Achieving Organizational Buy-in: The Tale of Two Communities

Learn how to communicate and integrate your strategy with these proven approaches.
Achieving Organizational Buy-in: The Tale of Two Communities
Learn how to communicate and integrate your strategy with these proven approaches.

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with two of our ClearPoint Community members during a virtual event as they shared their organization’s path to achieving buy-in for their strategic vision. As we’ve read in How To Make Strategy Everyone’s Job, strategic plans aren’t just for the strategy office or the leadership team and should not be sitting on a shelf collecting dust. For effective strategy execution, organizations need the help and buy-in of everyone.

During this one-hour event, Natalie Evans, Management Analyst with City of Edmond, OK, shared communication and engagement strategies that proved effective in creating a culture of performance management at the City and Chris Kelly, Health Information Manager at Johnson County, KS, shared the County’s organic journey from organizational buy-in to the county-wide adoption of a performance management model. Below is a summary of each presentation and the Q&A.

City of Edmond, OK

Click here to access the PowerPoint presentation.

To establish some context, the City of Edmond, OK is a suburb of 95,000 residents and approximately 800 employees. Within the City, organizational buy-in for the City’s strategic direction is an important topic. Buy-in means helping employees in the organization to see the value and what can be achieved through alignment, coordination, and widespread support, engagement and commitment to the organization’s vision and mission. Strategic planning is a tool for departments: a communication tool, project management tool, as well as a tool to learn about all the projects in the City.

Formerly, the City had a system where large quarterly progress reports, which were outside of the organization’s goals, were generated. It was deemed “reporting for the sake of reporting” and was identified as a “stop doing” within the organization. In response, the City’s leadership decided to form a committee to provide direction.

This committee consisted of representatives from multiple departments and would be charged with building out the strategic planning process. This cross-collaboration was the first step in building buy-in because the City relied on all levels of the organization to determine the next steps.

Following the development of the internal process and through a collaborative process, 7 key Organizational Priorities and 11 Strategic Initiatives with a unified purpose for the organization were set. Each of the 22 departments then set their own goals and objectives that would tie into these initiatives. It was determined that the City needed to track these goals in a more streamlined manner rather than across multiple spreadsheets and documents, as had previously been done. This led the City to ClearPoint's reporting software, which allows the City to track strategic items in a consistent way and provides all departments access to a unified portal.

The City’s overall goal of this process is alignment and purpose. Strategic planning is an opportunity to step aside from the day-to-day craziness – power outages, road closures, COVID-19 - and focus on the overall goals the City is trying to achieve. How does the City step aside and focus on their strategy? It goes back to their mission statement, “trustworthy service through continuous improvement.” Strategic planning for the City of Edmond, OK is:

  • A way to create an aligned vision and purpose
  • A tool to establish accountability, develop timelines, and achieve success
  • Opportunity for collaboration
  • Communication tool
  • Ultimately, a process for improvement

As such, the City has three core strategies for engagement – communicate, clarify, and celebrate.


Successful strategic planning is highly dependent on good communication and, at the City, it is a regular part of the conversation. And communication leads to engagement. Strategies around both include:

  • Quarterly check-in meetings with all departments.
  • Uploading quarterly reports onto their employee page.
  • Monthly email check-ins with tips and updates to our department point people.
  • Quarterly all-employee emails highlighting accomplishments on departmental strategic goals.
  • Video highlighting successes from that fiscal year and recapping the intention behind strategic planning.
  • Working to clarify and provide clear expectations for departments.
  • When there is turnover with a department, setting up a one on one meeting early on.
  • Bringing more people to the table.
  • Empowering individual departments to set their own goals and objectives, aligned with city-wide initiatives.
  • Aligning departmental goals to individual performance goals.
  • Celebrating successes.


The City of Edmond makes its strategic planning process accessible by:

  • Using terminology that is known as a baseline.
  • Not overcomplicating things.
  • When setting goals, using prompts like “challenges in the department” and “back burner projects”.
  • Setting clear expectations and tying it to the City’s core values.


  • Every check-in meeting has a portion dedicated to recognizing improvements in departments.
  • Encouraging departments to recognize their successes and show the alignment to their departmental goals.

Developing engagement can be challenging but seeing the progress in departments reminds the City why they do this work. To make progress, they are focused on being intentional about buy-in and engagement.

Johnson County, KS

Click here to access the PowerPoint presentation.

Johnson County, KS is a county of about 600,000 people located in the outskirts of the Kansas City metro area. The County’s story of gaining organizational buy-in was one of organic growth and evolution of their performance management and strategy system originating as a strictly internal departmental initiative to eventually county-wide adoption.

It started several years back when the Department of Mental Health had a complete overhaul. A new administration was put in place and that new administration began with the development of a strategic plan. There was a great desire to be less reactive and more data-driven, and so the department wanted to implement a system for strategic planning and performance management.

Administrators at the County supported an autonomous management methodology. So, when the Department of Mental Health began, there was:

  • No overarching County Strategic Plan to guide the department’s plan.
  • No County Performance Management strategy or centralized person or office for Strategy and Performance Management.
  • No internal Department Performance Management system in place.
  • No system by which to monitor and report progress.

The department was determined to put a plan and a system in place that would integrate the strategic vision into their culture at all levels and into the way they conducted business day in and day out. They knew that they didn’t need to blaze a new trail but rather they could look at what others were doing and how they were doing it. They ultimately chose the Balanced Scorecard for their business framework and ClearPoint for their reporting software. Having a strategy and a system in place, they knew, would help them know where they were in their journey and track their progress along the way.

To gain organizational buy-in, the department began with the basics through an educational campaign, which helped the staff understand the plan, its purpose, and how it really applied to their specific role. The administration knew that staff needed to live by it every day so they wanted everyone to know how they contributed. This campaign involved sitting down with every team member and while it took a lot of time, it was a high priority. They knew this upfront investment would benefit them in the end.

The adopted methodology for the process followed the Kaplan Norton strategy execution loop - a six stage closed loop that links the strategic plan with operational execution, which they knew was critical. This model coupled with the Balanced Scorecard fit nicely with ClearPoint.

Another significant part of their educational process was measure identification. They grabbed onto the Results Based Accountability methodology and adopted a standard terminology. This methodology worked well for the Department of Mental Health as it was original designed to improve the lives of children and families. As this work branched out, they realized that it worked equally well for other departments across the County from airports to facilities to human resources.

They also adopted the Balanced Scorecard framework with the department’s strategic goals and KPIs across each of the perspectives. This visual alone enabled team members to better understand how they contributed to the overall vision of the department.

So concurrently with their educational campaign, the department began looking for what reporting software they were going to use to help them build everything. After the evaluation of several different systems, they selected ClearPoint. The work that the department had captured in their workshops with their teams in spreadsheets enabled them to quickly build out their measures and dashboards in ClearPoint. Because of the very quick ramp up, the department was able to provide immediate results back to the team. Fast forward to today, the department continues to leverage the Data Loader to make the upkeep and maintenance of ClearPoint non intensive.

After about 12 months, the department rolled out their strategy map to their advisory board and the Board of County Commissioners. After 18 months, they generated an annual report, which included the strategy map and detail on key performance indicators and non-key performance indicators.

During budget season, a time of competition for limited resources, the department’s information enabled them to tell an effective story and they received more budget resources than most of the other departments did. This prompted a few other departments to approach the Department of Mental Health and ask what they were doing so they could do it themselves. Mental Health began helping these other departments follow the same path, which began the County’s grassroots organic growth. Finally, a commissioner took notice which ultimately led to the County Manager asking a team at Mental Health to work with the Budget Office to develop a plan to roll it out to all of the 30 plus departments across the County.

The lessons learned by this undertaking at Johnson County, KS are:

  • Strategy and Performance Management can be achieved from the bottom up.
  • While not ideal, lack of a strategic plan is not a showstopper. Seek out the unwritten goals.
  • Build them an easy-to-understand framework. Good visuals speed understanding.
  • Make sure there is a win and appeal for everyone.
  • Gain some early champions.
  • Keep the education going to make it part of the culture.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.


Q: How do you manage a situation where an individual or staff is skeptical of the process or of change in general?

Natalie Evans: For us, we try to show how the strategic plan is a tool for departments. Early on, I know some departments were concerned about setting a goal that was too ambitious, because they felt like if they couldn’t accomplish it in that fiscal year that they would almost be penalized for setting a goal that was too big. We want this to be something that's valuable as departments – to set their goals and as they try to achieve their initiatives. We put a lot of emphasis on the communication piece of it. This is a way that you can communicate what your department is doing, how you're improving, and how you're contributing to these initiatives. We were very transparent about what our intent was and then tried to frame it as to how it would be a tool for the department. We try to tailor it to how it works for that department. There will be naysayers and change can be difficult but try to tailor it to that person or that department.

Chris Kelly: We frame it as a storytelling tool. Everybody's got a story to tell. You're either wanting to share your celebrations or your challenges. We have to tell and convey that story if we expect to get the resources or look at potentially modifying our processes to enable us to drive improvement. If you don't know what those numbers are, and you can't communicate what they are through the storytelling then you'll never either celebrate your successes or be able to overcome your challenges.

Q: What has been the value of achieving organizational buy-in beyond the strategic plan?

Chris Kelly: Folks are very passionate about what they do but now, seeing how it relates to a larger vision and purpose as well, that closes the loop for them. So, when other things come down that they are asked to do, it is about a bigger purpose and picture.

Natalie Evans: We work with a lot of servant leaders in our organization – this is the nature of local government. We have key priorities that we're all working on together – all 800 of us. We're improving the quality of life of our residents; we’re achieving high performing government; we're ensuring fiscal responsibility. All of that fits into those servant leader ideals.

Q: What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone just starting out on a similar path.

Chris Kelly: Start simple. Don't try and slay all this. Start small. Make it something achievable. Get a win and then you can continue to grow and flesh it out right.

Natalie Evans: Talk to people; talk to your point people in departments; talk to managers. Get their feedback. People will be honest whenever you're transparent. I've had some honest and hard conversations as we've developed this process. Don't be afraid to just pick up the phone and talk to people to get their input. Build those relationships, because, once you start building that trust, that's where the engagement and the buy in comes in.

Achieving Organizational Buy-in: The Tale of Two Communities

Tricia Jessee

Manager of Implementation & Services & Pizza Aficionado

Tricia manages our implementation and onboarding team to ensure the success of ClearPoint customers.