5 Solutions For Your Toughest Strategic Planning Pain Points

Answers to 5 of your biggest pain points in strategy and performance management.
5 Solutions For Your Toughest Strategic Planning Pain Points
Answers to 5 of your biggest pain points in strategy and performance management.

We’re big thinkers. We understand strategy, and we understand the challenges that come along with creating, managing and executing on a strategy.

Over the past few months, we had the opportunity to partner with Engaging Local Government Leaders to provide training for the 2019 Innovation Cohort, a group of organizations who represent small communities learning new ways to innovate. The cohort’s theme was Small Places, Big Ideas so, when planning the training, we enlisted the help of one of our high-performing local government organizations, who would be a good reflection of that theme. The ClearPoint team then designed a strategy and performance management training session based on the specific pain points that the cohort members identified.

Working with these organizations reminded us that many local governments share common goals and hit similar roadblocks. We invited the City of Germantown, TN, to share their performance management journey with the group to kick off our training. Their story is truly an inspiration and recently led them to being named a 2020 Baldrige National Quality Award recipient. The rest of our conversation was focused on five of the main pain points that cohort members described in their strategy and performance management process. Our Managing Partner, Ted Jackson, and our Director of Customer Success, Joseph Lucco, shared their expertise on each topic, while our Director of Community, Tricia Jessee, who worked closely with ELGL to design the session, served as moderator. We summarized their advice to share beyond the cohort.

1. Getting Focused

Pain point: Our board goals are very broad and the Balanced Scorecard measures don’t always seem to line up with those goals. We are fine-tuning the goals and narrowing them down. Departments have so many things to measure, it’s difficult to reduce, simplify and focus on what is important.

Question: How can organizations simplify their strategic plan so that it’s easy to understand but also comprehensive?

Many organizations build their Balanced Scorecard from the top down, and the measures don’t really make sense to each specific department or team. Instead, create your organization wide strategy and ask departments to engage with it by linking their measures back up to the top level goals. When a department has goals to link to, it makes it easier for them to decide what to measure. Ask, ‘does this KPI really tell me if we’re helping the organization reach our goal?’ If the answer is no, it’s not a measure that belongs on the BSC.

The other important part of strategy is figuring out what not to do. Most of the organizations we work with are not lacking in ideas, which is great! The challenge instead is figuring out how to organize them, prioritize them, and then measure their impact. There are many projects that a department may decide to complete, and measures they are tracking, that don’t necessarily lead to strategic planning. You need to recognize which ones tie back to the strategy and make sure that that linkage is clear.

2. Organizational Buy-In

Pain Point:  People’s understanding of what performance management is and where we are looking to go is so different across the organization. We’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to bring people up to speed, agreeing on definitions about what we mean when we talk about goals or what performance management is.

Question: How can organizations facilitate buy-in for the strategy and performance management across their organization?

Communication is key. The more creative the communication, the more likely it is that people will remember what you want them to and participate when needed. Creating a visual makes it easier to remember as well, such as a strategy map. These are just a few of the ways we’ve seen our partners improve buy-in across their own organization:

  • Business cards: We work with a hospital in Pennsylvania who gives every employee a copy of a strategy business card. On one side, it has a high-level piece of information about their strategy. On the other, it has a statement about how their specific department contributes to the strategy. This allows everyone to see how they contribute to the organization’s goals.
  • Sheet cake: To celebrate their new strategy map, our client held a launch party, complete with a cake that had their strategy map printed on it.
  • Lunch and learns: Have open sessions that allow anyone from the organization to come and talk about the strategic plan, and for departments who are really embracing the strategic planning to share their work. Award and congratulate departments that are going above and beyond. It will encourage other departments to follow suit.
  • Strategic plan fair: Similar to a science fair, the strategic plan fair allowed employees to come to a social event and learn more about the organization’s strategy. Different booths were set up that explained different parts of the plan, and there was food and giveaways so that employees enjoyed their time and had something to take along to remind them of the strategy.

3. Budget and Strategy Alignment

Pain point: Budget itself is a challenge. Council may outline 10 goals; and they may prioritize but if something more time sensitive comes up, the money will be spent there instead. The time sensitive projects end up taking the driver’s seat to the strategic goals.

Question: How important is it to have your strategy and budget aligned so that these types of decisions can be made more strategically?

It’s important to align the budget to the strategic goals, and to stick to it, rather than being reactive. There are lots of different ways that organizations manage their budget to ensure that it aligns with the goals that the organization decided on. It can be as simple as having a spreadsheet that aligns project budgets to the strategy and shows the amount allocated for each goal.

Many organizations also have a formal process for requesting new funds that includes the need to prove how it contributes to strategic goals. One of our partners requires all budget requests to identify the KPI that will be positively impacted by additional spending. This ties up to the organization wide strategy and shows how it contributes to the organization overall.

Another one of our partners uses the historical spending of the organization to help determine how to balance the budget. Specifically, they compare budget requests to the past 3-year average that reflects seasonality. Adding this layer into the budget process helps them ensure that the budget they set at the beginning of the fiscal year accounts for history and for the goals for the year. It helps to minimize the need for changes to the budget throughout the year.

4. Transparency and Accountability

Pain point: Managing the public’s expectation is a challenge. Our citizens can easily feel in the dark about many of the projects and initiatives we start.

Question: How can we accomplish transparency and accountability in local government, for internal and external stakeholders?

Sharing information internally and externally is very different. When sharing information with internal stakeholders, those working in local government, there’s generally more knowledge about how local government works. For external stakeholders, like citizens, it’s important to choose the information that is most relevant to them and provide context behind why the goals were chosen, the progress that is being made, and how it is measured. For all communications, it’s important to have a standard template so that information is easy to digest and can inform decision making.

Enforce internal transparency and accountability:

  • Your organization is likely tracking a lot of goals, measures and projects. To ensure accountability, assign owners to all of them. This enables people across the organization to make decisions and to take responsibility for helping the organization reach its goals.
  • Share all your information and make it easy to access. This goes back to linking your measures and projects to the organization’s goals. When your internal stakeholders can see how the work that they are doing contributes to the success, they’ll own it.
  • Automate as much of the process of collecting information as possible. If data collection is a burden, you won’t be able to get people to do it. Make it easy by having one place where employees can go to get any information about the strategic plan. And by automating data collection, evaluations, and dashboards, your employees will trust the information they have access to and leverage it to make better decisions.

Enhance external transparency and accountability:

  • The real value of sharing information externally is that citizens can easily see how the city is performing on goals. With an organized dashboard or website, citizens should be able to get an overview of performance and then drill down for more data and analysis on the goals that are important to them.
  • Do not give your citizens a data dump to sort through. Instead, pick out the data that is most relevant to the goals, use visual indicators of progress, and add analysis to explain the level of performance.
  • Some cities also share the process for how the strategic plan was created. This helps citizens to understand where the goals, measures and projects came from and why they are important to the city.

Whether sharing information internally or externally, it’s important to be honest with stakeholders. Share and celebrate great results and acknowledge areas where the city isn’t as strong. Create a culture that encourages honesty and communication and that doesn’t punish red results. Explain what the city is doing to turn red to green, and once you hit that goal, share it!

5. Strategic planning process

Pain point: Developing a strategic plan that encompasses all that the County does and incorporates the vision and mission of Legislators is a challenge. As we’ve discussed developing a strategic plan, some of our departments and leaders have expressed concerns in being hampered in their creativity.

Question: What advice would you give an organization who is starting their strategic planning process?

The first thing to do when starting strategic planning is to define a framework and clarify the definitions of projects and measures. Once you have definitions in place, bring in stakeholders to hear what they have to say. Provide a platform where people can express their ideas and share what is important to them. You’ll end up with a bunch of mismatched items associated with each goal, so identify which are measures and which are projects.

Where am I trying to go? How am I doing? What am I doing? There will be things in the grey area, but this mindset will keep the structure, while not stifling the creativity. Then you can have a discussion about goals, and how you are doing (measures), and what you are doing (projects). It gives the discussion more meaning. Communication throughout the entire process is key. When you communicate and you allow people to contribute, you’ll have an easier time getting accountability and buy-in.

5 Solutions For Your Toughest Strategic Planning Pain Points

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.