The last step in the strategic planning process is often overlooked, and yet, it’s one of the most important: the action steps that will lead to the successful completion of your objectives.
But we need well-formed objectives before we can map out action steps.
Here are eight things we need to consider for solid action plans:
Ownership: one person must be responsible and accountable for tracing the progress toward each objective, keeping the team informed, ensuring timely action steps are occurring and adjusting the actions as reality teaches us what needs to shift.
Action steps: each objective needs to have a series of action steps that lay out a clear path throughout the year on how it can be achieved. If the objective is the “what,” then the action steps are the “hows.” It’s critical that the action steps are clear and actionable steps versus vague ideas or thoughts.
Responsibility: each action step needs to have one person responsible for leading the action. This does not need to be the person who is the owner of the overall objective, and in many cases several people share responsibility for the various action steps.
Support: for each action step, determine who will support the person responsible. This can be multiple people. The key is that they’re not responsible for the action or outcome; they’re simply acting as a support in some capacity.
Informed: keeping the right people in the communication loop for each action is critically important. Key people might need to understand the state of progress around your actions to see how they affect other actions and objectives.
Metrics and budget: to be clear on measuring the success of an action step, each one must have a metric that tells us that the action is complete. Concurrently, you might require resources to execute the action step. For example, if you needed to survey your customers and don’t have the internal resources to effectively run the survey or want to protect anonymity, using an outside resource will require money that might not be included in your current operating budget.
Milestone date: think of the milestone as the date the action step needs to begin to reach the project’s completion date. Milestone dates are important because somehow we were all subconsciously programmed during high school and university that the best time to start writing an essay that’s due on Friday morning is Thursday night.
Completion date: the date we plan to have the action step completed.
Once you have each of your action steps properly framed out using the method above, look back and see how everything fits together.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
•Are my action steps clear and actionable, and do I know exactly what I need to do? In three months when we review this at our quarterly “review, evaluate and revise” session, will I understand what I meant?
•Are the completion dates consistent with the order of the action steps?
•Have I stacked too many of my completion dates? For instance, are many of my actions due at the end of the quarter (which can make for a manic last week of quarter-end)?
•Are the right people being kept in the loop?
•Have I run my plans past everyone who is responsible and supportive to ensure I haven’t missed anything or gotten off track?
Well-formed objectives are achieved only through clear action steps that cascade into a plan of “how” we’re going to achieve “what” we came up with at our strategic plan. As you go through this for the first time, you might feel that the process is intense and time consuming. But I can guarantee you that it’s far easier to get this right from the beginning when your whole team is together than it is to try to back-fill later.
You can download a free Excel template with the framework discussed in this column using this link (tinyurl.com/virtusreportcard). •