Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Strategy and government

Strategy and government are two words that don't always seem to fit together and in fact sometimes seem to oppose each other. A few years ago while working for a non-profit in a city southeast of Pittsburgh, I worked closely with the local city that suffered economically primarily due to the loss of industry once the coal and coke boom fizzled. In this town, the phrase strategic planning was a conversation stopper. So much “planning” had happened with little to show for it. Additionally, the individuals running the government were split into factions and the goals and core ideology (if they even had one) of the city were not at the forefront of these decision makers’ actions. If a strategic planning process or strategic measurement process like the Balanced Scorecard were to be suggested by the wrong individual on council or in another governing group, it could likely fail to be implemented. However this may be an extreme example unique to the location of the city and the particular individuals involved in city government.

Because of this experience, I cannot help but think about setting the stage for strategy in government. What needs to happen before strategic planning or measurement tools like the Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan & Norton, 2005) can be effectively put into action?

From reviewing the Case “City of Charlotte” (Kaplan, 1998) it appears as if the city had the right existing formula for making a strategic change like instituting the Balanced Score Card (ie. having recognized success as a livable city, having a city manager that was proactive in managing the government and looking for ways to improve government function, leaders that were willing to make radical changes). However I wonder if Charlotte could have done more to set the stage for the Balanced Score Card.

Although it sounds like Charlotte did some initial planning in terms of identifying core focus areas, perhaps they could have gone further.  The main thing that comes to mind is revisiting the vision and mission statements by thinking about core ideology (Collins & Porras, 1996). Although their mission and vision statements touch on things that could help build their core ideology (they clearly value the safety, health, and quality of life of their citizens), they don’t identify the essence of the City of Charlotte.  Their mission includes ideas that could apply to any city and don’t stand out as something that makes Charlotte tick. It might have also been helpful to have identified the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (Collins & Porras, 1996).  Where does the city hope to be? What are they striving towards? Perhaps starting here, at the beginning, would be a great place for any government to begin a strategic change. Identifying the core values and principles of a city, as well as long-term big picture goals could help to refine the goals of the Balanced Scorecard. Posing questions like “what do we need to do to achieve these ideal goas?” or “do these actions, metrics, etc. support our underlying core ideology” could help to focus strategy in government.

Collins, J. C., & Porras, J. I. (1996). Building your company's vision. Harvard business review, 74(5), 65.

Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (2005). The balanced scorecard: measures that drive performance. Harvard business review, 83(7), 172.


Kaplan, R.S. (1998). City of Charlotte (A). Harvard Business School Case Collection. 199-036.

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