December 8, 2011

Create a Blueprint for Change

Step 2: Create a Blueprint for Change helps you consider your nonprofit's entire set of strategic initiatives to ensure that their scope, length, and required effort are realistic and appropriately sequenced.

Once you’ve translated your strategic goals into initiatives, the next critical step is to consider your set of initiatives holistically, to ensure that their scope, length, and required effort are realistic and appropriately sequenced. In essence, you need to create a blueprint for change so that leaders throughout your organization can see how their roles and their departments' work connect to others’. It's important for everyone to understand the big picture, so that it is clear why certain initiatives and changes will start before others. Creating a blueprint for change is about setting the stage to build momentum for the progress to come.

During this step, you should consider how the different initiatives will affect each other, as one phase of constructing change may need to be completed or a milestone reached before another step can be taken. Also, reflect on how initiatives affect different parts of your organization. In most cases, implementation will put competing demands on operations and other internal functions such as human resources, technology, and fundraising. Involving the heads of these departments in the integration process will be helpful, and may lead you to postpone or accelerate some initiatives or (if possible) to add resources. Leaders we interviewed found that these conversations across initiatives, functional areas, and programs built a sense of teamwork, and helped staff break out of project and departmental silos.

The process of coordinating and integrating initiatives can be challenging because it requires making trade-offs as you determine that some initiatives must happen before others. But recognizing and making these trade-offs up front is important to the successful implementation of your strategic plan. There is only so much work that your staff or organization can handle; some projects will be exciting, and some projects will be resisted. By engaging in a purposeful process of integration, you can ensure that critical choices are framed by your strategy, rather than by staff interests and advocacy, or other pressures.

Questions to Consider: Integrating Initiatives

  • Do any initiative timelines need to be shifted due to interdependencies or pinch points? Does one initiative need to reach a milestone or finish before another can start or continue?
  • Are timelines realistic considering current workloads?
  • Do you have sufficient financial resources to complete the initiative?
  • If planned progress is made on each individual initiative, is the organization on track to achieve the strategic priorities? Are any critical pieces or phases missing?

Gary Grellman, the chief financial and operating officer of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties (Goodwill) believes that this step of creating a blueprint to integrate initiatives and across existing organizational functions is the most critical piece of implementing a strategy successfully. Goodwill provides job training and educational services to adults with significant barriers to employment, as well as operating a national chain of used clothing stores. The organization's strategy requires several major programmatic and organizational initiatives, each managed by a member of its extended leadership team. During the process of creating a blueprint for the strategy, once each member fleshed out his/her initiative, Grellman created an “Accountability Matrix” to get a visual sense of how the initiatives would be executed over time and by whom. According to Grellman, this process helped Goodwill, “achieve clarity in terms of ownership, to make it clear who would help drive goals to reality.” As Grellman recalls, “This was the first step in moving away from operating in a siloed fashion to working together in a more collaborative and integrative fashion.”

Importantly, when Goodwill first drafted this holistic picture, it became clear that there were too many initiatives being launched simultaneously, and that the same people were responsible for carrying out too much of the work. Goodwill’s leadership also realized their sequencing was off, and some initiatives needed to be completed before others could be started. Based on this, their executive team rationalized Goodwill’s set of initiatives, prioritizing the most important efforts first, such as sales technology and postponing others until later, such as HR systems.

Templates to Guide Step Two: Creating a Blueprint for Change

An integrated Implementation Timeline can enable your management team to gain a holistic view of how various initiatives relate and depend on each other. The Initiative Overview discussed above can also provide a concise picture of everything your organization is undertaking.

As you create your blueprint, you may realize that you have to narrow the set of initiatives you plan to take on. You may also find that you need to revisit your first thoughts about sequencing your initiatives. You will need to update your Initiative Action Plans and Overview if, for example, some of the initiatives you thought you would launch in the first year of your implementation will be pushed back to the second year. In the case of Goodwill, which was upgrading its clothing stores, this process resulted in front-loading all of the initiatives related to implementing new and improving point of sale and supply chain management systems, which were critical to the success of the other store initiatives they were undertaking. That meant delaying other investments of time and money like the improvement of their HR information systems. This sort of adjustment is a normal part of the implementation planning process and is just one example of the kind of continuous refinement you can expect to make as you live into your plan and execute your strategy.


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