Below you will find frequently asked questions regarding strategic planning that fall within one of the following categories:
→ Mission Statements
→ Vision Statements
→ Goals and Objectives
Who should be involved in the strategic planning process?
A core planning team from within the organization, and a wide group of community stakeholders should have input. Overall leadership should come from as high in the organization as possible.
Who should lead the strategic plan?
Strategic plans should be developed by those with the responsibility to carry out the results. An SAA office should lead the strategic plan when the purpose is to determine their funding priorities. The highest ranking official at the SAA office should be a key player in the strategic planning process and should not delegate the responsibility entirely to staff. Involvement of high ranking officials sends a signal to the entire stakeholder community of the importance of the planning process. While senior SAA executives should be actively involved, it is important they not dominate the conversation. When there is a relationship among members of the team where one funds the other, open and frank conversation can be more challenging when the funder runs the meeting.
Do we need to have an outside consultant help with the process?
No. Outside help is not required. Sometimes it can be helpful, but the decision to engage an outsider should be considered carefully. Benefits of an outside facilitator include having a neutral person who can pose difficult questions without having a stake in the outcome, having someone who is solely devoted to the task and not likely to be distracted when other priorities intervene, and being able to surface implicit assumptions and get them out on the table. In choosing whether to ask for outside help, assess the following:
♦ Is there a staff person who has the skills necessary to facilitate meetings? If not, are there training resources available to help staff develop these skills?
♦ Is there a staff person who has the training to gather and present data? If not, are there resources that may provide assistance at no cost or at a low cost, such as professors or graduate students at a local university, a local police department crime analysis unit, or the state SAC?
♦ Is senior leadership willing to devote staff time to the assignment? Planning takes time, and the senior executive leadership of the organization must be willing to allocate staff time to strategic planning. If there is no ability to devote staff time, then an outside resource may be needed.
♦ Does the organization have sufficient credibility in the stakeholder community to effectively engage and gather input? If not, consider partnering with an organization or individual who can help gather community input for the plan. Sometimes, going ahead with a stakeholder outreach plan will help to increase the credibility and visibility of the organization among stakeholders.
♦ Is there a staff person who can step outside the process and not participate but rather facilitate? A facilitator should not be a participant, but one who can move the conversation forward, ask probing questions, and not be tied to any particular outcome. This is often the most difficult element for an insider who facilitates a strategic planning process for their own organization.
How long does it take?
Strategic planning can be done quickly when it is a top-down management exercise. However, an inclusive, data-driven approach that involves key stakeholders can take two to six months. Factors to consider in setting a timeline include:
♦ Where will stakeholder meetings be conducted? In a geographically large state, it can take time to travel to an outlying location for a community input hearing. Setting a schedule of local listening sessions can take a while, particularly when coordinating schedules of multiple agencies or individuals.
♦ How accurate are available data? When the available data is accurate and timely and does not need a lot of work before it is shared with stakeholders, then the data preparation process can be executed quickly. When there is data consistency or quality issues, this can add time at the start of the process.
♦ How are planning sessions to be conducted? A small planning team in the same work location will make it easier to schedule strategic planning meetings. If the team is spread out across the state or across multiple agencies it will take longer to coordinate schedules and to set meeting dates. The key is to balance the efficiency of a small team against the value of a diverse team. A core planning team of four to eight individuals is ideal. This number does not include all stakeholders, but simply the core planning team at a staff level – the people responsible for finding and presenting data, facilitating input sessions, and documenting results.
How long should the written strategic plan be?
There is no one right answer. The U.S. Department of Justice has a one page summary of its strategic plan that is succinct and powerful. A long and detailed strategic plan can provide comfort when there is need for more clarity. This can be particularly important when the strategic plan describes a new vision or many new program areas. Whether the strategic plan is five pages or 40 is less relevant than if it provides the distillation of the common understanding of the way forward to the future. Often, it will become clear during the process what the end result product needs to be.
What timeframe should my plan cover?
This will depend on what is best for the agency. The most common timeline for planning is three to five years. Three to five years is long enough that new initiatives can take off and begin to show some results. Too short a timeframe means the plan must be updated before any results are seen. A strategic plan with a long timeframe may be appropriate in some cases, but will depend on the tenure of senior leadership. Some experts recommend a 10 year plan, but turnover in senior executive roles could undermine the effectiveness of such long-term planning.
What if I already have a strategic plan?
If you already have a strategic plan, you are in good shape. These pages are intended to help improve existing strategic plans, or to work toward creating a new one. This section offers helpful resources that can be used at all stages of the strategic planning process.
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Do we need to meet in person to develop the mission statement?
Developing a mission statement involves deep thinking and brainstorming. Generally only a group that is already well established can achieve this task by phone. Most strategic planning groups or mission statement subcommittees will not have the group cohesion necessary to successfully accomplish this via phone. Certainly, after a draft mission statement is completed, it can be shared electronically and comments sent via email. But the brainstorming session is best done in person. One alternative is for the strategic planning project manager to conduct individual interviews for all stakeholders and to then create a draft mission statement for the group to review based on the input received in the individual interviews. This is time consuming, but can be quite valuable in establishing rapport with stakeholders. Interviews may be done in person or via telephone.
How long should the brainstorming session take?
Many stakeholders have busy schedules, and most people do not have unlimited attention spans for the mentally challenging work of brainstorming. The ideal is to have a meeting lasting 60 to 90 minutes in which about half of the time is spent brainstorming. The meeting will start by setting the purpose and describing the agenda, and will close with defining next steps and setting responsibilities and target dates for achieving next steps.
What if we don’t get it all done in one session?
Typically, it will take one session to get the ideas generated and to create a draft. Then, a smaller group can refine and update the statement. When a draft is ready for review, it can be circulated to the mission statement subcommittee, and then as appropriate to the entire strategic planning group.
Do the mission and vision have to be developed at the same time?
Mission statements and vision statements can be done at the same time if desired, or can be done separately. A mission statement is a key foundation for strategic planning, while a vision statement is an enabler of success. Creating a mission statement is a must. Crafting a vision statement is a good thing to do but is not a must for successful strategic planning.
How do I know if it is too long?
If the mission statement can’t fit on the back of your business card, or if you can’t say it out loud in the time it takes to ride an elevator (30-45) seconds, then it is too long. A mission statement is not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything the organization stands for, just the most essential core.
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How long out into the future should we be looking?
There is no one answer to this question. Five years is a minimum. In some cases, 10 years is best. For a really challenging problem, the solution may take decades to implement and perhaps 20 years will be best. The key is to think as far into the future as is practical given the question at hand. You do not have to be specific as to when the vision will be achieved as long as you are challenging yourself to think about the future.
How long should the statement be?
There is no rule of thumb for a vision statement. Often one sentence is not enough to create a truly visual, emotional, and inspiring picture of the future. A paragraph is often enough. Sometimes a page is required. The longer the vision statement, the less likely it is to be frequently repeated.
How long does it take to create it?
In many cases, a meeting of an hour or so will be all you need for the broad input session. Then it can be refined and polished in a smaller group.
Who should be involved?
An entire strategic planning committee can be invited to provide input in the form of words or phrases that should be included. Actually writing the vision statement should be done by a small group or by an individual. Final adoption of the statement is best done by the entire group. The more broadly it is known and accepted, the better.
What should we do if we get stuck in the “what is” instead of “what could be”?
This is a common problem. Many good books on group meeting facilitation have techniques that can be used to jumpstart a conversation that is stuck. Two helpful rules are:
1. No talking about money or other resources. It is often limiting to think about what something would cost.
2. No judgment of ideas. When one member of a team criticizes another, it stifles creativity for the entire group. When discussing the future vision, do not allow anyone to judge or criticize the contributions of their peers. State up front that “every idea is a good idea” in the development stage. Then if anyone violates this rule, call them on it. This rule must be enforced to create the right environment for brainstorming.
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Goals and Objectives
Does every goal need an objective?
Every goal must have at least one objective to make it concrete. For example, if the goal is to reduce crime; an appropriate objective could be to have a decrease in felony crimes of 5 percent by the end of a year (or two).
How many goals is too many?
Often, the right number is somewhere between three and 10. During the mid-1990s when the New York City Police Department achieved a dramatic reduction in crime, the department had seven goals. Goals help us to focus. Too many goals and our focus is too diffused. Better to err on the side of too few than too many
Do we need outside help in setting goals?
Typically the best way to set goals is to empower the individuals who are accountable for achieving the results. Often senior executives are involved as well. Outside help can be useful in measuring results after the fact, or in devising measurement methodologies, but not in setting the organizational goals.
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