From our experience and studying best practices of others, our approach to strategic planning is influenced by the following elements. Many of these elements have been developed from 20 years of practical experience in strategic planning:
A strategic planning exercise needs a strong leadership to keep participants on track so that any obstacles to progress can be identified and promptly addressed. With management teams of 10 people or less the process may take months of discussion and analysis that can often be brought to a head to accomplish a plan in one day with the key information provided on one page.
Strategic planning is a process not an event
We need to ensure the process covers the bases and sufficient time is given to get the support and commitment rather than trying to meet an artificial deadline. Interim reporting tools can be used to meet budgeting or funding deadlines, without stopping the overall process.
Build the case for change
Emphasize the need to build the case for change rather than wait to have changes forced on the organization (e.g. status quo is not an option).
Ensure the sub-committees or specific issue committees set up during the process are empowered to undertake work that can significantly advance the understanding and likelihood for success in this planning effort (e.g. who can make this happen, what will they need to support it etc.)
Connecting with others is a significant benefit itself
Stress the benefits for participants of developing new relationships and strengthening old relationships amongst participants and less on lobbying for single issues.
Depth versus speed
Balance the need for clear and realistic goals for the process to proceed quickly while at the same time reducing the risk of undertaking work in a superficial manner.
Create some buzz
We need approaches to build excitement and “buzz” to get interest, participation and support for the process.
Avoid reinventing the wheel
Encourage participants to build on existing capacity rather than “reinventing the wheel” or duplicating efforts of others.
Balance qualitative and quantitative input
Seek input from stakeholders in both structured (e.g. survey) and unstructured formats (e.g. discussions).
Avoid a blank sheet of paper approach
Develop controversial comments and questions to provoke input and discussion rather than “blank sheet of paper” approaches to getting input, as the blank sheet approach is hard to engage the audience.
Take a broader view as well as a narrow view
Take a wide view as well as a narrow view of opportunities and issues surrounding the situation.
Wait for the issues to arise before undertaking the research
The best data gathering happens when it is done to help the organization better understand an emerging issue rather than re-hashing past studies and preconceived ideas of the key issues.
Where possible, utilize existing resources rather than relying on outside resources for the process to save cost and involve a wider audience and level of participation.
Have a process that allows for different outcomes
Open the process to accommodate different possible outcomes rather than expecting to lock into a single solution.
Allow time and budget for future content
Have some “place holder” time slots and budget in place ahead of time to so that the there is time and resources to undertake some initial work on emerging issues that arise during the process.
Phase the work
Undertake the work in phases so that the process can: be reviewed against time and budget constraints; include cut offs to meet deadlines for budget and financing; and feedback on the progress to stakeholder to ensure continued support even if the final work takes longer than anticipated to complete.
Make the process fun and rewarding to encourage active participation from a diverse population (e.g. Four Season photo competition, rewarding the top 50 participants in the CAT as Town Ambassadors etc.).
Make presentations interesting
Emphasize the use of “audience friendly” formats for presentations (e.g. brochure type handouts with relevant pictures, and text in magazine or newspaper formats for easy reading. Focus any PowerPoint presentations on pictures and diagrams instead of pages of text.)
Innovative public input
Capture public input in innovative ways (e.g. video taping sessions and putting excerpts on the website, offering DVD copies if people want a record, or using participants to prepare summaries of past studies to save consulting fees and in the process educate participants on the studies done to date).
Provide electronic access to documents, reports and comments by the public rather than confidential submissions. With public access to all key documents, this reduces the need to spend consulting time summarizing reports.
Vision for the Community
Develop vision for the Community first and as a subset, develop a vision for the Town’s corporate administration.
Develop a theme or vision for the Community that is short and memorable rather than long and forgetful.
Avoid producing large, boring documents few will read and encourage delivery of a series of short statements of direction and supporting strategies linked to measurable results.
Less focus on exercises that produce lists of items (like SWOT analysis) that are interesting but add little value. Have more focus on the development of issue papers (6-8 page discussion of an issue) that can be used to develop recommendations, action steps and resource allocations.
Balancing the short term, incremental thinking or “bottom up” thinking with top down or “end game thinking”
Link planning to implementation
Build the bridge so that while the planning is being done the implementation team(s) are identified and involved to ensure a smooth transition from planning to implementation.