Career Development

How to Write an Action Plan to Help You Achieve Your Goals

October 7, 2019

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A well-designed action plan can make it easier for you to track and realize your goals. Whether you have a career, business or personal goal, you can use this document to create a clear path to success. The level of detail in your action plan can vary based on the resources you have and the complexity of your goal. In this article, we discuss how to make an action plan that can help you reach your goals efficiently and successfully.

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What is an action plan?

An action plan is a document that lays out the tasks you need to complete in order to accomplish your goal. It divides the process of reaching the goal into actionable tasks based on a timeline. It is useful to a wide range of individuals or organizations with goals to achieve, from employees who want to improve their work performance to project managers assigning tasks to team members.

An action plan outlines all the necessary steps to achieve your goal and helps you reach your target efficiently by assigning a timeframe to every step in the process. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can use this document to set single or multiple goals.

In addition, an action plan can make it easier for you to monitor progress, allowing you to keep your projects on schedule and within budget. You can also use it as a reference tool to find out who should be held accountable for each task, to avoid delays or to prevent other errors.

Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

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How to write an action plan

Setting a goal is relatively easy, but creating a plan to achieve that goal can be challenging. While action plans may differ in terms of tasks and timelines, they generally conform to the same structure and include the same types of information. Create an action plan to help you achieve your goal by following these steps:

  1. Set SMART goals
  2. Create a list of actions
  3. Set a timeline
  4. Designate resources
  5. Monitor the progress

1. Set SMART goals

Before you start writing your action plan, consider using the SMART outline to set the right goal. Your goal should be:

  • Specific: Your goal should be clearly defined. For instance, instead of saying that you want to increase sales, you could set a certain threshold you want to reach, such as increasing sales by 20%.

  • Measurable: Make sure your goal can be measured. For instance, if your goal is to generate more sales, try to create weekly or monthly sales reports to track your progress.

  • Attainable: Although it is good to set high goals to challenge yourself, making sure they’re attainable will help you achieve your desired progress.

  • Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to your abilities, needs and interests. For instance, if you want to increase advertising revenue by 25%, setting a goal to initiate a new workplace safety program may not be relevant.

  • Time-based: You should set a specific deadline for reaching your goal, such as increasing your income by 10% within the next 12 months.

Read more: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

2. Create a list of actions

Next, create a list of tasks you need to complete in order to reach your goal. This process entails dividing your main goal into smaller objectives. By doing so, you can make the final goal seem less overwhelming and move closer to it in an organized, step-by-step manner. Make sure the actions are attainable and related to your goal. If you are not confident that you can complete a certain task, you can further divide it into two or three smaller tasks.

For example, if you want to get a promotion, you may have to perform a number of tasks to achieve your goal, such as reaching a performance benchmark or learning a new skill. Clearly describe each task to create a plan that will lead you to your ultimate goal.

Related: Understanding the Project Management Processes and Phases

3. Set a timeline

Besides setting a deadline for your main goal, you should also establish a timeframe for completing each task in the process. It is essential to create a timeline you can reasonably follow so you will maintain consistent progress toward your goal. Assess the requirements and consider the amount of time you need to complete the task.

For example, you want to increase traffic to your website by 100% in one year’s time through social media and search engine optimization. Set a timeframe for achieving your desired results for each of the tasks, such as increasing your social media following by 30% in four months and making the first page of web search results for certain keywords in six months.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition and Examples

4. Designate resources

If you are managing a large project, you will likely be assigning tasks to a number of people. Assess the skills and abilities of your staff members to determine which of them are most qualified to perform each task. Then, write down who will be in charge of each task and the resources needed to complete the task, such as money, equipment and personnel.

For example, if you’re managing a marketing campaign, you will need to find out which of your staff members are strongest in planning, content production, social media marketing and SEO. You should also have the applications and tools for content production, graphic design and marketing analytics.

Related: What Are the Responsibilities of a Manager?

5. Monitor the progress

Finally, describe how you will ensure you complete each task in your action plan on time, such as using internal reporting or holding regular meetings. By doing so, you will have a clearer idea of the progress you are making toward your goal. Specify the measures you will be using to monitor the plan’s progress, which can be milestones like the number of tasks completed, or quantitative measures such as sales or market share.

For example, you want your customer service department to be able to handle 1,000 inquiries a day by the end of the year. However, you need to have at least 10 customer representatives in order to achieve your goal. You can know how close you are to your final goal by looking at how many inquiries you can handle and how many customer service representatives you have at the half-year mark.

Related: Using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Achieve Goals

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Action plan template

If you want to save time, you can use a template to create your action plan. Here is a template for a wide range of goal-setting situations:

Problem:

Goal:

Action Plan:

  • Actions (steps you plan to take to achieve your goals)
  • Persons in charge (staff members who will be handling each step)
  • Timeline (deadline for each step)
  • Resources (assets you need to allocate for each step)
  • Potential barriers (factors that can potentially hinder the completion of each step)
  • Outcomes (desired result for each step)

Evidence of Success:

Tracking and Evaluation Process:

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Action plan example

The following is an example of an action plan for an apparel retailer:

Problem: Slow profit growth as a result of insufficient customer service.

Goal: Increase profits by 50% within three years.

Our Three-Year Goal

We expect our apparel retail business to increase our profitability by 40% as we follow this plan to improve customer service and increase staffing over the next three years.

  • Current state of our business: Yearly profit of $150,000, four employees and many customer complaints

  • Our business in six months’ time: Every employee will be trained in customer service and profit will increase by 10%

  • Our business in 12 months’ time: Annual profit of $180,000, six employees, no job vacancies and strong customer service culture

  • Our business in three years’ time: In the top 20% of apparel retailers with the largest market share in Palo Alto, California

How to Achieve Our Goal

1. Training

  • Action: All employees will undergo customer service training.
  • Completion date: September 2019
  • Person responsible: Sales manager

2. Recruitment

  • Action: Identify skill sets needed from new employees and work with recruitment agency to hire the right talent.
  • Completion date: November 2019
  • Person responsible: Sales manager

3. Improve customer service

  • Action: Update our website and keep it current.
  • Completion date: Starts in December 2019 and remains ongoing
  • Person responsible: IT manager

4. Generate more sales

Plan A

  • Action: Meet with the top 20% of customers and devise strategies to generate more sales per customer.
  • Completion date: January 2020
  • Person responsible: Customer sales manager

Plan B

  • Action: Create products and services brochure.
  • Completion date: May 2019
  • Person responsible: Marketing manager

5. Increase cash flow and reduce costs

  • Action: Introduce a more convenient payment plan for customers.
  • Completion date: January 2020
  • Person responsible: Finance manager

6. Expand customer base

Plan A

  • Action: Look for regional selling events and participate in relevant ones.
  • Completion date: June 2019
  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Plan B

  • Action: Review our competitors’ offers and target shortcomings in their offers.
  • Completion date: October 2019
  • Person responsible: Sales manager

Evidence of success: Annual profit of $225,000

Tracking and evaluation process: Assessing profitability, staff size and number of customer complaints.

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