December 8, 2011

Translate Strategic Goals Into Actionable Initiatives

In Step 1:  Strategic Goals Into Actionable Initiatives, you will learn how to translate your long-term strategic goals into initiatives your organization will undertake in the next 12 to 18 months as part of the implementation process.

As you transition from strategic planning to implementation, your first task is to get specific about the work that needs to be done. Practically speaking, this means going through the process of translating the multi-year, high-level strategic goals articulated in your plan into specific initiatives that your organization will undertake in the coming 12- to 18-month period. Breaking down your long-term goals into timely, digestible, and definable segments will help create a detailed roadmap that aligns the day-to-day activities of your organization with the overarching mandates of your strategy.

We define initiatives as actions the organization will take to implement its strategy, based on issues, opportunities, or challenges that surfaced during the strategy development process. Initiatives are not just new organizational efforts you’re taking on in addition to the work you are already doing. In fact, unless your plans call for an immediate expansion of your team or resources, these initiatives may involve redesigning current programs or phasing out others in order to engage in work that is more directly aligned with your strategy.

Consider how Boys Town used initiatives to drive its strategy forward. Boys Town has a 100-year history of supporting youth and families. In 2010, the organization served over 24,000 youth through long-term, residential and in-home prevention services. In addition to its flagship residential “village” in Omaha, NE, Boys Town operates youth-care programs in 10 states and the District of Columbia, runs a national crisis and referral hotline, and operates a research hospital.

Defining Initiatives

Initiatives, the major efforts required to make progress toward strategic goals, must be clearly described during the implementation process. To do this, we recommend defining the following elements for each initiative:

  • Deliverables: What will be the results of the initiative? How will "success" be measured?
  • Initiative leader and team: Who is responsible and involved in the work?
  • Key activities: What action steps need to be undertaken to achieve the deliverable?
  • Resource requirements: What investments (people, equipment, time, finances) will be needed to carry out the initiative?
  • Interdependencies: How will the initiative impact other functions or areas of the organization? How will it affect other initiatives?
  • Milestones: What are the major events, accomplishments, or key decision points that are anticipated? How will you know when and if your initiative is on or off track?
  • Performance metrics: What will you measure to gauge progress on your initiative? How will you utilize these performance metrics to tell if your initiative is on or off track?
  • Timeline: When will the initiative begin and end? At what milestone will you judge if your initial timeline is correct?

In 2007, after a period of rapid expansion and with a new executive director at the helm, the board and organization’s leadership committed to developing a growth strategy that would increase impact and improve the organization’s economics. Ultimately, that strategy centered on four goals the team believed were critical to achieving Boys Town’s intended impact (summarized below in the accompanying chart). With those goals set, Boys Town staff then defined 11 different initiatives that the organization would pursue to achieve them. Some initiatives were focused on improving and expanding programs; others were focused on building organizational capacity.

Boys Town national goals and initiatives

Once the initiatives were defined, Boys Town developed an Action Plan for each one, identifying the person who would lead them, the team that would be involved, the steps that would be taken, the up-front investments required, and key milestones. The table below shows some of the related actions, milestones, and investments associated with Boys Town’s initiative around enhancing advocacy and policy capabilities.

Initiative 10: Enhance advocacy and policy capabilities

Actions, Milestones, Up-front Investments

According to Barb Vollmer, Boys Town’s associate vice president of administrative services, developing this detailed action plan was critical. “It gave [Boys Town] clarity and initial direction,” she said. “Over the years, not everything evolved the way we thought it would, but, as a starting point, it was very important.”

Templates to Guide Step One: Translating Strategic Goals into Actionable Initiatives

The following templates, to be used in tandem, offer guidance on developing initiatives that will help your organization manage implementation. The Initiative Overview Template provides basic detail across all initiatives so that your management team can see, at a glance, the scope of the work to be done and critical interdependencies. The Initiative Action Plan Template provides detail for each initiative’s team members to have clear direction and accountability for achieving results.

The process of defining and detailing initiatives is in some ways more important than the completed templates you produce, although this type of documentation is critical for monitoring and adjusting how you implement over time. For example, once Boys Town’s leadership team defined the initiatives, each initiative’s leader then developed a specific action plan to articulate, coordinate, and sequence the activities involved in that initiative. As Vollmer explained, “Initiative leaders were clear on what they needed to do and when it needed to be done. Getting people to plan forward with clear goals and anticipated contingencies brought a discipline into our organization that wasn't there before.”

While it may be tempting to outsource detailed implementation planning to a consultant, it is critical for your staff to be deeply involved. They will have the most realistic sense of what can be accomplished over a certain time period, and their buy-in to the deliverables and timeline is essential. In our experience, consultants can help facilitate and bring discipline to the process, but in general, they cannot be used as a replacement for staff engagement.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.