There are many examples of strategies that have achieved little more than sitting on a shelf, with little or no reference made to them by officers, trustees, staff or members. But strategy is properly thought of as a process and way of thinking that permeates throughout the society’s work and its people. If a strategy is not widely understood and endorsed, and regularly consulted, used, reviewed and monitored, it is not working. Some society Presidents and Chief Executives keep a short version of the strategy to hand at all times, and consult it regularly as an aid to decision-making.
‘production of the strategic plan is only the start, not the end of the process’
If a strategy is to become real and embedded in the society, a number of things need to happen. First and foremost, the strategy must be owned by the senior officers and staff, and there must be a clear allocation of responsibilities in taking action to meet the goals or aims set out in the strategy. But beyond that, other issues will need to be addressed in order to guard against the risk of failure in implementing the plan.
6.1 Communicating the strategy
While strategies must be owned above all by the trustees and senior officers of the society, it is also critically important too that they must be effectively communicated to all members, staff, and key stakeholder groups. The aim should be that as many as possible of all those groups get a clear sense of
- the society’s core purposes and direction,
- how the activities they are involved in contribute to those purposes and direction, and
- how decisions about those activities fit into a wider framework.
The key benefits of the strategy will be lost unless both the strategy itself, and progress towards key goals, are regularly communicated to all these groups. Strategies that are referred to only by officers, trustees and senior staff will not realise their full potential. Thus one society among several found from a recent survey that members do not know – but would like to know – about its strategic plan and how the work-plans and programmes of activity relate to it. It has therefore decided to devote greater efforts to communicating with members about how the plan translates into activity programmes that are delivering against the society’s strategic objectives. Such communications can usefully go beyond the membership to key external stakeholders, and thus help to enhance the society’s profile.
6.2. Embedding strategies in work-plans and budgets
If strategies are to become realities, it needs to be made clear who is going to do what, with what resources, and by when. This may involve, as we noted in Section 3.2.7, changes to governance and staffing structures, with clear responsibilities assigned to key individuals and groups among the society’s officers and staff. In most cases, it will also usually involve the preparation of financial plans and budgets, business or operational plans, and annual work or activity plans for the society, and objectives for members of staff. In the absence of such plans, it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve the goals set out in the strategy.
‘we haven’t developed a business plan, so we haven’t been using the strategic plan effectively’
‘don’t stop at the writing of the strategic plan. Make sure that you write a business plan alongside it to ensure delivery’
Some societies have therefore adapted their annual plans and budgets so that they align with the goals set out in new strategies.
‘we align our budgets and our activity plan and annual review to the four strategic goals’
‘the strategy forms the overarching framework for activity and operational plans which are used on a daily basis’
‘the main benefit has been in terms of the budget and getting the allocations into the key streams of work’.
Alignment of this kind can be powerfully-motivating for staff; but it is not always easy, and trustee bodies may not ‘live’ the strategy in the same way as staff. A few societies, however, seek to go further and to use the goals set out in the strategy as the structure for the regular business of the Council or Board, so that there is clear linkage between the governing body’s discussions and the society’s overall strategic direction.
Flexibility within overall direction
Nevertheless, it is important that the strategy should not become a straitjacket, and that the society and its officers should retain enough flexibility to enable them to exploit new opportunities or respond to unforeseen changes in circumstances while retaining overall strategic direction. As one society put it, it’s important to remain bold within that overall direction.
Download this guidance as a PDF