The definition of operationalize is to put into operation or use. So what does it mean to “operationalize” your strategic plan? It means you have made the plan a living, valuable part of the way you operate your organization. From the C-suite down to front line staff, strategic plans are the back bone of organization when they are done correctly.
What does that look like and how is it done? There are 4 keys to operationalize a plan.
The first key in operationalizing your strategic plan is to take ownership of it. Don’t just create a plan and then hope that it happens. Create the plan, then work the plan until you have accomplished all the projects laid out and reached the target year end condition. A good strategic plan becomes a project management system in the organization. Leadership schedules the work needed to accomplish the tasks on the plan. They actively track the metrics that show the value in the strategic work they are doing, assuring that it is moving them closer to the vision, closer to the target year end condition and adjusting when it is not
Second, an operationalized plan does not sit in isolation. When leadership is rolling the plan out to the front line, they make the effort to tie the work of the person sweeping the floor back to the plan. To be operationalized, the plan should engage the whole company in the work, not just the C-suite. Once the plan is finished, the top level projects roll into actions that roll down to departments, etc. and everyone understands that those departmental tasks all roll up to support the master plan.
Third, the operationalized plan becomes the lens for the organization to view new opportunities, risks, decisions. How does a new opportunity fit in the context of our strategic plan? How does it support reaching our target year end condition? Are we upholding our purpose and making progress toward our vision? Are we in alignment with our vision? An operationalized plan helps leadership make intelligent decisions about their time and investments. The strategic plan sets the direction, and all activities should be measured against, aligned with, and driven by the plan.
Finally, to fully operationalize a strategic plan you need to make it flexible – able to be easily revised, updated and adjusted throughout the year. Do you need a new project or strategy, to maximize the potential of changes in your environment? Do you need to rearrange or reassign tasks or outcomes to assure that the work gets done? Do your metrics show that you are still on track or is some tweaking needed in your strategies to be able to reach the target condition? An operationalized plan is frequently updated so that it is an accurate reflection of the strategic work being done.
How can you get there? There is no magic formula or complicated approach to making the strategic plan an essential piece of your operations. Implement the 4 keys above: take ownership, align work throughout the organization to the plan, use it as the lens to view new opportunities and keep it current. Meet on your plan often, at least twice a month, to assure these 4 keys are true of your plan.
Most importantly, realize that operationalizing your plan is not an instant solution, a “one and done”, but rather a way of approaching your strategic plan throughout the entire year that makes it an integral part of your decisions. To operationalize a strategic plan means that the organization is making efforts to reinforce the behaviors that will continue to grow the organization and create a culture of strong strategy and solid solutions.
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