State Policy Network
Strategy Implementation Series, Part 3: Mackinac Center’s Manufacturing Model

By Collin Roth, Director of Strategy Development, and Gabriel Green, Public Relations Associate

Welcome to part three 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 strategic 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 installment, we’re headed to Michigan to learn from the strategy implementation model applied by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Mackinac Center has a budget of around $12 million and employs around 35 full-time staff and dozens of contractors. Let’s take a look at how they approach goal communication and team alignment, project management, and budgeting.

Mackinac’s Manufacturing Model: How the Mackinac Center’s well-oiled assembly line process drives strategy and team cohesion

Maybe it’s because they’re from Michigan, but the Mackinac Center clearly learned a lot from the automotive industry when it comes to implementing strategy. By using an “assembly line” style process, every department and individual has an opportunity to contribute to crafting and executing on the organization’s strategic goals.

1. Goal Communication and Team Alignment

The Mackinac Center has two methods for setting goals—one top-down and the other bottom-up. For top-down goal setting, they follow a standard process. Someone in leadership spots an opportunity, shares it with other leaders, and they work to add it into the strategic plan as appropriate. Then, that goal gets communicated down and across the rest of the organization.

However, on average, this method accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the organization’s goals. The rest of their goals are established through the bottom-up “assembly line.”

Mackinac’s assembly line kicks into production mode once a year, mainly in the fourth quarter. To start the process, department directors pull their teams together to draft team goals. Teams cast their three-year vision and then work to develop one-year SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. During this process, departments must consult other departments to ensure departments are aware of how goals affect each other.

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These meetings lead to two types of goals: policies and operational capacities. Policy goals are changes that Mackinac wants to see in the world, such as enacting a school spending transparency bill. Operational capacities are desired internal changes that would strengthen the organization, such as building an investigative journalism component.

Following initial goal-drafting, Mackinac enters the review phase, assembling a team of executive leaders and department representatives to give input on final goals. The review team meets in-person, and it’s at this meeting that every department head gets to pitch their team’s goals. The review team then offers feedback and any needed tweaks, before compiling the goals at the organization-wide level. In this final review they ask themselves questions like, “Are these goals relevant?” “Have we missed anything?” and “What will it take to be successful?” “

When these questions have been satisfactorily answered and the organizational goals are finalized, they go into the final product of the assembly line—a document -that all employees can access.

2. Project Management

Even with a collaborative goal-setting process, Mackinac doesn’t take alignment within the organization for granted. They use a mix of meetings and asynchronous tools like Basecamp to ensure that goals and priorities are visible.

There is an organization-wide meeting every month that all department heads are required to attend and is optional for any other staff members. This meeting is used to review a portion of the strategic plan, and make sure the organization is moving in the right direction for achieving its goals.

A separate monthly meeting for all staff is the touchpoint where leadership reinforces the reasoning behind specific goals, shares updates on progress, and provides direction on modifications. In addition to the monthly leadership and all-staff meetings, many individual teams meet weekly to discuss team-specific goals and progress and adjust as needed.

Asynchronous tools come into play for individual task management. Department heads are empowered to use any system they want, though a good deal of the organization has moved onto using Basecamp. Part of Mackinac’s steady adoption of Basecamp has been to use it as a cross-team collaborative tool, given its visibility and the ease of adding numerous people to an individual basecamp project.

3. Budgeting

When it comes to everyone’s favorite topic, budgeting, Mackinac Center uses a separate process from their strategic planning. This is, in part, so that strategic planning isn’t overly concerned with monetary constraints at the outset, but also so that strategic planning can inform budgeting and fundraising goals. Mackinac’s Vice President of Operations Pat Benner develops the budget with input from colleagues who oversee fundraising and execution.

Benner then creates department budgets to empower individual team leaders. Each department head is given a budget for discretionary spending, which they can use to pursue opportunities and invest in what’s needed to accomplish their department’s goals. These department budgets are updated monthly based on spending and revenue projections. As needed, Mackinac will develop project-specific budgets as well. “A budget and regular financial review are critical tools for execution,” says Mike Reitz, Mackinac’s Executive Vice President. “They should tell you what’s possible, what you still need and what gaps exist in your capabilities.”

Related Resources

Learn more about strategic support for your organization

State Policy Network offers various strategic planning services for our member organizations. Contact SPN’s Director of Strategy Development, Collin Roth (, to learn more about how SPN can help your think tank go further, faster, by starting with organizational strategy.

Categories: Strategy
Organization: State Policy Network