By Collin Roth, Director of Strategy Development, and Gabriel Green, Public Relations Associate
After an organization has gone through a strategic planning process, and developed the strategic framework by which they will align the organization to pursue its goalsMee, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. It’s time for strategy implementation.
There are numerous ways for an organization to implement its strategy. The viability of any strategy implementation model is not dependent on the model itself; rather, it’s dependent on the structure, capabilities, and preferences of the organization and its staff. But, across all organization types, there are three elements of a good strategy implementation model that must be accounted for: project management, goal communication and team alignment, and budgeting.
So, how do you choose the methods that will work for your own organization? Leaders and think tank professionals across SPN’s Network will tell you that one of the most valuable keys to success is learning from peers. This article is the first in a strategy implementation series dedicated to helping state think tanks learn from one another about the range of models and tools that are proving effective in executing plans and keeping teams and resources aligned along the way. Only you can ascertain the approach likely to work best for your team or organization, but this series can be a resource for inspiration if you’re looking to evaluate and update your current model.
Up first in this series is the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which uses project management software and asynchronous communication to drive their strategy implementation. The Beacon Center has roughly 12 employees, three contractors, and an annual budget of $2.3 million. Let’s take a look at how they designed their particular approach to account for project management, goal communication and team alignment, and budgeting.
A few years back, the Beacon Center brought in a new Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Stephanie Whitt. Shortly after her arrival, Beacon underwent a change in their implementation model, based on Stephanie’s observations that there were too many meetings and not enough cross-department visibility. To overcome these obstacles, Beacon started using Basecamp, an online tool that helps with project management and internal communication.
While it took time to fully adopt their new system, Beacon Center moved from lots of meetings and direct communication to managing any and every project through this project management platform. Now, every grant and sub-project has its own to-do list in Basecamp. When staff complete a task, they check it off in Basecamp and include notes on what they did. These notes are then used for reporting and are referenced by their development team. Basecamp notes also help when tackling a new project that is similar to something in the past, so that Beacon doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Because of the asynchronous nature of Basecamp as a project management tool, Beacon now has infrequent and often short meetings. Even their quarterly meetings to discuss grants and larger projects are significantly shorter than they used to be, as most attendees already have what they need from the relevant Basecamp projects.
It’s also worth noting that Beacon Center has a shared-goal spreadsheet, which includes every desired output for each employee. While some of these outputs can change, they are built out quite extensively in a way that helps individual employees see how their work affects other employees and teams. By effectively planning these outputs in advance, the team doesn’t need to change their individual and team goals very often. In addition, the shared-goals spreadsheet helps staff know how their individual work tiers up to larger organizational goals.
This brings us to the next part of any good strategy implementation model: goal communication and team alignment. Now, most of the broad organizational goals should already be established by the time a strategy is being implemented, and tools like the strategic framework can help all staff understand the big picture. But, individual and team-level goals are inherently more flexible and need to be set more regularly.
For the Beacon Center, the larger organizational strategy discussions occur every few years. They establish a visionary goal, such as their goal established in 2019 for Tennessee to “lead the nation in innovation” within the next five years. Beacon avoids establishing single-year goals at these meetings to leave the flexibility to better seize opportunities as they present themselves.
For annual goals, Beacon establishes policy priorities in June or July through a large full team meeting, always looking a year in advance. So, in June of 2023, goals would be established for 2024. Their policy director, Ron Shultis, then uses the traditional Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize, weighing options by urgency versus importance. Beacon’s leadership then further disseminates the prioritized annual organizational goals so that the rest of the staff can finalize departmental goals, which are usually finished in August or early September. This step allows the team to push back on unrealistic expectations, offer to step into gaps as able, and ensure that sequencing between departments doesn’t create unnecessary delays.
Over the rest of the year, individual team members develop their own goals with Stephanie or their supervisor, so their expectations are established by January of the year they go into effect. Everyone’s goals are added to the aforementioned shared-goal spreadsheet and Basecamp for project management, increasing visibility for the entire team. Visibility ensures accountability and makes it easy to find duplicative efforts and resolve them by allowing people to better direct efforts elsewhere. This process also empowers the whole team to spot conflicting goals between departments and get them realigned, such as when an owned audience goal for the Communications Team wouldn’t meet the requisite audience needs of the Policy Team.
As demonstrated above, the allocation of time and effort is a major part of strategy implementation and team alignment. This is why many organizations think of their budgeting as dealing with both money and staff time. Tools like Beacon’s shared calendar and use of asynchronous communication through Basecamp are a great way to account for staff time as a form of budgeting.
But the core driver of budgeting will always be an organization’s financial resources. Beacon has found that their budgeting system works best when each department receives their own individual budget, which is generally the accumulation of line items in received grants. Department heads are then free to spend their budgets as they please…provided, of course, that they document it in Basecamp if it is tied to a specific project. Basecamp also allows department heads to see where they may need to shift budgets to better meet organizational goals throughout the year and makes requesting those budget changes easier.
State Policy Network offers various strategic planning services for our member organizations. Contact SPN’s Director of Strategy Development, Collin Roth (firstname.lastname@example.org), to learn more about how SPN can help your think tank go further, faster, by starting with organizational strategy.