When it comes to tracking and realizing your goals efficiently, a well-designed action plan will help to do that. Be it a career, business, or personal goal, you can implement an action plan to create a clear path to success. The degree of detail required in action planning can vary depending on the number of resources you have at your disposal and the complexity of the project or goal in question.
In this article, we will discuss action plans, what action planning is, why it’s essential, and how to create an effective action plan to help you achieve your goals efficiently and successfully. As a bonus, an action planning template is at the end of this article to help you attain your goals with greater precision and efficiency.
What is an action plan?
An action plan is basically a document that lays out the tasks that need to be accomplished to attain your goal. Action planning breaks down the process into actionable assignments based on a feasible timeline. A good action plan will clearly outline the necessary steps needed to achieve your goal(s) and help you attain your set target efficiently by assigning a timeframe—a beginning and end date—to every step in the process. The action planning process may go differently depending on your needs, and you can follow the action planning template at the end of this article to help you attain your goals efficiently.
Why is action planning important?
An action plan is applicable in various scenarios, ranging from individual to organizational scales, from employees who desire to enhance their work performance to project managers designating tasks to team members. Action planning can help you identify a clear path to move toward your goal and confidently align associated tasks in the proper order to help you achieve your goal most efficiently.
In the case of an organizational setup, when a project is relatively small and short-term, for example, designing, printing, and distributing a leaflet, you may not find it reasonable to develop an action plan, as that’d prove unnecessary and unbeneficial. This is particularly true when few people are involved, and what has to be done and the steps to achieve the action are clear. Repetitive tasks, that is, tasks that are done repeatedly, do not require action planning. For medium-sized projects, such as organizing a conference, action planning can be very beneficial. An action plan is essential for larger-scale projects or programs, such as opening a new branch for your company.
The number of advantages of action planning is numerous, and here are a few specific benefits.
An action plan gives the opportunity for reflection
Before engaging in a task or activity, it is helpful to think about what has happened before, what actions were taken that brought about success or partial success, and what actions have not helped. Such reflection is essential for making successful decisions on what course of action to take, and action planning allows such reflective questions to be asked and answered.
It brings people together
Action planning can bring together experts in a particular field, people who are knowledgeable in the area of work concerned, individuals who are experiencing a similar problem and will stand to benefit from the change (beneficiaries), and individuals who can contribute to the project (resources). In many cases, an individual may fit into more than one of these roles.
It clarifies the objective
We often assume that if a group of people comes together to create an action plan, they will, of course, have the same objective, but that is not always the case. A business starter conference, for example, may host people who are interested in starting a consultancy business, an online business venture, or merely just expanding the customer base for an already existing business. The emphasis of a particular project changes depending on the objective, and action planning clarifies precisely what change is required by clarifying the objectives.
It builds consensus
As we’ve earlier seen with a consensus in the objectives, consensus on priorities can also be achieved through action planning. Everyone involved in an action plan can contribute their ideas and gradually steer towards the most critical actions through discussion, negotiation, and compromise.
It creates ownership and accountability.
When people create an action plan, they are more likely to contribute realistic suggestions that are often connected to things they have some degree of influence over. The involvement process of action planning instills in participants a sense of individual and collective ownership for the action plan. This sort of ownership feeling allows for tasks to be allocated to different people, creating accountability. Individuals assigned tasks know they are responsible for them and need to report progress on those tasks at agreed time intervals.
It clarifies timescales
The process of creating action planning involves setting out all the tasks that need to be done to achieve a set objective and making decisions about how much resource is available for each specified task. Such assessments allow for a realistic estimate of how long the overall action plan will take. Every action should have an exact completion date in an action plan, which helps clarify the timescales for projects.
They identify measures of success.
Measurement standards for success are like steppingstones towards a larger objective. Such measuring standards provide a way of assessing progress towards that goal. For example, suppose an objective is to expand the customer base for a business owner. In that case, there may be many steps towards that goal, including creating more awareness of the product through tv ads, social media ads, requesting referrals from customers, etc. Each of these steps can be measured to ensure they contribute towards realizing the aims and larger objective of the business. Action plans help identify such measures of success and highlight them for a more straightforward assessment of progress.
Who Needs an Action Plan?
Action plans are an excellent tool for attaining objectives and can apply in various situations, being employed by different parties in an organization. Business owners and managers can create action plans for their teams to expressly lay out tangible steps necessary to achieve long-term or short-term goals. Even individuals can make use of action planning for themselves to achieve their individual goals. In short, in any situation where there is a goal or strategy, but there isn’t a laid down road map for its accomplishment, creating an action plan will be helpful.
When to Create an Action Plan?
Having explored what action planning is and why it is essential to develop an action plan, we must answer the agelong question many people ask: what is the best time to create an action plan for the business owner?
Generally, the ideal time for creating an action plan will be at the start of the business when it’s at its baby stage. That could be between 0-6 months after starting the business to make the most out of action planning. This is because you need to ascertain your objectives, mission, vision, and the strategies you want to employ for the company before you begin developing an action plan.
So, action planning will be most useful when you do it when you have enough information to be sure it works. By doing so, you’ll be able to achieve a proper blueprint, which is key to the success of your business.
On the flip side, there is one thing you always need to remember about action planning: an action plan is always just a work in progress, and you can and should always be able to make some changes in the action plan when the need arises. As the times change, there may be some company objectives and policies which may follow suit. Such changes may warrant some alterations to your action plans, and it is essential you keep your action plans flexible to be able to effect such changes when the need arises. If you keep this in mind when taking on the action planning process, you’ll be sure to create a great action plan that’ll near guarantee success for you.
The Criteria for Good Action Planning
When it comes to action planning, you should cross-reference your action plan against several criteria to ensure it meets up. Essentially, you should ask, is the action plan:
Complete? Does it detail all the action steps or changes to be sought in all relevant parts of the business (e.g., sales wing, marketing, accounting, etc.)?
Clear? Is it clearly apparent who will do what by when?
Current? Does the action plan sit well within the current work? Does it anticipate newly emerging opportunities and hindrances?
How to Write an Action Plan in 5 Steps
The action planning process can seem challenging, but it’s worth the work up front to keep you and your business focused on achieving set goals. An action plan uses a simple framework to help give you clarity. While action plans may differ in tasks and timelines, they often generally conform to the same structure and usually include similar types of information.
Here’s a five-step plan you can follow to help you create an action plan.
- Set SMART goals.
- Create a list of actions.
- Set a timeline.
- Designate resources.
- Monitor the progress.
Set SMART goals
Before you write your action plan, be sure to ensure your goal conforms to the SMART model. Your goals should be:
Specific: For an effective action plan, your goal should be clearly defined with little to no ambiguity. For example, if you aim at increasing sales of your product, then, instead of saying you want to increase sales, you could instead set a particular target you desire to attain, such as increasing sales by 20%. That makes the goal very specific and clear in understanding.
Measurable: Measurability of your goal is the quality that seeks to quantify the degree of success of achievement of that goal. Make sure your goal can be measured. For example, if your goal is to generate more sales for your business, try to create weekly or monthly sales reports to track the number of product sales achieved to measure your progress.
Attainable: For action planning, the set goal should be within reach of realization. While it is good to set high goals to challenge yourself, you must ensure they are attainable, as they’ll help you achieve your desired progress.
Relevant: One crucial quality of your action plan goal is relevant to your abilities, needs, and interests. For example, if you aim to increase advertising revenue by 25%, setting a goal to expand to a new business site or opening new work offices for the business may not be relevant to your goal. You must ensure actionable steps bring you closer towards directly achieving your intended goals.
Time-based: For action plans, your goals should have a specific deadline for their attainments, such as increasing your income by 20% over the next six months or one year.
Create a list of actions
Having established a SMART goal for your action plan, the next step in the action planning process is to create a list of tasks you need to complete to reach your goal. This will entail dividing your main goal into smaller attainable objectives. In doing so, you can make the final goal seem less overwhelming and move closer to it in an organized and stepwise manner. Be sure to make actions attainable and related to your goal. If a particular sub-task is too vague or intimidating, you can further divide it into two or three smaller action items that will be more doable.
Let’s take an example. Suppose you want to expand the customer base of your business. You may have to perform several tasks to achieve your goals, such as creating ads for social media users concerning your business, creating tv ads for your business, developing promotions, giveaways, and sales events for your products. The task of creating social media ads may be broken down into smaller and yet actionable steps, like, creating a list of popular social media platforms, choosing suitable plans based on the company’s preferences, assessing the ad plans available for the platforms, and then creating ads for the platform.
When you clearly describe each task in your action plan, you pave the way towards realizing your ultimate goals.
Set a timeline for your action plan
Aside from the timeline you set for your primary goals, it will help to establish a timeframe for accomplishing each task in the process. You must create a timeline you can reasonably follow to ensure that you maintain consistent progress towards your goal. Be sure to assess the requirements and consider the amount of time you’ll need to complete each item on your list and appropriate the timeframes accordingly.
For example, suppose you want to increase traffic to your business website by 75% in one year’s time through social media and search engine optimization. In that case, you’ll need a timeframe for achieving your desired results for each of the tasks, such as steadily increasing your social media following by 30% in three months and optimizing the first page for a web search of specific keywords in six months.
Designate resources to implement your action plan
If you are dealing with a large-scale project, you’re most likely dealing with several assigned tasks. To ensure the success of your action plan, you should assess the skills and abilities of your team to determine who will be best suited and qualified to perform each task. Then, designate who WILL be in charge of the objective and the resources needed to complete the task, resources like money, equipment, and personnel.
For example, suppose you’re managing a marketing campaign for a company. In that case, you will need to find out which staff members are most vital in planning, content production, social media marketing, and SEO. It is also vital you have the applications and tools for content production, graphic design, and marketing analytics.
Monitor the progress of your action plan
In this last step of action planning, you should describe how you will ensure each task in your action plan is completed on time. To achieve this, you could use tools such as using internal reporting or holding regular meetings. By doing so, you will be regularly apprised of the progress you are making towards your goal. Be sure to specify the measures explicitly you will be used to monitor the plan’s progress. This could include milestones like the number of tasks completed and quantitative measures like sales or market share.
For example, let’s suppose you want your customer service department to be able to process 1,000 inquiries per day by the end of the year, and you need at least ten customer representatives to achieve your goal. You can easily deduce how close you are to your final goal by simply taking stock of how many inquiries you can handle and how many customer service representatives you have by the half-year mark.
With these steps, you can be sure to realize a full-proof action plan that’ll yield the results you intend.
Action Planning Template
A quick way around developing an action plan is by using action planning templates to create your action plan. Here is an effective template you can use for a wide range of goal-setting situations:
- Actions (Necessary steps you plan to take to achieve your goals)
- Persons in charge (staff members to handle each step)
- Timeline (deadline for each step)
- Resources (assets to be allocated for each step)
- Potential barriers (factors with the potential to hinder the realization of each step)
- Outcomes (desired result for each step)
Tracking and Evaluation Process:
Action plan example
Here is an example of an action plan for an apparel retailer:
Problem: Slow profit increments due to poor customer service.
Goal: Increase profits by 50% within two years.
Our Two-Year Goal (Tip: Here are SMART goals outlined)
We expect our apparel retail business to increase profitability by 40% as we implement this action plan to improve customer service and increase staffing over the next two years.
Current business state: Yearly profit of $100,000, three employees and a lot of customer complaints
Our business in six months: All employees will be trained in customer service, and profit will expectedly increase by 10%
Our business in 12 months: Annual profit of $150,000, six employees, no job vacancies, and robust customer service
Our business in two years: In league with the top 20% of apparel retailers in the state.
Action Plan to Achieve Our Goal
Task 1 – Training
Action: All employees will take on customer service training.
Completion date: _____________
Person responsible: Sales manager
Task 2. Recruitment
Action: Identify skill sets needed from new employees and correspond with the recruitment agency to hire the needed talent.
Completion date: September 20_____
Person responsible: Sales manager
Task 3. Improve customer service
Action: Update our website and keep it current.
Completion date: Starts in November 20___ and remains ongoing
Person responsible: IT manager
Task 4. Generate more sales
Action: Meet with the top 25% of customers and develop strategies to generate more sales.
Completion date: January 20___
Person responsible: Customer sales manager
Action: Develop products and services brochure.
Completion date: May 20____
Person responsible: Marketing manager
Task 5. Increase cash flow and reduce costs
Action: Introduce a more convenient customer payment plan.
Completion date: January 20___
Person responsible: Finance manager
Task 6. Expand customer base
Action: Look for local and regional selling events and participate in relevant events.
Completion date: June 20___
Person responsible: Sales manager
Action: Review our competitors’ offers and capitalize on shortcomings in their offers.
Completion date: October 20___
Person responsible: Sales manager
Evidence of success: Annual profit of $225,000
Tracking and evaluation process:
- Assessing profitability,
- Staff size
- Number of customer complaints.
Ten Characteristics of a Good Action Plan
Even though there isn’t one particular framework of how a good action plan should look, which can vary based on the scale and complexity of the goals in view, here are some general characteristics of good action planning.
- The action plan reveals a single, clearly defined objective.
- The action plan timescales are realistic.
- The action plan is informed by the past but focuses on the future.
- The plan considers external factors and constraints.
- The plan is sufficiently detailed for its purpose.
- The plan doesn’t include any unnecessary tasks in the achievement of the objective.
- The tasks in the plan all contribute to the same objective.
- Responsibility for who does what action is unambiguous.
- The measures in the plan are clearly aligned to success.
- The plan is revisited and updated at necessary intervals.
So there you have it. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to developing a great action plan.