The Eight Keys to Execution, part 4
So far we have addressed the importance of having the right people in the right roles as a central starting point in our quest for educational excellence. We have instilled a sense of urgency to help drive changes and difficult decision in our focus and work. We have cast vision that challenges us to do something extraordinary. And we have identified, in light of that vision, our strategic and operational priorities. It is time to translate our priorities into action plans.
What are the components of an action plan?
Plans are the result of translating our initiatives into specific objectives (or goals) which are accomplished through well-defined action items with due dates and deliverables (or outcomes).
Here is one suggestion about what an action plan could look like:
There is no magic to this format. Pursuant offers a spreadsheet that can be used to record action plans. Other people use project planning software to help manage “to do” lists. Notebook paper and whiteboards can work, too!
The problem of failing to create action plans has nothing to do with software. It has everything to do with the inability of management teams to identify the specific steps needed to accomplish their top priority initiatives. What actions do we need to take to build a new building? To execute a capital campaign? To drill a new well in another country? To open a new center in the downtown area?
Is it any wonder that strategic initiatives, and ultimately vision, remain unfulfilled? We have no idea how we are going to accomplish these kinds of objectives, or we have failed to reduce them to a written plan of action.
One approach I have found helpful for walking clients though an action planning process is to consider four basic steps, pictured to the right. This four-step process offers a simple approach to identifying objectives and action items, especially when working on something you have never done before.
For example, let’s say you want to execute a donor event for your organization:
- Assess Data: Gather information. Research donor events. Talk to organizations you admire. Consult with people who have successfully executed a successful fundraising event, such as key board member. Review your donor database.
- Develop Options: Brainstorm goals. Identify options for the event, budget (revenue and expense), options for the program, invite list, size, venue, call to action, messaging, décor, collateral, and follow-up strategies. Visualize the event from before it starts until after it finishes. What will best accomplish your event plan.
- Determine Direction: Make decisions. What are you going to do actually do? Do you have enough information? What else do you need to know to come to some decisions? Execute those steps in the plan, then complete the rest of your event plan.
- Take Action: Assign tasks and project due dates. Who owns each objective? What resources (staff, money, time) will each objective require? When will you reconvene to review/update the action plan? Is the plan clear? Is each action item understood?
Be intentional about this process. Building action plans requires that leaders with a stake in the initiative are involved in deciding and documenting how it will be accomplished. If those people can’t construct an action plan, you need help. Strategic initiatives won’t accomplish themselves.
In my experience, once an action plan has been developed with realistic due dates and owners, objectives become much more tangible and have a much stronger chance of being completed.
Another easy place to develop quick action plans is during meeting. It is amazing how much time I see invested in meetings with nothing tangible to show for that investment. Have you calculated the cost associated with meetings?
Let me encourage you to be the person who makes a profound difference in your organization by using a simple meeting template to track agenda items, discussion points, decisions, follow-up action items, owners, and due dates. The template could look something like the one pictured below.
Meetings would be far more productive if we consistently documented outcomes and follow-up responsibilities. Here is a bonus for doing it yourself: the person who documents the outcomes, gets the last word in what was discussed and decided! Plus, if you do the job well, everyone will love and appreciate you!
Action planning is a huge part of the “discipline” of execution. Get it done.
Is there a written action plan in place for every strategic initiative in your company? Have owners and due dates been assigned? Are those plans updated from time to time? Are plans realistic? Are action plans a byproduct of your internal meetings?
Check back next week for parts 5-8 on the Keys to Execution!