Making Your Strategic Plan a Living Document

October 15, 2021 Jamie Notter

This one is real simple: to make your strategic plan a living document, you re-write it every three months, and you let everyone in the organization edit it.

Most associations focus on developing a three-year plan, with a small number of high-level goals and targets. Once that’s done, they turn to annual operation plans and budgets, which is precisely why your pretty plan sits on a shelf gathering dust for three years. Any adjustments or changes you make are deemed operational decisions, not strategic ones.

So you have a choice:

  1. Periodically open up your plan and see if you need to re-write parts of it based on how your operations have evolved.
  2. Integrate the strategic plan with operations more fully.

We think that second option is the only viable choice. In the system of priority-based execution that we have developed, we coach association leaders to capture the essence of both strategy and execution on about two pages. The first page includes your longer-term vision, your three-year targets, and a short list of prioritized initiatives for the current fiscal year.

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The second page focuses only on the next three months, with a space that captures the organizational priorities for the current quarter, as well as every employee’s personal priorities for that quarter. Every three months, every individual is re-writing that second page, adding the new quarterly priorities that were set by the management team, and developing their own priorities for the quarter based on those strategic decisions.

Oh and you might need to shift in the middle of the quarter, so every team should be meeting weekly to review key metrics and progress toward the priorities. I’ve seen clients re-write priorities mid-stream once they realized their assumptions about the marketplace were off. But each time you shift, you can also see the priorities for the year, three years from now, and 20 years from now and you make sure it’s all aligned.

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The point is, it’s less about focusing on how alive the document is, and it’s more about building a comprehensive system that ensures everyone in the organization is making good decisions that support the strategy and growth of the organization. The document is really just an artifact of the system. Build the right system and the document will always be alive.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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