Operationalizing your strategic plan

Nonprofit committees play an important role within their organization. Whether its conducting periodic audits on the financial management of the association or reviewing HR policies, committee work is necessary and valuable. Time is allocated during board meetings to share information, but presenting those updates is seen as more of a formality rather than one that is designed to impact a board’s decision-making on a bigger scale. The quality of information tends to vary from meeting to meeting, causing difficulty for committees to stay focused on the big picture. Another approach exhibited by some boards is to allow the Executive Director to become the de-facto representative, speaking on behalf of multiple committees due to his role as the full-time executive. This role creates committee members who become disconnected and eventually uninspired. Similarly, when representatives speak on behalf of their committee, information shared is  often not relevant to the organization’s overall strategic goals.

Both scenarios create committees that lack ownership of the strategic plan and lack of synergy towards meeting the goals and objectives of that plan. Creating a strategic plan for your organization involves a lot of time, energy, and effort…putting that plan into practice requires committees that know their role in operationalizing that strategic plan. Here are four things your committees can put into practice to operationalize your organization’s strategic plan.

Develop objectives to support the Association’s goals

Connecting the work of each committee to the association’s strategic plan should begin with a review of the organization’s goals. To be effective, each committee should take ownership of the goals that align with their committee. As they go through this process, some committees might take ownership of more goals than others. Likewise, you may find one or more goals that are duplicated across multiple committees. Once each committee identifies their goals, they should review the organization’s vision, values, mission, and guiding principles. These items represent the core principles behind the decision-making of the association and should be part of everything the association does. At its essence, they are like the lighthouse that guides a ship to land through a single beacon of light. A keen understanding of these principles fosters an environment that can enable the team to develop objectives that embody the very core ideologies of the organization. As committees bring forth ideas, they must continually ask “Does this program or event support the association’s mission, guiding principles, and values?” If the answer is “no”, they should strongly consider looking past the idea. Pointing objectives toward the organization’s beacon of light, keeps the board focused on the organization’s goals. Boards should make the Vision, Value, Mission and guiding principles a part of every board meeting.

With the organization’s goals in hand, the committee creates objectives for each of their goals. As a rule, many organizations develop the objectives with a broader audience during strategic planning workshop. If you engage the committee in this process, you empower them, instilling a sense of ownership early on in the process. This is an important step in operationalizing the strategic plan. The committee works together, creating objectives that support their previously adopted goals. These objectives need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. The results need to be recorded in a spreadsheet or similar document so that it can be later incorporated into a strategy map and used to create action plans. This is a good midpoint for each committee to present their work to the board. Now the ownership is growing stronger!

Collaborate with the staff to create action plans

Once objectives are defined, the committee collaborates with the full-time staff to create action plans in support of those objectives. Involving the staff in this step is important because they synchronize the resources needed to carry out the tasks within the action. Action plans provide the details that answer the “how” to meet each specific objective. Answering that question requires the committee and staff to identify What actions will occur; Who is going to do the action; when and for how long will the action take place; what resources are needed; and how those actions will be communicated. Think of the action plan like a football coach’s playbook. Each player on the football team has a specific job that moves the ball down the field in order to score a touchdown. Each element of the action plan may have different committee members and staff who need to know what position they play and what actions are needed. The committee and staff create a plan that clearly identifies all the steps needed and who is doing those steps to ensure they can score a touchdown (achieve the goal). Committee members need to understand that the staff’s role is to support and assist, not plan and execute. By working together, the staff and committee can find solutions to constraints, resourcing, and other issues. The end results are action plans that are achievable, realistic and manageable.

Next, the collaborative team needs to identify a gatekeeper. This is someone who will follow up with each member to monitor and track action plan progress. By default, this is the committee Chair. Finally, the group needs to put the plan on paper to ensure that key players are aware of their role at each step. Having a plan that is easy to reference is important as you deploy your overall strategy within the committee and throughout the organization.

Accountability and results

The work of the committee doesn’t end after the development of its action plans. One of the most overlooked aspects of a strategic plan is a continuous assessment of how well it is moving the ball down the field… inching closer to the end zone. This is where the committee work continues to take on a vital role in operationalizing the plan. During the board meeting, each committee reports on how they are meeting their objectives and accomplishing their goals. The board must be able to measure the effectiveness of the plan to ensure it is using its resources (money, time, people) effectively. The committee presents information that is focused on measuring the results through the use of dashboards or other similar tools. This provides more valuable information to the board than general committee information because it keeps the committee focused on the end zone. However, I recognize that some committee information may not be directly linked to the goals and objectives, but still needs to be addressed during the board meeting. That type of information, if feasible, should be incorporated into the consent agenda. Putting the committee focus directly on the strategic plan during board meetings should be the goal. At this point, the committee has adopted strategic goals, developed objectives, collaborated with the staff to create action plans, and is reporting on the progress of their work….Ownership is growing strong.

Personal and team commitment

Operationalizing the strategic plan takes individual commitment and team effort. Getting committee members to stay engaged between board meetings can be challenging. By giving them ownership of the strategic plan, committees see that they are adding value. Ownership is accomplished by empowering the group to recommend concepts and innovative ideas that support the organization’s vision and mission. Organizations should foster and encourage an environment where ideas can be shared and discussions that connect to the organization’s Vision, Values, and Mission. At the individual level, each person must take ownership of projects and events within the action plans. Individuals should be required to volunteer for events and activities that are part of their action plans. They should recruit volunteers to support the activities as well and help with resourcing. The individual committee member cannot take on a passive role, participating out of convenience. One way to get commitment is by formalizing expectations of committee members through a charter, contract or another type of formal document. Spelling out expectations will help ensure that you have the right people, in the right place, focused on the right cause.

Having trouble getting your committees engaged? Be organized. Create a charter that defines the purpose, inputs, outputs, milestones and a communications plan. This provides structure and focus. Build time in your board schedule prior to your board meeting, for each committee to meet. Identify what is expected at the conclusion of each committee meeting to keep the teams focused.

By Kenn White

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