We just completed the first step of our City strategic planning process for the next three years. Regardless of your status in the pecking order, if your organization has a strategic plan, someone is likely to ask you how you connect to it. This is a valid question.
If your assignment obviously aligns with your strategic plan (e.g., civil engineer responsible for safe roads funded by a department of transportation), your answer is easy. If you are a generalist, are in a support position or work interchangeably with project teams, you will need to search and stretch to make the connection.
I like this kind of big picture work, but some don’t. My advice is, use strategic planning sessions to your advantage, and plan on putting in some seat time.
And getting a seat is the first step. I feel sure that whoever said “It’s better to be at the table than on the menu” spoke from some unpleasant experience. Sometimes strategic planning starts with the higher-ups and does not enfold people at other levels until most of the critical decisions are made. I applaud our City for pretty much doubling the number of people involved during early meetings. If you can’t get a seat early, assume there still is space and go for it when the timing is right.
Some ways to get the most of a strategic planning meeting:
Come prepared. Get grounded with previous plans, reports, data and anecdotal information. If you have a special focus, be sure you have both current and contextual insights that reveal the value of your knowledge.
Once at the table, listen to and observe your colleagues. Get comfortable with concepts and discussion patterns, and dare to think deeply and broadly. Observe any ground rules that guide these sessions.
Contribute according to your strengths. Ask questions to clarify what you don’t quite understand, and raise points that others may not have considered. This is a good time to stay civil and respectful, especially when there are disagreements.
Stay involved for the long haul. This is all about discovery, relationships and continuity, and your personal commitment is important as you move from planning to doing. It’s a great opportunity to advance your skills, be mentored, find your tribe and…ultimately…your connection.
Toni Messina is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
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