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Unlocking the Power of Strategic Planning, and Plans, for Public Managers (Part 2) – Maintaining Discipline

This is the second in a series of posts about the multi-faceted ways a strategic planning process and the resulting plan can support managers and leaders.

Strategic planning is crucial in maintaining focus and achieving goals individually and organizationally. A good strategic planning process looks like this: First, we establish goals to make our mission and vision more tangible. Next, we articulate strategies to help individuals understand how they might accomplish those goals. Ultimately, we draw up objectives as measurable means by which our organization will achieve a stated strategy.

In today’s fast-paced world, organizations need to be agile and adaptable to change while at the same time maintaining focus on long-term goals. Strategic plans provide the roadmap organizations need to navigate these challenges and stay on course.

In the previous post, we examined how to use strategic plans to connect individual contributors to your agency’s mission. Today, we will discuss how to deploy strategic plans to maintain organizational focus and how you should reach for them when it’s time to push back on emergent priorities, enhance talent development, and increase employee accountability.

Pushing Back on Emergent Priorities

One of the most significant challenges that public managers and leaders face is the emergent priorities of elected officials. Elected officials need to be responsive to their constituents and advocate on their behalf. Staff should fulfill simple requests or proposals when appropriate and not distracting. However, staff are responsible for pushing back when emergent but not urgent ideas threaten to take the organization off course.

A well-designed strategic plan serves as a roadmap for organizational activity; annual work plans represent our focus on the horizon. So, staff and elected officials should consult the roadmap before modifying work plans to understand how shifting focus today may alter our route or estimated arrival date now and into the future.

Enhancing Talent Development

While of-the-moment distractions are a perennial problem, attracting and retaining talent is the primary challenge facing public managers today. Maintaining a discipline of workforce planning is essential in this regard. Think of it as the inset magnification of an urban core on your roadmap — but the focus inside the box is on staffing instead of interstate interchanges.

If you don’t have a workforce plan, or if yours isn’t as robust as you’d like, look to your strategic plan. It can provide insights into what positions you should be posting and filling to accomplish objectives, strategies, and goals, and it can highlight the new skills to which you can and should expose current employees. Proper staffing and the right skillsets will help create shortcuts previously unavailable on your roadmap.

Increasing Employee Engagement and Accountability

Finally, consider employee engagement and accountability as the engine that powers our journey. We help our engine find the right gear by using the strategies, objectives, and tactical steps our strategic plan assigns to teams to help give context and motivate employees and hold them accountable.

Engines also need fuel, and employees find that by way of motivation. United Way uses a now-ubiquitous thermometer; Peloton uses a progress meter at the top of a touch screen. Turn the words on the pages of your strategic plan into tangible trackers on a wall or electronic dashboard, and you’ll help motivate your team. 

And, of course, every engine needs to rest at a well-timed pitstop. As you reach key milestones, rewarding your team with small celebrations will help keep them focused and even encourage them to hold each other accountable.

Returning to Latent Power

That was a lot. And, to be sure, strategic plans won’t magically solve all of your challenges. But they’re a tool almost every government has at their fingertips but rarely reaches for.

This series of posts is intended to remind you: Strategic plans are an exercise in latent power. A roadmap, after all, is just a piece of paper until you use it to complete a journey. So, pull your strategic plan off the shelf. Use it to get from where you are to avoid detours (errant distractions to your plan), take strategic shortcuts (enhance staffing through thoughtful workforce planning and employee development), power your engine (increase employee engagement and accountability), and reach your final destination.

Micah Intermill is Founder + Principal at GovStrategist LLC, a consulting firm providing strategic management, public finance, and executive coaching services to local governments and state agencies. With nearly two decades of experience in and around the public sector, Micah was previously Director of Solutions Engineering at OpenGov, Budget Director for the City of Minneapolis, and Chief Financial Officer for the State of Minnesota’s Department of Administration. Micah holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Nebraska.

Image by Wolfram K via Pexels.com

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