December 1 2022

The hardest thing about strategic planning isn’t creating the plan, it’s implementing it. But we’ve got good news: there are steps you can take during the planning process to ensure that your execution stage proceeds smoothly.

Here are five tips our Credo experts have identified as foundational to implementing strategic plans. 

Engage your entire community

Strategic planning should be active, not passive. It should be something that everyone associated with your institution does; not something that’s done to them. This is important for two reasons: 

  • The people who are deeply engaged in the daily work of your institution are best suited to provide the insights that ensure that the tactics of your plan are achievable paths toward your goals, not far-fetched scenarios. 
  • Inviting people to share their ideas and prioritize actions to set up your organization’s strategic direction gives them a stake in its future and motivates them to contribute to the plan’s success.  

Prioritize the priorities

This sounds redundant, but many institutions struggle mightily with prioritization. Often, the reasons are political; leaders know a particular initiative can advance the organization, but they think putting it into action will ruffle feathers. The result is a wish list of programs and projects that will make all stakeholders happy. Yet in the end, few, if any, will be fully accomplished.  

At Credo, we counsel our partners to go ahead and make that long list—with two catches. First, they must rank each item on the list based on how effectively it can achieve one of the major strategic goals. Second, the organization can only act on a small number (ideally, two) at any time. This forces leaders to make the tough choices that ensure a strategic plan can succeed.    

Be firm in your destination but flexible in your route

Imagine you’re traveling from Chicago to San Francisco when your GPS alerts you to a way to save two hours. Most would likely accept the speedier route to save time and resources. Applying that lens to strategic planning, what if your institution has been approved for a grant to create a new student success program? The program you're considering is on the list of initiatives related to your strategic goal of improving retention, but it isn’t one of the top two you’ve prioritized. What should you do?  

To balance important priorities, Credo experts would recommend pausing one of the initiatives you’ve already begun to make room for this new program since it is not advisable to commit to three priorities when you’re only resourced for two. By making this change, your progress toward your goals hasn’t changed, but your path toward achieving them has.     

See how Credo’s flexible, adaptable Strategy Map can help keep your plan on track toward its goals.  

Appoint a champion

It is critical to develop a compelling, inclusive story that makes clear to all stakeholders the “why” that underpins your strategic plan. Equally important is the champion you choose to deliver it. Usually, this responsibility falls to a president or CEO, but it could be someone else. This person must be a trusted figure who is able to adhere to the talking points of the strategic plan—especially when tactics change—and stay visible throughout the implementation process. They are charged not only with keeping employees and stakeholders informed about the strategic plan’s process but also sustaining excitement, especially when the novelty of the plan wanes.   

Decide how “success” will be defined and measured

Let’s return to the Chicago-to-San Francisco example. You decided at the beginning of your trip that your goal was to arrive in San Francisco. How do you know if you succeeded? When you arrive in San Francisco, of course.  

Unlike in the example of the trip with a specific destination in mind, when it comes to strategic planning, the milestones you’re aiming for can be difficult to clearly define. “Improving student retention” is an admirable goal, but how will you know if you’ve succeeded? How much of an increase in retention is considered a win? And what happens if you see increases in retention for two years followed by decreases for the following three? That’s why Credo experts counsel our partner organizations to put in place both annualized and long-term metrics for each priority of their strategic plans. This allows the organization not only to see when they’ve made progress, but also to identify where the plan may not be working and make changes.  

What are composite KPIs, and why are they the best way to measure your strategic plan? Find out more in this post.  

Your institution does not have to do this challenging work alone. Credo partnerships span both the strategic planning process and the beginning of your plan’s implementation. That means you’ll have a team of Credo experts dedicated to getting your organization’s strategic plan off to a great start.

 Find out what our strategic planning clients say strategic planning with a partner.

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