Building Capacity for Strategic Plan Implementation

Strategic planning has become commonplace and is generally accepted as necessary for an organization to be successful. The goals set during this process may be appropriate given the external environment, the needs of the community, and the needs of the organizations. But does the organization have the capacity to implement the strategic plan? This question is particularly relevant to small nonprofits and government agencies that have limited financial and human resources.

What does “capacity” mean in this context? The most basic definition of capacity is the ability to perform an activity. We can think about capacity at many levels from the individual to the organizational to the community and beyond. To some extent, these levels are nested. The capacity of a community is dependent in part on the capacities of the organizations within it, and the capacity of an organization is dependent in part on the capacities of the individuals within it. Therefore the relevant capacities for strategic planning are both individual and organizational.

When we think about organizational capacity, we tend to think about capacity in aggregate terms— financial capacity or number of employees. While these are important numbers, many elements of strategic plans require specific capacities at the level of the individual, such as the ability to craft a social media campaign or analyze data for community needs assessment. Specific capacities at the organizational level include having the databases necessary to collect and store the types of data needed to track progress and identify needs. Whether or not an organization has these capacities is not reflected in aggregate numbers.

In my work with organizations, I have found that those that incorporate a knowledge audit into their strategic planning process are better able to identify the capacities needed to accomplish their mission-oriented goals. Furthermore, they are able to incorporate any necessary capacity building into their strategic plans.

So what is a knowledge audit? A knowledge audit is a comparison of the types of knowledge that an organization needs in order to accomplish its mission-oriented goals to an inventory of the types of knowledge that an organization actually possesses. Knowledge is a broad term in itself, but a knowledge audit extends beyond existing knowledge and includes the ability to create, store, and disseminate knowledge and the data and information needed to create that knowledge.

Knowledge is generally divided into two types—explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge can be easily transferred, stored, and replicated because it can be written down or captured by audio or visual means. Types of explicit knowledge are documents (including policy and procedure manuals, books, policy briefs) and skills and methods (such as the ability to calculate statistics or develop a social media campaign). Skills and methods are considered explicit knowledge because they can be taught or learned in a classroom setting or from a book or manual.

Tacit knowledge on the other hand is the knowing by doing. Think about riding a bike. How did you learn to do that? Did you read a book or manual or take a class? Could you write a book or manual that someone could read to learn how to ride a bike? Probably not. The best way to learn to ride a bike is to get on and try, and fail, and try some more until you get it right. Cooking is similar. You can read a recipe book (a form of explicit knowledge), but that’s no guarantee that you will be able to cook. If you can cook, you either learned by the trial and error mode, or you might have learned from a family member with whom you cooked side-by-side.

I mentioned earlier that a knowledge audit assesses not only knowledge but the data and information needed to create knowledge and an organization’s ability to store and disseminate it. It is important for organizations to have a good understanding of the types of data that they collect, how to convert that data into information, and to have the appropriate information technology to assist with these processes.

Through the process of conducting a knowledge audit, many of the organizations with which I have worked on strategic plans have identified a number of knowledge deficiencies that may not have been addressed in the strategic plan without the audit. These deficiencies then get worked into the strategic plan as strategic goals (as opposed to the mission-oriented goals mentioned above). Common strategies involve improvements to information technology, the development of social media expertise, and the need to develop or contact out for data analysis skills.

This process provides a bridge between strategic planning and performance management. Ultimately, an organization needs to be able to do more than plan for performance, it needs to manage all aspects of performance from budgeting, to performance measurement, to personnel evaluations, in such a way that they are directed toward the organization’s strategic vision.

For more information on incorporating a knowledge audit into your strategic plan, you may contact Pamela Mischen at pmischen@binghamton.edu

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