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Strategic Planning Advice From 6 Successful City Leaders
Are you looking for ways to approach strategic planning for your city? The insights from these six leaders will help you get started.
As a city leader, addressing the many needs of your citizens with a limited budget can seem like an impossible feat. Yet somehow you manage to (mostly) succeed year after year. But what’s the secret to more consistently delivering excellence to your city? Six city leaders provide their expert recommendations below for developing effective local government strategic plans you can use to keep your city running smoothly.
Strategic Planning Advice From 6 City Leaders
1. Align your strategic planning efforts upward and downward.
Amethyst Sloane, a performance excellence administrator for the City of Fort Worth, TX, believes the strategic plan should be connected to higher-level aspects such as your overarching goals, mission, and vision. It should also be connected to employee objectives—your employees should be able to draw a metaphorical line between their efforts and the strategy you’ve laid out. “Employees should be able to say, This is how the work I do is helping the organization pursue its goals,” says Sloane. “This alignment from top to bottom creates a culture continually focused on what’s important.”
As you plan, you’ll be tempted to review other cities’ strategic plans for guidance. Sloane cautions against considering any one plan as law. “You can pick 20 strategic plans, and each one will look and read differently. It’s more important that you are consistent with your own plan’s structure and language, which should fit your organizational context. That way everyone can easily follow along and understand what’s being communicated.”
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2. Focus on processes and inclusivity.
“When developing the strategic plan for your local government, first think about how your organization works,” advises Lawrence Pollack, budget director for the City of Fort Collins, CO. This is important for establishing the contextual foundation for your planning efforts. Next, create a systematic process to turn the issues your city faces into goals you want to achieve—these will be your strategic objectives.
Be sure to be inclusive of all departments, from economic development to regulatory affairs. Each one should lend their voice in developing the strategic plan to ensure it’s comprehensive and addresses the diverse needs of your city and its inhabitants.
From there, Pollack says to just get started. Don’t get mired down in trying to perfect your process or the plan you produce. “Work on fine-tuning the process over time to optimize its effectiveness for your organization.”
3. Take a balanced approach.
Mike Mayta serves as CIO for the City of Wichita, KS, and he recommends maintaining balance when planning strategically—strategic plans should be data-driven and well-thought out, but not overly extensive or lengthy. “Change happens fast, even with city planning. Producing a 50- to 100-page document that may require altering before the year is through isn’t an efficient approach to strategic planning.”
Including specific problems and prioritizing action items in the plan is also important. “As a CIO, I need to know what problems my city is facing so I can work to find and implement appropriate solutions. And with a limited budget and human resources, prioritization is essential for determining which problems are feasible to resolve.”
4. Think strategically, not tactically.
Much like Sloane, Kelley Hartman, an innovation and performance manager for the City of Arvada, CO, believes two things:
- The strategic plan must support the organization’s vision.
- All members of the city workforce must understand how the work they do helps execute on the strategic plan.
In addition, Hartman says it’s important to shift your thinking from tactical to strategic when planning. “Most people are tactical thinkers by nature—thus, it’s easier to create a plan that simply addresses to-do’s. But an effective strategic plan requires higher-level thinking that addresses challenges holistically, both for now and the future.”
5. Secure commitment from senior management.
“Commitment from upper management is critical,” says Ernesto Reyes, a strategic performance manager for the City of Pompano Beach, FL. Without their support, developing and implementing a strategic plan will be difficult. You’ll constantly face bottlenecks and roadblocks that hinder progress and could possibly derail the entire plan.
To operationalize the plan, Reyes says an action agenda is a must-have. This agenda establishes accountability and outlines specific steps to execute on the developed strategy and achieve the defined goals.
Lastly, Reyes notes the importance of linking the strategic planning process with the budgeting process. “Decision-making around resource allocation must coincide with strategic planning to ensure alignment and feasibility. Even the best strategic plan can fall short without the right resources to support it.”
6. Be transparent.
Kirsten Wyatt, executive director of ELGL, promotes transparency in strategic planning. She says you should engage your staff and possibly community members, depending on the type of plan you’re developing. Their feedback provides a valuable perspective on the importance of the work you’re doing. “Your staff should feel as invested in the plan as you are.”
In addition, Wyatt says technology like strategic planning software can make the planning process easier and give you a base framework for a successful plan. Knowing in advance the capabilities of your software will help you envision what your plan can become. “For ELGL, this was a critical part of determining the items that would have quantitative measures, and which would have qualitative status reports.”
Want more great insights on strategic planning?
The advice of each city leader provides different perspectives on strategic planning, though all are equally important. Following these tips can help you produce a more effective strategic plan—one you can use to more consistently achieve your organizational goals.
But there are more pieces to the strategic planning puzzle, which we explore in our white paper—8 Things That May Be Missing From Your City’s Strategic Plan. It covers the key elements missing from most city strategic plans. If you’ve created a strategic plan for your city that didn’t quite net the results you were looking for, this white paper can help you identify where you may have gone off course.