Friday, May 26, 2017

Strategic Planning in Local Government

The Real Value of Strategic Planning


The authors start out explaining that many executives view the cyclical strategic planning process as a ritual that adds little value to the organization. My first reaction was: why doesn’t my organization have a strategic plan? Why have I not even heard the idea discussed over the past 5 years? We have 5-year financial plans, but these are more like financial projections than strategic plans. As someone who likes to focus on systems, organization, processes etc. the strategic plan seems like the guiding document that ties everything together. Every policy decision, budget proposal, and organizational change should be tied back to broad goals.

 I work for the City of Pittsburgh and I think the frequent changes in leadership discourage strategic planning. Every four years Council Members and Mayor face reelection. Oftentimes policy initiatives are ‘taken with a grain of salt’ by the bureaucracy who plan to outlast the current elected leadership. The line “we pretend to make strategy and they pretend to follow it” exemplifies this perfectly.

Citing another reason why businesses are reluctant to form strategic plans, an executive at GE states that “business is often unpredictable.” Local government must also respond to changing funding environments, regulations, and ever-changing demands of the public. Many leaders at the City probably wonder – why make long-term infrastructure plans if FHA and PennDOT grants may dry up? Why should we partner with this community organization if their leadership and priorities change year to year?

The authors explain further that although “real strategy is made in real time, it is important to make sure key decision makers have a solid understanding of the business, share a common fact base, and agree on important assumptions.” Achieving this would certainly be a challenge for the City. One doesn’t need a solid understanding of the business or a shared fact base to get elected. And, although the Mayor is the most powerful figure, he can’t fire independently-elected Council Members or the Controller for not buying into his vision. Private companies don’t have this same power dynamic to deal with.

Despite these limitations, I do believe the City can form effective strategies (which is part of the reason I’m taking this class). There is plenty of room for improvement in how we make long-term decisions, even if they are not tied directly to a strategic plan.

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