~ 5 MIN READ
Local Government Strategic Planning During COVID-19 in Edmond, OK
In a webinar we co-hosted with our partners at ELGL, ClearPoint user Natalie Evans from the City of Edmond, Oklahoma led a discussion surrounding strategic planning during COVID-19. Our own Laura Chandler and Joseph Lucco joined the discussion, along with other local government leaders from across the country, to share best practices and gain insights from others.
Natalie, a Management Analyst for the City of Edmond, walked through her organization’s strategic planning process and how they are using it as a tool to adapt to the realities of COVID-19. You can watch the recording of the discussion on ELGL’s website. Here is a recap in case you don’t have time to watch the entire recording.
Background to Edmond’s Strategic Plan
Natalie explained that the City of Edmond used to report within Excel documents, where quarterly progress reports were not unified by any visions or goals for specific improvements. This meant the city’s actions weren't necessarily achieving or improving anything, and they realized they needed to up their game. The city formed a committee to create a strategic planning and reporting process.
The strategic planning committee developed an internal process for strategic planning, which prioritized a framework of continuous improvement. They developed seven priorities and 11 initiatives with a unified purpose for the organization. Because collaboration during this process was so important, they then tasked each department with setting their own goals and objectives to tie into the city-wide initiatives. This gave ownership and empowerment to the departments' work and helped them see how their efforts tied into the city-wide strategy. With over 100 goals gathered in this process, Natalie explained that her team quickly realized they would need a more dynamic way to track their progress, which led them to implement software from ClearPoint Strategy.
During the webinar, Natalie logged into her ClearPoint account and showed how ClearPoint aids them in their strategic planning and reporting processes. She highlighted the fact that ClearPoint keeps their information in a centralized, widely accessible location. The City reviews updates from all the departments on a quarterly basis, and they gather these in ClearPoint. Natalie also emphasized the fact that their seven priorities serve as guiding lights that are relevant during all times - even now when so much else has changed or is unknown.
Purpose of Strategic Planning
Why did the City of Edmond undertake this process? Natalie explained how important it is to establish a clear, aligned vision for your organization. A strategic plan is a tool to establish accountability, develop timelines, and achieve success. It also serves as a great project management framework at the City of Edmond.
It is also a valuable opportunity for collaboration. Departments can see other departments' goals and identify areas where they could combine their efforts and resources to work on something together. In that vein, it also serves as an internal communication tool for departments to let everyone know what they are working on. Additionally, a strategic plan helps governments communicate their work to their citizens.
Finally, a strategic plan is a tool for improvement. Since the City of Edmond's mission statement calls for improvement, a strategic plan that guides their efforts is crucial to their organization. After all, they don't want to be just tracking things they already do well - they also want to identify areas that need improvement and thus require extra attention and work.
Communicating the Strategy
Successful strategic planning is highly dependent on good communication within your organization. Natalie shared some best practices that the City of Edmond uses to keep their communications constant and accurate, such as each department having quarterly check-in meetings with the strategic team and publishing a quarterly newsletter that highlights accomplishments on departmental strategic goals.
Recently, the city also started putting together an annual video compiling and celebrating their accomplishments. Not only does this recognize people's hard work, it also promotes visibility of the strategy and sheds light on how the strategy is progressing throughout the city. Most importantly, Natalie and her team constantly try to communicate clarifications to the strategic process, to always try to make everyone's job a little easier and the process a little smoother.
Engagement and Buy-In
Natalie knows your strategy will not stick unless you have buy-in from everyone at your organization. The strategic plan cannot just be a document that sits on a shelf and gets forgotten. How can organizations encourage and achieve buy-in? Natalie shared some best practices from Edmond, like how important it is to bring more people to the table to let them share their voice in the process. This also encourages ownership of the strategy, which will motivate people to execute it.
The City of Edmond also makes sure to align department goals to individual goals, so each employee is aware of how their responsibilities fit into their department's, and ultimately the city's, strategy. Finally, celebrating success is as important for engagement as it is for communication. People are more likely to work harder towards something they know is appreciated and seen.
The Annual Refresh Process
Natalie shared that in the City of Edmond, their priorities and initiatives serve as long-term guides for everyone, while each department's goals and objectives are updated annually.
Refreshing your strategic plan? Check out our step-by-step guide for making your annual refresh easy.
When asked about citizen input in the process, Natalie responded that they conduct a citizen survey every two years to help guide their strategic planning, but that they are also looking to more heavily incorporate citizen input in the future. Citizens help determine the longer-term priorities and initiatives, whereas the department goals and objectives are generally decided internally. Participants brainstormed and shared different strategies for engaging communities in this process, such as soliciting feedback via mail and organizing phone/video calls with city councils or mayors for people to give direct input.
COVID-19 and Strategic Planning
Natalie asked the big question on everyone's mind: What now? As the City of Edmond has been grappling with this question, she shared some key themes in regard to their strategic planning process, such as: realistic goal setting, flexibility, accountability, adaptability, and leveraging the strategic plan as a tool to improve. She emphasized that though this is a challenging time that strains organizations, we can all use this as an opportunity to foster innovation. For example, now that more people are working from home, this might be a good time to focus on or create strategic elements related to improving technology. Through this process of innovation and adaption, Natalie says that initiatives and priorities stay the same, but the way we achieve them changes.
Natalie also believes strategic plans can be tools for managing the next year and working through the challenges presented by COVID-19. Joseph encouraged all the participants to take a step back and reevaluate their strategies. Are there opportunities to work on a part of their strategy that was previously on the backburner? Natalie agreed, highlighting the importance of being flexible with moving some things up and moving some things back based on what is currently possible given the situation. We must also embrace the flexibility of our plans if refreshing it is not an option this year. Finally, it could be a good time to take on a high-level perspective and refresh some of your processes surrounding strategic planning.
Aligning Your Budget to Your Strategic Plan
To wrap things up, the group discussed budgets in relation to their strategies during these unprecedented times. If your budget and strategy are no longer aligned, you can use your strategic plan as a guide to help you navigate budget cuts. Some best practices shared included discussing what your community is giving up because of not funding a program, as well as outlining values that help guide your budget cuts.
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