Performance management and review techniques are also an important aspect of an effective strategic management approach. Performance reviews should be conducted regularly, allowing for immediate feedback on how an employee’s work has contributed positively and where it needs improvement. In addition, broader strategic planning reviews should be held several times a year—not bunched up into an annual retreat—so that an organization can stay on top of its planning and modify or update as necessary.
In addition to staff involvement, a strategic plan cannot succeed without the support of those outside of the organization. Involving stakeholders of all types—from elected officials to citizens—is often neglected yet crucial for keeping the plan on course. This process was essential to Durham County when they decided to involve all stakeholders in the development of the strategic plan. Meeting for a “day of visioning,” Auld and the rest of staff asked all involved to project what Durham County Library could become. They made group visits to other area libraries for ideas and support, and identified 25 stakeholder groups and 150 individual stakeholders whose support was essential to carrying out the strategic plan. This perspective allowed Durham to specifically target these individuals and groups for support and have them involved from the start.
With the help of HR consulting firm The Singer Group, Durham County then held a future search conference to develop goals for their vision. They laid out a time period of four years to accomplish their major objectives and rolled out a wiki, a collaborative website, to keep everyone informed on the plan’s steps and progress.
Throughout this time, Auld emphasized that management took a “two-pronged approach to valuing both staff and the public.” With a systemic, focused outreach for the community and attention to staff, Durham County was able to drive their program to success.
But Can We Afford This?
Budget cuts can certainly create barriers to effective strategic planning. Too often fiscal pains at the state and federal level trickle down to local government. State governments such as those in California have borrowed money from local governments, putting a further strain on the implementation of a strategic plan. Adler found Montgomery County’s strategic HR plan stymied by both personnel and financial downsizing. “Reality has intruded on the process,” Adler remarked in a recent interview.
Funding issues can even be seen in the governments of Mali and Cameroon, two West African nations undergoing a process of decentralization, essentially putting more power in the hands of regional governments. Several African relief organizations provided training and resources to implement strategic planning for their local and regional governments. While the Swiss Association for International Cooperation reported that municipalities were enthusiastic about the collaborative features of strategic planning, they cited the time, cost, and expense of involving many stakeholders in the development of their plans as a major concern.
However, according to allBusiness contributor Michael DeAngelis, these issues can be mitigated by management driving the strategic planning through the budgetary process in order to ensure that the operations are sufficiently funded enough to meet strategic goals. By closely connecting these often-separate areas of a municipality, strategic goals can be realized. Coupled with an external relations effort to stakeholders in order to engage them in this important process and the support of elected officials and citizens can ease the process of securing funding for a strategic plan.
When layoffs of approximately 1,000 workers and other important priorities hit Montgomery County during the recent fiscal crisis, it seemed that Montgomery County’s strategic plan was in jeopardy. Adler indicated that Montgomery County’s HR department prevented straying off course by developing a broad, flexible strategic plan that could account for decreased staff and a change in priorities. Adler suggested their method would ease reimplementation by decreasing the amount of initial visioning and planning required.
Similarly, Colorado Springs ran into difficulties implementing many points of its strategic plan after the 2009 financial crisis. Their solution: focus on strategic goals that solved these issues. By reprioritizing to a focus on fiscal sustainability, the organization has put itself into a better position to develop a more comprehensive strategic plan during the next fiscal year, according to Hoffman.
Thinking Beyond the Plan
Effective succession planning and management is another way to ensure that more pressing priorities do not affect the implementation of a strategic plan. To prevent a major “brain drain,” a local government can make sure that knowledge transfer and capable successors are available, trained and developed appropriately to take important roles. Adler stated that Montgomery County planned for these issues by having HR plan for emergency succession planning—key leaders leaving at an inopportune time—deciding ahead of time which staff could best fill that role. A competitive interview and training process for staff also serves to fast-track ambitious employees while adequately preparing them for management roles should they be needed.
Perhaps the most critical concept to keep in mind about strategic planning is that one size does not fit all. Each local government has different needs that must be addressed in order to make their own visions reality. However, the adoption of staff and stakeholder involvement, communications and external relations, goal tracking and performance management and succession planning may make strategic planning more successful—and widespread—in the future.