Resources: 

 10 million to be confirmed

Start Date: 

May 2017

Complete Date:

Oct 2020 for plan and capital approvals

Project Manager: 

CEO

Success Measures: 

Identified reduction in recurrent operating costs by at least 5%. 30% reduction in environmental footprint in energy and water. Board and senior executive sign off that all identified service needs will be met by the new infrastructure.

Ethics:

Development doesn’t impinge on neighbouring providers

Risks

Timing – funding

 

Action planning for success: Final takeaways

For the Board of Directors, the action plans must be robust if the designated strategies are to come to fruition in a timely fashion.

The two areas which require the most attention (and routinely suffer the most) are:

1.     Success measures.

Success measures help you gauge whether or not your action plan was a success. This is not a ‘tick the box when completed’ exercise either. Success measures provide the accountability mechanism for the Board and staff.

Mentally run through the questions: (1) What would the world’s best job look like? (2) How would we measure it (remember, everything is measurable)? (3) What level would we be happy with?

2.     The timelines (start and finish dates)

The start and finish dates of any action plan provide a mechanism of prioritization. When combined, they ensure the project gets started and completed on time.

While both of the two points above seem banal, these two elements are most often missing from strategic action plans ─ or are simply ineffective. Take greater care, and reap the rewards of an action plan that aligns with your strategic direction.

What’s a tactic you like to employ when thinking about your action planning? Leave us a comment in the field below.

 


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