Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Revitalizing the Strategic Planning Process for the GAO

As evident by the readings from this week, strategic planning can be a critical tool for achieving success in a company when applied properly. However, the readings also included statistics referencing how often the strategic planning process can be a fruitless and disappointing experience for both senior leadership and employees. As I was reading, I wondered if there were examples of successful strategic planning in federal government institutions-which often carry the reputation (perhaps unfairly) of being bureaucratic wastelands where strategic thinking goes to die. I began my investigation by researching organizations that I was familiar with and had some knowledge of the corporate culture and I found that the U.S General Accounting Office (GAO) not only has a rigorous strategic planning process but the GAO has also leveraged it into a powerful organizational tool for ensuring continued success.

In the GAO report, “Strategic Planning at the U.S General Accounting Organization”, the organization outlines the history of its strategic planning initiatives and how it transitioned a outdated and inefficient planning system into one that is highly effective.[1]This was made possible in part because of a change in senior leadership, that valued strategic planning and recognized an opportunity to revitalize GAO’s. The first change enacted to GAO’s strategic planning process was to shift the focus from a silo approach to planning, where each of the five divisions in GAO planned completely independently of each other. Instead, an integrated agency wide strategy planning process was promoted. The next step was assembling the correct team for strategic planning. As the article “The Real Value of Strategic Planning” stressed, it is extremely important to assemble the right team for any strategic planning session- focusing on capturing the right group mixture of senior leaders and operational managers. One key ingredient to GAO’s successful strategic planning transition was their focus on putting together the right team, by including not only the office of the U.S Comptroller General, the head of the GAO, but also the Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACG), whom are responsible for each of the 5 Divisions. By including the ACGs, the GAO leadership is ensuring that a diversity of opinions, knowledge, and experience are present at the strategic planning sessions.

Another key factor to the GAO’s successful strategic planning initiative was the emphasis on aligning strategic planning with the organization’s mission, core values, and overarching themes. Like many organization referenced in the article “Using the Balanced Scorecard as a Strategic Management System” the GAO suffered from a divorce between the stated mission and how their strategic planning was being conducted. The new Comptroller General wanted to change this by creating a plan as vigorous as the ones that GAO imposes on other organizations. By repositioning the strategic planning process with the company’s mission- the GAO was validating both the company’s mission and the results from the strategic planning session. In addition, the organization focused on creating clear, detailed, and implementable strategic objectives. The result is that after every strategic planning session the leadership compiles a list of these objectives and disseminates it across the organization.

What this article has impressed on me is that any type of organization can have a successful strategic planning process. However, it requires a concerted effort and support by the senior leadership to succeed. Are their other types of federal agencies that have adopted these successful strategic planning measures and how can it be further improved to reflect new economic and budgetary conditions?

[1] Ward, George L, “Strategic Planning at the U.S General Accounting Organization,” http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/ward.pdf.


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