One of the most frequent assignments I am asked to take on when asked to work with a nonprofit board or its CEO is to help them get back on track, to help them get things going again. They contact me because they feel bogged down and unable to break through the inertia that has handcuffed their entire agency. They can’t figure out how to get back on track, to get things done and reach their goals. Agencies often want to blame the people, the lack of revenue, or some external distractions for keeping them from accomplishing their goals.

In reality, though, the root cause of their inability to accomplish much is often something else entirely. Even with a well-crafted strategic plan in place, some agencies find it extremely difficult to make any significant progress in their community.

So, what is the issue here? Why are some nonprofit agencies (and many for-profit organizations, too, for that matter) unable to translate their strategic plan into action and get things done?

The answer may be the lack of an Implementation Plan.

Often, organizations have trouble moving from the high-level key strategies contained in a strategic plan and translating them into what their implications are for the staff, board, and everyone else, on a day-to-day basis. Leaders must explain to everyone how the strategic plan impacts their work and what the are expected to do in light of it.

You might want to think of an Implementation Plan as a simple way (and great management tool) to break down a high-level, strategic plan into many smaller, bite-sized chunks of activity that must take place in order to accomplish the overall plan.

Those who were not part of the strategic planning process or who came into your agency after if was adopted may find it hard to visualize their responsibilities in light of the strategic plan. An Implementation Plan is the tool you can use to get everyone on the same page, and then keep them there.

There are many forms of Implementation Plans — you can even create your own. To help you think this through, however, here are the categories I’d include in my own Implementation Plan. I suggest you create a chart with several columns along the top with the headings I suggest below. I suggest one page for each of your key strategic initiatives.

These specific categories may or may not work for your agency. Each agency has its own unique characteristics so be creative to adapt this one to your situation.

  • Key Strategic Initiative:
  • Deliverable: What is the expected outcome of this initiative
  • Owner: Who is responsible for leading the work on this initiative
  • Action Steps:
  • Timeline dates:
  • Additional resources/people available for this effort:

Give this outline a try if you believe your agency needs some way to break down your key strategies into smaller, easily understandable pieces.

By the way, this template can serve as an excellent dashboard tool at board and staff meetings to monitor progress (or spot problems) quickly.

How do you translate your strategy into actionable steps at your agency? What tools do you use to take the mystique out of your key strategies so all of your team can understand it and, more importantly, accomplish it? Please share. And, let me know how it goes when you try out the outline above.

If you are uncertain how well your nonprofit is functioning, or what the cause of your agency’s inability to move forward might be, take the Break Through Quiz and find out. In fact, you might ask your entire board to complete it, too. Let me know how it goes.