Implementing a Strategic Plan: Now Comes the Hard Part

Strategic Planning.  Typically there are a couple of immediate responses when people start talking about developing a strategic plan – people who decide to fake their own death because they just cannot go through that process again, or people who feel like it is Christmas morning and Santa brought them their very own official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle! 

When it comes to actually developing the plan, there is a lot of effort put into it.  There are lots of meetings, visioning discussions, revisions, more meetings, templates, verbiage, focus groups, and so on and so forth and what have you.  But once the plan is complete and you have this pristine document that you are sharing with grantors and replying “why yes, we have a strategic plan” whenever anyone asks, this is where the real work starts.  The implementation.

A 2018 management research study concluded that only 20 to 30 percent of corporate strategic plans are ever completed. Organizations tend to spend a lot of time on the development of the plan, but then fail when it comes to the implementation.  According to an article published by Erica Olsen, who is the COO and a co-founder of OnStrategy, Fortune Magazine stated, “nine out of ten organizations fail to implement their strategic plan for many reasons:

  • 60% of organizations don’t link strategy to budgeting
  • 75% of organizations don’t link employee incentives to strategy
  • 86% of business owners and managers spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy
  • 95% of the typical workforce doesn’t understand their organization’s strategy.

 Most people would find these numbers and statistics shocking!  How can we put so much time and effort into developing a solid strategic plan, only to have it fail??  The answer lies in the implementation phase.

When organizations come to us, this is something we often hear “My board has developed an aggressive strategic plan, and I’m responsible for implementing it, but I have no idea where to start.”  Sound familiar? 

When it comes to implementation, there are several steps that need to be taken to help keep you on track and allow you know when you accomplish one of the strategic goals.

Develop a Framework

Look at your strategic plan.  Does it have overarching goals with defined strategies?  Or are the goals very general with a menu of strategies? However your plan is laid out, you want to develop a framework where it is linear and things are tied together.  You want your goal to have a specific strategy, with a specific action and task, identified process owners, feasibility, cost, timeframe, and related expenses.  And finally, an outcome; what does it look like what that goal is accomplished.


Sometimes things look great on paper, but in reality, it may be very difficult to do.  When looking at each of the goals in the strategic plan, identify the feasibility of it.  Is this something that can be done? How much effort is it going to take?  Is it something relatively easy to do that will take little effort, time, and expense to accomplish?  Or is this something where you will need to retain a consultant, incur an expense, and something that will take a year to accomplish? 

This is an important step and most often overlooked.  If the implementation team feels as though a particular strategy is a stretch, or it may be an involved process, it will get shoved to the back burner.  This is also where you typically see it pop up on plan, after plan, after plan, because the time has not been dedicated to determine its feasibility.


When working through the framework, it is also important to determine the cost of accomplishing each goal.  Things to consider are the resources needed.  Is this something that can be done internally or do you need to bring in external support.  Does it involve the implementation or acquisition of technology?  Every successful strategic plan has a supplemental budget, separate from general operating.  These are typically NOT your every day operating expenses; they are ones that are above and beyond to help you achieve your strategic vision. 


Once you have developed the basic framework, determined the feasibility of each goal, and developed a budget, the timeline will start to take shape.  Break the timeline down into quarters within your fiscal year, and extend it over the life of your strategic plan (3 years, 5 years, etc.) 

The timeline should be visual.  Use a format where you can plug in your goal (how long will it take to achieve it) and then be able to adjust.  For example, if you have plugged everything in, perhaps you are heavy in one quarter and have nothing going on in another.  Spread the wealth; figuratively and literally.  The budget may also dictate when something will be done.  Maybe the priority is to have it done this year, but you need to secure funds, which will take some time. 

Keep it Realistic

Just like any plan, it needs to be realistic.  When you take the time to thoughtfully plan out the goals and strategies, as well as the outcomes, it will make all the difference in the end.  This is where you want to ensure there are definitive outcomes.  People tend to get lost in the never-ending cycle of “how do we know when we are done?”  Having defined outcomes will let you know when you’ve reached the finish line.


Finally, you need to keep the momentum going.  The implementation plan should be referred to and referenced regularly; every board meeting, at weekly staff meetings, etc.  Identify an “implementation champion.”  Who is someone on the staff and on the board who are championing this process?  They are the squeaky wheel.  Having an implementation champion ensures that the process lives on.  There isn’t a prolonged period of rest; they are constantly moving the process forward and checking off the goals as you meet the outcomes. 

Share the implementation plan with everyone at the organization.  Everyone should know what the strategic plan is, and what their role is in the implementation. 

When it comes to developing an implementation plan for your organizational strategic plan, the more work you put in the front-end with regards to developing the framework, the more focused you will be with staying on track.  If this does not come naturally to you, it’s okay; for most people this is a learned behavior.  And for people who have a full plate and their board is already stretched thin, this is where consultants come in super handy! 

Feel like you need someone to help you out with strategic plan implementation? Contact Harpeth Consultant Advisory Group to discuss your needs and how we can help.