Chapter Seven


Earlier we used a metaphor to describe the common sense management process. The first three steps of the process are like a compass used to set direction for the organization. The last two steps--strategy implementation and outcomes assessment--were likened to steering a sailboat using the compass setting. These final steps concentrate on developing the organization's structure, governing body, and (over a longer term) culture, and on using resources to develop, to carry out, and to monitor and evaluate management and program operations.

The fourth step of the common sense management process is called strategy implementation. This step is the payoff, and it is where you will achieve or fall short of your hoped-for success. It involves actually carrying out, or doing the work outlined in, your strategic plan. Implementation involves writing and bringing alive operational plans based upon the strategies you developed earlier. Failure to actually carry out the planned work is where most plans fail.

Written operational plans generally describe these things:

Specific changes in the organization's structures and systems that will be required to implement the proposed strategies. An organization's structures must suit its selected strategies. Despite careful planning in the strategy development stage, you may miss the full nature of reorganization needed, comprehending it only when you develop the objectives and steps of actual implementation and consider who will carry out these steps. As you begin implementation planning, remain open to the possibility of reorganization and consider alternative forms that reorganization may take. During the implementation phase, plan for specific changes in organizational systems that will be needed to carry out your strategies. You may want to install a new management information system, to alter your financial reporting system, or to make changes in your bylaws or personnel policies.

Operational objectives and action steps related to the proposed strategies. Strategies are broad courses of action you will pursue over a multiyear period--usually from three to five years. Typically, strategy statements are general; they do not describe specific objectives and action steps or indicate specific milestone accomplishments that measure strategy implementation. You must develop these as part your written operational plans. Figure 7-1 indicates how operational objectives and action steps relate to strategies. Strategies may have more than one operational objective. Action steps are developed to achieve each of these objectives. In order to establish ownership of strategies, the staff responsible for implementing them should be asked to participate in writing detailed objectives and action steps. These may be generally described in an operational plan covering the three-to-five year planning period, and then more specifically described in a one-year operational plan. Staff uses the one-year or annual operational plan to develop their individual performance plans. The operational plan and its derivatives describe most of the day-to-day business of your institution. Staff persons also generally carry out routine activities of little strategic significance, such as updating a roster of alumni. While these routine activities need not be detailed in operational plans, try, as far as possible, to subordinate all major activities under the operational plan. (See Figure 7-2)

Figure 7-1
Figure 7.1. Relationship of Strategy, Operational Objective, and Action Steps


Strategy 1 Strategy 2
Institutional Unit/ Individuals Responsible Objective 1.1 Objective 1.2 Objective 1.3 Objective 2.1 Objective 2.2 Objective 2.3
President’s Office            
Dean of Students            
College of Education            
College of Business            
Marketing Dept.            

Figure 7-2. Responsibility assignment worksheet


Individual and divisional responsibilities for carrying out the operational objectives and action steps. This involves designating divisions or individuals as responsible for meeting goals and carrying out specific action steps. As Figure 7-3 indicates, several objectives may support each strategy, and several divisions within an organization, each responsible for a separate goal, may all be working to implement the same strategy. Different divisions may even work on different action steps of the same operational goal. Likewise, within one division, a manager may assign different action steps to a number of different individuals. In selecting individuals to oversee goals or to carry out action steps, common sense management will make best use of the skills and the personal styles of individuals by placing them in positions for which they are most suited. This may mean placing people in key functions without being confined to existing organizational hierarchy.

Action Steps Date for Accomplishment Responsibility Cost Key Result






Figure 7-3. Strategy, objective, and action step worksheet


Resources the organization will use to carry out its operational plans. You must also consider the resources needed to carry out your institution's strategies when you develop the implementation plan. These resource requirements were a criterion for selecting preferred strategies during the strategy development step of the common sense management process. In planning implementation, resource decisions should not be limited to the dollar amounts in the budget attached to the operational or annual operational plan. You must decide priorities for the entire set of organizational resources (people, money, technology, information, and facilities)--not only priorities among strategic goals, but also among the new strategies and your institution's ongoing operations considered together. Pulling resources away from ongoing functions can be wrenching, but if you are committed to common sense management, you must be prepared to make shifts. Educational leaders often fail to implement strategy because they do not provide sufficient resources to new or revised goals. This should not happen. Once decided on, strategy should be matched by resource allocation. A preliminary budget for the plan period should have been presented with the strategic plan for Board acceptance. The totaling of all costs of the operational plan should be the proposed budget for the year.

Timetables for carrying out operational plans. In your implementation plans, you must estimate the time you will need to accomplish operational goals and action steps. A strategic operational plan may state the operational goals in a one-to five-year time frame, targeting both the month and the year for accomplishment. In an annual operational plan and individual performance plans, time frames may be more precise. An annual operational plan may target the week or even the day for completing action steps. Managers can also use these dates as targets for the individual accomplishment of action steps in staff performance plans.

It is important to examine the extent to which--and how well--divisions and individuals carry out action steps and meet goals. You must recognize and reward those who have performed well. When you assign individuals responsibility for specific strategies, goals, and action steps across divisions, include built-in incentives geared to both strategic and short-term accomplishments. These incentives should be consistent with organizational aims and culture. They must also be uniform and equitable, based on either individual, group, or organizational performance. For staff members, they might entail financial compensation, or involve other perquisites felt to be valuable within the organization's culture--for example, special training opportunities, conference attendance, a larger office, title, association membership, and so on. However, other factors may be even more effective as motivators: a sense of mastery over a task; feelings of competence, recognition, and achievement, and the quality of the work itself. In designing a system of rewards, then, management must look at the way it designs jobs, how much real responsibility and recognition it gives employees, and how individual workers view their own growth.

Strategy implementation involves developing operational plans on paper and carrying these plans out. The reality is that the "doing" part of strategy implementation will not precisely parallel detailed written plans. This is because implementation depends on what is happening in the external environment, an environment that is frequently volatile and uncertain. Furthermore, implementation is accomplished through the actions of people, and people can be complex, contradictory, and unpredictable. With people, however, you have more control than you have over your external environment. Successful implementation relies to a great extent on the ability to manage people--to overcome their resistance to change, to motivate them, and to recognize and reward their progress. Effective leadership is critical to common sense management.

Points to Keep in Mind

There are several important points to keep in mind when writing the operational plan.

  1. Let the people who are expected to carry out each step or activity have some say as to the nature of the action and the date for accomplishment. In other words, use a participative approach; resist telling people how to carry out an action for which they are responsible.
  2. List only major chunks of activities. Realize that each step will have several minor steps under it, but let the person who will carry out the step be responsible for specifying the substeps in their own individual action plan, not in the institution's operational plan.
  3. Be realistic in setting a date for accomplishment. Don't be too optimistic nor too pessimistic. Allow some slack in the plan for vacations, holidays, days of illness, equipment breakdowns, travel, employee turnover, and so on.
  4. Be sure the steps will result in objective accomplishment. Ask the question: "If we do all these things on time, will we, in fact, accomplish the objective?"
  5. Be cognizant of which actions must be taken sequentially and which ones can be accomplished concurrently. Make sure the sequential ones are listed and completed in order.

The Product from Step Four

The product of step four is the successful implementation of planned strategies, resulting in desired changes in your institution. During the implementation period, you should move toward achieving your vision for the future. This movement should be consistent with accomplishment of your overall mission. Strategy implementation should be based on sound operational plans developed on an annual basis.