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Why & How To Build A Strategic Action Plan
Learn why you need a strategic action plan, how to create one, and see real-world examples in this article.
After months (or more) of planning and collaborating, you have a solid strategy in place to guide your organization into a bright future. All too often though, even the best strategic plans end up gathering dust on a shelf. A strategic action plan is your guard against this happening—so not only can you say you have the best strategy, you can prove it.
What is a strategic action plan?
Let’s start by differentiating between a strategic plan and a strategic action plan. In short, strategic planning is the process by which you plot out, step by step, how your organization will get where it wants to be. We won’t go into detail about the process here, but you can read more in this article.
By extension, a strategic action plan explains how you’re going to make your strategy a reality. It takes the purpose and goals you’ve outlined and adds the details needed to turn thought into action. One action plan example would be defining who has ownership over an initiative, when it’s expected to be completed, what resources are needed, etc. This is your detailed road map of the journey you’ll take to reach your goals.
Why do you need a strategic action plan?
Creating an action plan gives you a clear guide to success. It helps prioritize goals, maximize resources, and make better decisions, increasing your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness as you execute on your strategy.
It can also help boost internal morale and public confidence. Employees will know exactly what they need to do to achieve the organization’s strategy, day by day and task by task. External stakeholders will have confidence that efforts are coordinated and purposeful, which builds credibility and transparency. And everyone can track results and monitor progress toward goals.
Now that you understand why a strategic action plan is vital to your strategy, how do you build that roadmap? There are various strategic action plan templates out there. Here is a high level view of one that includes the organization's objectives, action items they have planned, and a description, owner, dates and percent complete of each action.
7 Steps Of A Strategic Action Plan
1. Create a strategic plan.
As we mentioned in the previous section, strategic planning is the first step to a concrete action plan. This is where you state your mission and vision, and clearly outline your organization’s goals and target objectives.
Not sure where to begin? Here are 10 free strategic planning templates to get you started.
2. Determine how to accomplish your strategy.
Create concrete SMART goals that align with your strategic plan. Your goals should include the actions you must take to reach them. Describe each action item so everyone can understand what needs to be done.
This is where you can get down to specifics. For example, a local government strategy could be to increase citizen engagement. Your action plan would be to launch a marketing campaign, form a citizen task force, and collect feedback from citizen surveys and focus groups.
3. Name names.
Next, you must assign ownership and define who is responsible for what. This ensures someone is accountable for each initiative or measure, so nothing falls to the wayside.
Ownership and accountability are key to achieving your goals. This includes who is responsible for executing, reporting, or simply overseeing a task. You should also indicate which parties should be informed about updates or changes.
4. Draft timelines.
Set deadlines for each measure or initiative. Deadlines should offer a smooth, logical workflow that is realistic—plan on what’s possible, not what you wish were true. By providing target start and end times, a timeline ensures continuous, trackable progress.
You may choose to incorporate individual initiatives and milestones into your timeline as well. Think of these as mini-goals that can help ensure you are on the right path.
5. Allocate resources.
Every strategy has multiple interdependencies and you’ll need to figure out what (and who) is needed to reach your goals. A big part of equipping employees for success is allocating the proper resources for all tasks.
6. Implement it.
It’s called a strategic action plan for a reason. Just like with a strategic plan, creating an action plan only means something if you take the steps to implement it.
You can and should ask for status updates—accountability is key. Your strategy should remain a focus of the organization and team members should be able to explain how their roles contribute to the strategy, if they aren’t actually reporting on progress each week.
A solution like ClearPoint can help. It can automatically send email reminders and visual status reports to team members. Gantt charts also offer a simple overview at a glance, with flexible properties that update with a single click.
7. Celebrate wins.
Once your strategy is in play, keep people engaged by celebrating both big wins and small milestones. Learning how to create an action plan and then actually doing it takes a lot of hard work, which should be recognized and appreciated.
How do you know when you’ve had a big win (or near miss)? Use this guide to create an internal reporting process that shows strategic action plan results.
Strategic Action Plan Examples
It can be hard to tie the concept of a strategic action plan to the reality, so we’ve gathered a few examples of how your organization can manifest these plans. Use these as inspiration and general guides versus action plan samples that need to be copied exactly.
Town Of Morrisville, NC
Morrisville uses a clean, easily navigable format to outline its strategic action plan. The Initiatives tab in particular explains what actions the city is taking to reach its goals, including statues, milestones, and percent complete.
City Of Cambridge, ON
In their summary report, Cambridge clearly links strategic actions to initiatives. Each initiative has a status indicator to show progress at a glance. This ensures both city employees and citizens know what’s being done to reach goals and how the city is progressing.
City Of Germantown, TN
Germantown does an excellent job of describing why City Services and Finance is a key performance area for its strategy. Then, they use a neat grid to outline action plans—including concise bullets to provide additional detail on the plans—with timelines and status indicators for KPIs.
A good strategic action plan is clear, current, and detailed. That means that even people who missed the company strategy meeting should be able to read it and know exactly what to do, how, and when. It is also specific, measurable, and relevant. It sets a straight path toward your target destination and does not deviate.
There is a saying: “People don’t plan to fail. They fail to plan.” Make your strategic planning a success with an action plan. To learn more about how to write an action plan for your strategy, contact us.