Organizations should ask themselves: what happens after we have created our strategic plan? After all, creating a strategic plan is the beginning of the journey to reaching your goals, not the destination.
For a strategic plan to be more than a beautifully bound document that sits on a shelf, it must come alive through implementation and strong execution. Activating your strategic plan happens through strategy engagement—the extent to which the people in the organization understand the strategic plan, feel like they are a part of it, and get behind it.
Strategic plans and the ownership gap
The challenge here is that employees can sometimes feel disconnected from the organization’s strategic plan. When employees aren’t invited into the strategic planning process, a “theirs not ours” dynamic can set in. People can feel like the strategic plan is strictly something that leadership owns, and they feel little accountability for it. In this environment, employee engagement with the strategic plan is typically low, which is a liability for success.
When a strategic plan is inclusive and actionable, everyone in the organization feels a sense of ownership.
5 ways to activate your strategic plan
The strategic plan belongs to everyone, not just the CEO and the leadership team. The good news is that organizations can take targeted approaches to close this ownership gap and rally their people, improving employee connections and support for the strategic plan. Doing this means creating a culture of adoption that is grounded in and reinforces the organizational culture.
Here are five ways to bring your strategic plan to life:
Model the desired behaviors at the top of the organization
Everyone has heard the tired expression “do as I say, not as I do.” Not only does it ooze hypocrisy, but it can be a significant barrier to strategy engagement. It’s yet another dynamic that separates employees from leadership. This is why the entire leadership team must consciously and intentionally embody the organizational behaviors codified in the strategic plan. Leaders should model the plan through strategic mindsets, such as using the plan to drive decision-making or prioritize workloads. They should also consistently model the cultural values defined in the plan—values like innovation, learning, or teamwork. Modeling these behaviors not only brings them to life for everyone in the organization, but it also reinforces their importance and reminds everyone of the relationship between the strategic plan and the core values.
Appoint a dedicated team or person to oversee implementation
The strategy will never come to life if no one owns its execution, so it is critical to appoint a full-time person (or ideally, a team) that acts as the “boots on the ground” when activating your strategic plan. Execution is their sole responsibility, and they work across stakeholder groups. They handle milestone reporting, performance management, communications, and more. It’s critical that this team has full support from leadership to act in this capacity, and that their role is a primary duty, not a collateral one. While this team tracks milestones from a tactical perspective, it’s also their role to drive a culture of adoption for the strategic plan across the organization.
Guide managers on how to make the plan everyone’s north star
It’s unrealistic for organizations to assume that supervisors, managers, and team leads intuitively know how to activate the strategic plan and translate it so that employees understand how what they do every day contributes to strategic priorities. The irony is that how well they do this can make or break strategy engagement, and ultimately, the success of the strategic plan itself. The strategic plan must be everyone’s north star, guiding their decision-making, actions, and interactions. It’s essential that managers have the tools to champion the plan and make it actionable and real for their people in the context of their day-to-day responsibilities. Train-the-trainer programs are very helpful here. These programs offer managers guidance and tools on how to communicate the strategic plan and use it as a lens for their work (and their team’s).
Hold people accountable by tying the plan to performance management
Improving strategy enablement involves cultivating employees’ sense of ownership of the plan and accountability for delivering it. The best way to do this is to clarify the measures that employee performance is being evaluated against, and how those measures roll up to the strategic plan. Not only do employees know what is expected of them, but they see exactly what their part is in implementing the plan. Employees can track their progress through regular check-ins and open dialogues with supervisors about these performance measures. Organizations can then incorporate the plan into their employee recognition programs to recognize and reward work that contributes to meeting strategy goals.
Treat the plan like the living document it is
While strategic plans are typically time-bound, they are living documents. Organizations will struggle to rally their people behind a strategic plan that’s gone stale or can’t flex with change. Strong strategy engagement depends on relevance. So, commit to revisiting the plan at least annually. In the interim, organizations should continually track milestones and performance metrics, looking for signals of anything that needs to be altered in response to (or in anticipation of) market changes. Having a performance measurement program with dashboards that make performance measures visible, simple, and actionable can go a long way to improve strategy enablement and employee engagement across the organization.
A strategic plan is a game changer for decision-making, activities, and interactions—for getting an organization from where it is, to where it wants to go. But results happen when people support the plan every day, not just on the day it launches.