Managing for Mission
I love developing strategic plans. Done right, they align a school community toward an inspiring vision for what the school needs to be, and can be. But whether a plan is successful or not depends on what happens after the plan document is finalized and distributed.
Before I began working with other schools on their strategic plans, I had the unusual opportunity to lead the formulation of four strategic plans during 32 years of administration at one school. With each plan, I learned more about what makes them not only visionary, but effective. The key is what I call the Annual Implementation Plan or AIP.
After months of gathering input and building ownership for the school’s Strategic Plan, people often breathe a sigh of relief, saying, “mission accomplished,” and get back to their normal routines. But the whole point of strategic planning is to lift the school above the routine to create its desired future. The completion of the Strategic Plan is just the starting point for crafting that future. It must be followed by a rigorous tactical planning process to determine how it will be implemented.
Sometimes schools try to incorporate the Implementation Plan into the Strategic Plan. It sounds attractive to get the vision and all the x’s and o’s down on paper at once. But there are three reasons why this isn’t an optimal approach. First, combining strategy and tactics weighs down the Strategic Plan. People get caught up in the tactics instead of aligning around the overall direction the school is headed, which is the role of a Strategic Plan.
Second, implementation will require some flexibility. It can’t all be choreographed five or more years in advance. Having a combination Strategic and Tactical plan will be too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances.
And third, Strategic Planning and Tactical planning involve different people. The Strategic Plan is big picture and involves a wide range of people to make sure it has broad ownership and is responsive to the community’s needs. Implementation has to be owned primarily by the team of professionals who run the school. Administration, faculty and staff are the ones responsible for integrating it into the operations of the school, from curriculum changes to employee engagement, plant management and fundraising. They must collaborate with the broader community, but that community rightly expects them to take the leadership.
The instrument I use for tactical planning is called an Annual Implementation Plan because it is done annually, prior to the beginning of the school year. Each year the administrative team commits to the steps it will take that year toward attainment of the school’s longer-range strategic goals.
The most difficult Annual Implementation Plan, or AIP, will be the first. Imagine yourself in the forest and you have to cross a stream to get where you’re going. The Strategic Plan tells you that you need to do to get to the other side. The Implementation Plan tells you which stepping stones you’ll use to get there. I like to have administrators start thinking about those stepping stones as soon as possible, when the Strategic Goals begin to take shape. The initial focus will be on the first stone. That’s AIP Year one.
For each Strategic Goal, the question to be asked is what do we need to get done to lead toward its accomplishment? The stepping stones are what we call Objectives. The administrative team identifies each Objective, as well as the administrator who will lead its accomplishment. That administrator is tasked with preparing an Objective Implementation Plan or OIP, which spells out in some detail what the Objective is, the steps to accomplishing it, who needs to be involved and how much budget will be required.
Under the leadership of the chief administrator, the draft OIPs are shared with the other members of the school’s administrative team and finalized based on their input. Just as the Strategic Goals are the backbone of the Strategic Plan, the Objectives which are critical for Year One form the backbone of that year’s Annual Implementation Plan. The chief administrator compiles and organizes these Objectives into an AIP document which he or she will present to the Board for its confirmation and use it to guide implementation steps taken during the year.
At the end of the year, the administrative team will revisit the Objective Implementation Plans, adjust them as needed and then identify the Objectives which will be critical for the next year of implementation. These will then form the Annual Implementation Plan for Year Two.
The process is a little more complex than that, but I want to give you the overall approach. The key things to remember are 1) Separate the implementation planning from the strategic planning process, 2) have the administrative team begin the implementation planning even before the Strategic Plan is finalized and 3) make sure the administrative team, under the direction of the chief administrator, is fully engaged in formulating and operationalizing the plan every year. If you don’t do this, you may have a beautiful Strategic Plan, beautifully collecting dust.
The Resources tab of our website at www.ManagingForMission.com has more information about planning, including another tutorial about creating the Strategic Plan. I’d also be happy to answer any questions you have about implementation planning, if you email me at JackPeterson@ManagingForMission.com.
I’m grateful for all you do to support your school’s efforts to shape its future according to its mission. Thanks especially for making sure that your Strategic Plan becomes a reality through effective implementation planning. May God continue to bless you in your work.