By Collin Roth, Director of Strategy Development, and Gabriel Green, Public Relations Associate
Welcome to the second installment of SPN’s Strategy Implementation Series. This series of case studies is 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.
Across all types of organizations, strategy implementation models must account for three key elements: project management, goal communication and team alignment, and budgeting. How your organization approaches these elements will depend on your team and the processes and tools best suited to them.
In this edition of the series, we’ll unpack the example of Illinois Policy Institute’s strategy implementation model, which relies heavily on direct meetings. Illinois Policy has roughly 30 employees, 30 contractors, and an annual budget of $9.9 million.
Matt Paprocki, President of Illinois Policy, has a fairly unique approach to strategy implementation. Rather than a formalized and highly visible team alignment system, Illinois Policy relies on a lot of individual meetings, many of them recurring weekly. Their model emphasizes departmental leadership and cohesion among teams. Everybody hates meetings, so why do they do this?
According to Franklin Covey, only 1 in 7 people know the goals of their organization. That means 6 out of 7 are working on something where they don’t know what they are trying to achieve. This is the equivalent of asking a group of Americans to go play a game of cricket, and refusing to explain the rules or the goal. Do you think they are going to win the game?
In fact, rather than a formalized team alignment system, Matt likes to joke that all Illinois Policy has is a “Google Doc with four numbers on it,” which serve as objective measures for whether Illinois Policy has achieved its goals. Matt helps Illinois Policy accomplish these goals by serving as a sort of central hub and by attending weekly meetings.
One of those meetings has been dubbed the “Boring Meeting.” The Boring Meeting takes place quarterly among a small group of advisors. It was originally labeled a “Leadership Meeting,” but Matt made the official name change so that only folks who truly needed to be there would want to attend, not just those who wanted to be in “leadership.”
In one of these quarterly meetings, the advisors draft Illinois Policy’s annual goals. Department heads then circulate these goals for staff feedback, and final goals are established in the fall for the coming year. So, in fall of 2023, goals would be set for 2024. In the other three quarterly Boring Meetings, the advisors review the goals and make any needed changes, though these changes are rare given the work that goes into making sure the goals are the right ones to begin with.
When organizational goals have been set, Illinois Policy follows a straightforward model of analyzing projects and progress. In order to ensure accountability and alignment, while leaving the necessary individual and departmental flexibility, Illinois Policy uses a shared framework for analyzing progress towards any individual or departmental goal. The Illinois Policy framework is: Inputs > Activities > Outputs > Impact.
This analytical framework helps every team member at Illinois Policy know how their work tiers up to organizational goals. It keeps departments aligned and serves as an objective standard for measuring success. It’s also the job of this framework to inform each of the meetings that Illinois Policy holds.
Every individual and team establishes their desired quarterly outputs based on the “Traction” book’s methodology. This method encourages you to appraise each organizational goal and determine what the biggest single thing is that you or your department could do to help accomplish that goal, with the largest single-impact tasks labeled as “rocks.” Since each individual output tiers up to departmental outputs, which in turn tier up to organization outputs (the four numbers on the google doc), individual goals are inherently aligned with the overall organization.
So, back to why this approach is titled the “Meeting Man Model”: Departmental goals are analyzed in weekly meetings that Matt oversees. At the end of every week, each staff member and contractor delivers their output numbers to department leaders. Department leaders then have an in-person meeting every Monday to review these numbers. Outputs are appraised and graded with a color scale: red for failing, yellow for in progress, and blue for already achieved.
One of the major benefits of this system, Matt says, is that he knows weeks in advance if there is a problem. If the development team is in the red for donor meetings, chances are there will be a lower output of money raised in several weeks. If less articles are being pitched to the media in the activity section, in several weeks, there will be a reduction in op-ed’s placed. This allows the leadership team to adjust weeks before the problem emerges.
If any outcomes are graded red in the meeting, it is an obligation for other department heads to ask, “What can we do to help you get in the blue?” This question is far better than something like, “What did you do wrong?” It helps drive alignment by encouraging departments to see how their work overlaps. For instance, an op-ed could help with generating donations, making it incumbent on Communications to help Development reach its target outputs. It also serves to hold the department and individuals responsible for outcomes in a way that drives towards cooperation and a willingness to ask for help.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, managing time is a big part of budgeting. Illinois Policy’s weekly meetings and inter-departmental cohesion helps them to prioritize time and share resources between departments more effectively. Money is approached in a similar, if more straightforward fashion.
Like any stable organization, Illinois Policy needs to have some sort of financial cushion for down times (like a pandemic or a recession). So, at the start of the year, Matt establishes a “burn rate” for their existing resources that allows them to remain fiscally solvent if no more money were to come through the door. This calculation is used to set initial department budgets.
Then, Matt creates a separate budget for opportunity spending with any excess money the organization brings in. Anyone who has an idea for spending that money must propose it within the organization’s framework: Inputs > Activities > Outputs > Impact.
Then, of course, they have to pitch their idea to Matt at an in-person meeting.
State Policy Network offers various strategic planning services for our member organizations. Contact SPN’s Director of Strategy Development, Collin Roth (email@example.com), to learn more about how SPN can help your think tank go further, faster, by starting with organizational strategy.