School Leader Summer To Do’s: Moving From Strategy to Execution

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. —Mike Tyson

It’s July. You are enjoying some well-deserved vacation after another intense year as leader of your school. The past year has wrapped up, and along with it, your latest round of long-term strategic planning. You feel good. In fact, you feel great. The cares of running the organization day-to-day melt away as you remember your inspirational ten-year impact goals, performance metrics, and high-level strategic priorities. You drift off into a visionary daydream…

…until suddenly…

It’s August.

Kids will be back on campus in less than a month. Teacher professional development starts next week. You start to get that gnawing feeling and ask yourself: “What about that strategic plan? Isn’t there something I’m supposed to be doing right now?” You pull the final plan deck off your shelf and realize that your strategic plan has no instruction manual, and you don’t know where to begin.

This blog post is for you.

As the leader of your organization, you’re the one ultimately accountable for delivering on the strategy. Delivering on a strategy is not easy work; as you move forward, it’s important to keep your mission front and center. Remember the kids, families, communities, and teachers who will benefit from you diligently executing on the plans you laid out. But this doesn’t mean you can or should be responsible for the bulk of the work of the strategic plan. Your personal responsibility falls into three buckets:

(1) Make sure the organization is actually executing the plan you laid out.

Two tips on this one: First, break your high-level goals into an actionable implementation plan so that all team members understand how the work they’re doing contributes to the overall mission and vision. Second, assign someone else as the project manager for that plan (and hold them accountable for driving that work forward). You must focus on leading rather than getting lost in the day-to-day of effective project management, but your organization would be wise to put project and portfolio management best practices into place to move the work forward. This can include everything from clearly defining roles and responsibilities for executing the work, to ensuring regular step-backs (see below), to establishing a mechanism for anticipating and mitigating significant risks that might threaten success.

(2) Identify how and when you will step back to evaluate progress and gauge whether your strategy is actually having an impact.

As with project management, it is wise to ask someone else to hold you accountable for plan outcomes. A board often plays this role, but it could also be an outside advisor or coach. Coupled with this, schedule strategy review sessions for you and your leadership team to step back and evaluate progress/impact. Depending on your pace of change, you may want to hold these every six months or so.  

(3) Decide when to change course.

Decide up front how and when you will adjust course. Metrics can be useful here, but ultimately there will be some amount of judgment and deliberation. If something doesn’t seem to be working, don’t continue to push relentlessly forward, potentially wasting precious time and money. In the spirit of Vanilla Ice, stop, collaborate, and…figure out what the problem is. Instead of proceeding down the path you set years ago, keep your head up and make sure there is a clear stage-gate or “greenlighting” process in place for major investments and new pieces of work. You want to move fast, but moving too fast is a recipe for failure. Finally, when you do change course, do so with conviction — and make sure to communicate the “why” to your team and other important stakeholders.

Need some support drafting or implementing your strategic plan? Contact our Strategic Advising team at: