Monday, August 31, 2015

The Essential Elements of an Operational Plan

Two weeks ago I wrote about the link between our Board's Strategy Agenda--the document that defines what our association will achieve and how we will measure that success--and our Operational Plan--a document owned by me and my staff that defines how the association will go about achieving that success.

This week I want to write more about the elements that make up our Operational Plan. Like those of the Strategy Agenda, the elements of the Operational Plan can be thought of as a set of nesting dolls, each element living in subservient alignment with the one that came before it.

The largest doll are the SUCCESS INDICATORS defined by the Board. Collectively, these are the mission of the Operational Plan, the fundamental purposes that we are trying to achieve.

For each success indicator, we next have to define a GOAL. The success indicator tells us what metric we're trying to affect and which direction we're trying to make it go (increase conference attendance, for example). The goal tells us how much impact we want to have in a given time period (10% higher conference attendance than last year, for example). As I'm sure I'll get into in a future post, it is important to understand that this goal-setting is the job of the staff and its Operational Plan, not the Board and its Strategy Agenda.

With the goals in hand, the next step is to identify a number of PROGRAM OBJECTIVES. These are the controllable things that will be accomplished in order to bring about the goal they are aligned with. Controllable is a key concept in identifying these objectives. In our system, each program objective is assigned to an individual member of our staff (a role we call the "staff leader"), and they are held accountable for accomplishing them. Making sure they are things actually under that staff person's ability to control is absolutely essential. The goals associated with the success indicators can, and probably should, be stretch goals, but the tactical things staff will do to achieve those goals--their program objectives--should ideally be within the capabilities of the staff people and the resources of the association.

And finally, for each program objective, an ACTION PLAN is determined, a detailed list of steps that will be taken over the time period of the Operational Plan to achieve the program objective. Progress against the action plan is monitored and measured on an on-going basis, and although procedures are put in place to revise or adjust the action plan based on on-the-ground realities, it is essential for the staff leader and the organization as a whole to have an understanding of how each program objective will be achieved and how the timing of each corresponds with other activities within the association.

So in summary, our Operational Plan is comprised of four nested concepts, our:

1. SUCCESS INDICATORS, the directional metrics of success determined by our Board, from which we identify our
2. GOALS, the degree or distance each success indicator will be advanced in a given plan cycle, from which we determine our
3. PROGRAM OBJECTIVES, the controllable things staff will achieve in our attempt to accomplish the goals, for each of which we set our
4. ACTION PLANS, the tactical steps we'll take throughout the plan cycle to achieve each program objective.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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