On The Line: Our "Dead" Strategic Plan
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This month we examine ways to make strategic plans "come alive".
I was asked recently to be part of a strategic planning session for our department. Since the department is quite large, it isn't possible to include all staff in the process. I think strategic planning is very important, but in past years, all the work put into it seems to have gone to waste. The strategic planning document seems to get put in the back of the drawer, and I suspect that most staff don't even read their copies. Since we put a lot of time and effort into the process, can you suggest any ways that we might make it worthwhile?
What you describe is probably the norm in organizations that do strategic planning. It is rare that plans of any sort are made to "come alive". To understand why this occurs is to take a step to altering the situation. Strategic planning can be one of the backbones of organizational functioning, serving to: · inform decision-making (eg. what we do, what we don't), · help staff determine both work unit and employee objectives · inform the staff development and personnel functions · form a basis for continuous improvement
One major reason for its failure is that it is often seen as an event, unlinked to anything else. One of the keys is to link it to the many other organizational functions through action, not just talk. If we consider strategic planning as long range planning, work units need to use it as a basis for their own shorter-term operational planning. If the larger department does it's strategic plan once a year, each work unit should be using that plan as the foundation for setting it's own goals and objectives for the upcoming fiscal year.
We use the term cascading to refer to the effects that a meaningful strategic plan can have. The departmental plan informs the divisional or work unit plan, which, in turn affects directly the allocation of resources and objectives for individuals.
The advantage of cascading lies in the use of the unit/individual objective setting process to focus on why the department is there, and to link, through concrete action planning, the departmental plan to the everyday activities of each staff member. Individual managers need to be held accountable for the integration of their own plans with the overall departmental plan. So that is often the best place to start; with those managers.
Many managers have inadequate experience in integrating strategic plans into everyday work. It may be a good idea, prior to the strategic planning process, for all participants to get together to plan out how they will make the plan come alive. While we often think of strategic plans in terms of formal release and distribution, the place where real success takes place is the everyday world. If each manager, in any decision-making conversations with staff, refers to the strategic plan as a guidepost for action, then staff begin to realize that it is not a "dead" document, but one that has practical and real relevance to their everyday worklife.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- Treat the strategic plan like a spider-web, with strands into all aspects of your organization, including budget, human resource development, objective setting and performance management, all decision-making at the everyday level, etc. It is part of a system of management, not a stand-alone piece.
- Use every opportunity to relate whatever is being discussed to the strategic plan. · Do your best to allow sufficient time to do the strategic planning process and do all the pieces. (About once a year we publish a model of integrated strategic/shorter term planning that you will find useful-see next month's newsletter).
- The strategic planning process is essentially a stepped process. That is, it is not something that can be completed in a single one day session. As such it is a good idea to communicate with staff and involve them at every step. At each step, participants go back to those not present, discuss the tentative decisions, and obtain input to bring back to the next planning session.