Strategic Planning within the Public Sector typically follow two different approaches: incremental, where the Goals, Objectives, and Strategies represent changes to current operations; and comprehensive, where the Goals, Objectives, and Strategies encompass all operations performed by the organization. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach and it is important for the organization to understand which approach they are following before communicating the plan to the organization and public. (On several occasions, I’ve seen mixed messages about what the adopted strategic plan represents.)
Strategic Planning provides a road map for the organization; it sets organizational (and often funding) priorities; provides guidance to operational units as to how issues should be addressed; and it sets performance targets which can be used to measure organizational success. Strategic Plans are referenced when determining the level of contribution operational units make toward achieving the goals defined by the plan.
Incremental strategic planning identifies the changes an organization needs to implement in order to improve specific conditions, whether these are community conditions or organizational conditions. Incremental plans provide very clear direction on political and funding priorities. Because incremental plans lack a broad organizational focus, operational units that are responsible for maintaining programs or performing “enduring” activities have difficulty aligning their operations to the plan. This detachment from priorities is often perceived as a status demotion which will result in funding restrictions. Consequently, operational units often create weak or indirect alignment links to “justify” their position within the organization.
Comprehensive strategic planning identifies priorities such as “Safe Communities”, “Healthy Community”, and “Fiscal Responsibility” to provide a broad umbrella under which all operational units can align and contribute. While this approach allows all activities of the organization to align to the strategic plan, priorities are often so broad that little direction is actually provided.
One of the ideas behind Strategic Planning is to focus the organization on common goals; strengthen activities that contribute to meeting community and customer needs and moderate or eliminate activities that are no longer viewed as providing value. These are important tenants since public sector organizations are notorious for perpetuating activities beyond their usefulness. An Incremental Strategic Plan makes it easy to rationalize overlooking outdates activities as being “enduring” or not “in focus” for this plan while Comprehensive Strategic Plan provides little specific guidance.
Is there a better solution?
I believe so. A well developed Performance Management strategy that focuses on organizational strategies to improve community conditions while developing operational business plans that describe the performance expectations and resource needs to deliver new and existing goods and services in effective and efficient ways.