Have you experienced working with a group to identify and decide on next steps and then realizing some time later that no one has done any of the actions?

There are some common blocks to creating plans that are actually implemented.

  • vague outcomes, objectives, or goals
  • visionary outcomes that do not take into consideration the real world
  • trying to take on more strategies than can reasonably be done in a set time period
  • aspirational tasks that are not related to the everyday reality of ongoing tasks, adding more work to an already overwhelming workload
  • creating actions for someone else to carry out
  • pressure to commit in public to actions that one is not really intending to do
  • making very long-term implementation plans that exceed human capacity to focus
  • not considering the resources needed to carry out the actions – particularly time and money
  • weak accountability – no one checks to see how things are progressing
  • punitive accountability – looking for what is NOT accomplished and shaming or blaming the team
  • unforeseen events that prevent actions

Some years ago we had a province-wide client where we facilitated strategic plans with a different local chapter every week for 13 weeks.  We started with a simple ToP action planning template. As we went along, we adapted the template to try to address every block and escape that prevented them from making realistic but also catalytic implementation plans. Our current action planning workbook (seen in the image) for each team, plus a plenary session to report all action plans on a coordinated timeline, addresses many of these challenges.

ToP Action Planning:

  • Page 1:
  • Starts with a brainstorm of current and future reality advantages and limits that have an impact on what is necessary and possible.
  • Identifies possible “measureable accomplishments” (begins with the end in mind), helping to avoid naming vague goals or objectives.
  • Provides a process to choose a measureable accomplishment that is realistic, catalytic, and inspires commitment and action, and has a date for being done.
  • Page 2:
  • Brainstorms tasks that will accomplish the named “measurable accomplishment”, then sequences them and puts them on a timeline.
  • Creates a slogan or symbol that inspires the team and turns a boring list of things to do into an action campaign.
  • Page 3:
  • Identifies a “champion” and the team members who are actually committed to specific tasks, and does not allow putting someone’s name on a task unless they personally agree to do it.
  • Estimates cost for the actions.

A plenary session follows, where all the action plans are put on a timeline and reviewed by the whole group, identifying dependencies and coordinating the overall timeline.

We teach this action planning process in our Transformational Strategy course, which is offered in both face-to-face and online formats. You can also find the process in the book Transformational Strategy, by Bill Staples.