Making your Strategic Plan Stick

In Strategic Planning by Lisa Selzler

Call it the post-planning let down.

The excitement fades after the thrill and rush of the planning process. There’s another grant application to write, a board member with a great new idea, and staff members who are overwhelmed with both the old and new work.

The new plan makes great sense. It outlines the deliberate decisions made by the organization based on context. The organization will have greater impact using the new plan. But it is different. Change is hard.  Complex organizations make change harder.

So how best to go about managing change within your organization so that planning leads to implementation? How do you make that new strategic plan stick?

Feel the Future

Change is grounded in reason and emotion. And emotion often wins out. One way to help engage emotion in a helpful way is to create and sustain the positive vision for the future. What will it look and feel like if you are successful with your strategic plan?

Years ago, I wanted to visit Greece.  This was in the lean, post-college years, so I had to get a second job to save enough money. In order to help me change my routine and stay motivated to do the new things I needed to do, I put up a poster of the Greek Islands in my room.  I went out to eat at Greek restaurants. For a while even dated a Greek guy.

Knowing the end point made the middle part easier. Without the vision for the future firmly in mind, I might not have gotten up early to work weekends and save more money. The new end place is better than where you are now, so keep that vision in clear sight.


On the rational side, a plan is important. Build a project plan for your goals that lays out the steps, including transitioning out of previous plans that no longer serve the organization and making way for the new. Listing the tasks that will be phased out, what you are taking off the plate as well as positioning the new, interesting work helps everyone see a clear path.

Think Small

There is a reason the old adage, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Thinking about the first steps is important. Start small by changing one or two small things. How your staff meetings are run or the language you use in the office. In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath show how building upon what is already working, the” bright spots”, is a key to building future success.  Instead of dragging those who resist change along, reward those who are embracing it and learn from what they are doing.

Enlist Ongoing, External Support

Most systems don’t change without some external pressure. This is the reason why a workout buddy is so effective. It is easy to talk yourself out of going to the gym, for example. But if you have a workout buddy, not going means having to call and cancel. Most of us will end up just going to the gym. In this way the workout buddy provides external support – holding you accountable for following through on your commitment.

External support can take a number of forms: a strategic planning committee that becomes an implementation committee, strategic advising from a consultant, or a personal coach. Find some kind of ongoing, external support – this will not only provide accountability, but also support, encouragement, and advice along the way.