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Your Plan Needs a PILOT

By David J. Fry, MPS, CDT - President/CEO

Effective Advancement Strategies

It's the time of year when we start new, talk of resolutions and new beginnings. If we're lucky enough, we have a plan in place for the next steps and have "thought strategically." The stark reality is that it’s not enough. In fact, too many plans have been just that, and little more. What's that all about?

As a consultant and former executive in businesses, I've been fortunate to have insight into countless organizations, both profit and nonprofit. I saw many of them go through planning motions and they even spoke of valuing a strategic planning process. Community's developed comprehensive plans and community visions. Businesses had strategic plans, business plans and operation plans. Nonprofits created donor development plans, marketing plans and sometimes the strategic plan. Despite the extensive planning efforts, it was surprising how few used the plans for serious guidance or saw them drive real action. What was the common barrier to effective change? They needed a PILOT.

So, imagine your sparkling new plan is instead, a plane, filled with passengers and crew. Where will it go without a pilot? It's likely to sit where you left it and gather proverbial dust. When the passengers realize they're not headed anywhere they'll get off the planning plane, find another, or simply stay where they are doing the same things they’ve always done. The PILOT acronym provides keys to getting your plan off the ground successfully so that it can get you where you want to go. It's also an allusion to the fact that someone must oversee making the plan lift off the runway.

P = Presentation- The key to implementing a successful plan begins with its presentation. If it starts out on the proverbial shelf, it's likely to stay there. You want to be certain that you have a memorable presentation of the plan, pull out all the stops, make it fun and engaging, and be certain that every stakeholder understands the direction you're headed and the role they will play. Yes, intense accountability comes with this public and thorough unveiling of your new direction. What else can ensure your future focus more than engaging everyone in holding you accountable?

I = Implementation - if the plan is properly constructed, then the steps for implementation should be clear from the beginning. The key is simply taking the first step. It may be the hardest, but that attention-grabbing presentation will help pave the way and define the first step. Look for those small victories that will enable a pattern of success to evolve. After all, as they say, "success breeds success."

L = Linkage - It can't be overdone. EVERY time you take an incremental step within the larger plan, be sure you reinforce the connection to the plan. "We're engaging customers as defined in our strategic plan." "We're soliciting your input to advance the initiative identified in our strategic plan." "We'd like you add this element to your departmental meetings to communicate the linkage to our strategic plan."

Employees and staff need to understand and embrace their role in implementation of the plan and develop an appreciation of "why" it is important. Align their individual goals with those of the organization, being certain to create the "line of sight" they need. Too many organizations pass the blame to the board or leadership for establishing the direction, rather than define the “why?” A strong planning process avoids that issue by engaging the implementers from the beginning.

O = Oversight - Having no provision for oversight is why many plans sit on the shelf until the next planning cycle. In working with my clients, I like to utilize a "Strategic Advancement Map." It's brief and incorporates status updates at a glance. The document can then be reviewed monthly or quarterly. Whatever you use, develop a means for keeping the plan in front of your team and ensuring that progress is being monitored at a higher level.

T = Track -Tracking success and environmental influences allows for celebration of milestones and changing course if necessary. Flexible plans can accomodate shifts in the economy, competition and even significant changes within your organization.

Finally, by tracking these components it allows for reporting of the same to the organization, its supporters and those responsible for implementation. This reinforces the linkage and creates a cycle of buy-in and transparency, all of which builds trust in the direction you're headed.

In the end, organizations spend valuable time in planning processes and hold them up as if everyone should be impressed at their accomplishment in planning. At the same time, they often don’t properly think through the next phase or what that might look like. Ideally the time to decide who will PILOT the plan and how, is before you even start the process.

David J. Fry, CDT, MPS is President/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and consults with businesses and nonprofits throughout Indiana. He may be contacted at


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