Strategic planning is a process offers a way to systematically develop a vision of a desired community at some future time and a plan for attaining that vision. Furthermore, strategic plans are required components for many loans and grants to public entities. Strategic planning also provides a framework for analyzing alternatives, avoiding unpleasant surprises, and promoting a sense of community.
Local governments are increasingly being challenged, with limited resources, to address complex and changing problems of culturally diverse citizens. Communities today are much less homogeneous because people are quite mobile. New ideas and values are being introduced at a rapid rate. In order to make the most of their scarce resources, governments and other organizations must sharpen their focus, establish priorities, and take decisive action. It is not too simplistic to say, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” A strategic plan establishes a blueprint for the local government’s future and serves as the basis for day-to-day strategic management.
In addition to the benefits provided by the product of strategic planning, the plan—the process itself—has tremendous value for a community. There is no better community-building experience than a broad-based strategic planning effort. The participants in the strategic planning process should include all stakeholders in the community including elected and appointed officials and department heads, local government employees, educators, local business and professional leaders, civic and citizens groups, and citizens-at-large. Further, they should come from all geographic areas and reflect the gender, economic distribution, and racial mix of the community. Active participation educates and empowers citizens at the same time it commits them and makes them share responsibility for the success of local government programs and policies.
The focus of strategic planning, whether carried out by the military, a private business, or a local government, is on making critical choices that will make the organization successful. The basic question that strategic planning asks organizations to respond to is: “What direction should we take in response to present and anticipated circumstances?” More traditional planning approaches consider the past and base future plans on historic trends.
Turning points are often missed. Strategic planning considers possible future events and trends and then bases planning decisions and resource allocation on anticipated future changes and events. For this reason, municipalities, counties, and nonprofit organizations are developing strategic plans intended to take advantage of opportunities that complement organizational strengths, address critical internal weaknesses, and counter external threats.
The Value of Strategic Planning
Promotes a sense of community among citizens and other stakeholders
Emphasizes thinking about the future
Helps focus scarce resources into areas considered most beneficial by stakeholders
Aids in continuity of decision-making
Promotes relevance as well as efficiency when considering public services and amenities
Considers the community itself and its environment
Helps avoid unpleasant surprises
Succinctly defined, strategic planning is a systematic process by which an entity attempts to anticipate and plan for the future. Strategic planning is a process, or tool, that can be used to help an organization meet the challenges of a changing environment. The obvious connection is to military strategy in which each opposing force attempts to maximize its advantages and minimize threats through strategic decisions. In the same spirit, a local government or nonprofit organization seeks to use strategic planning to place the organization in an optimal position to maximize organizational strengths in relation to external opportunities while countering external threats and addressing internal weaknesses that prevent strategic actions. (Public Management,
The generic strategic planning process features several basic steps. These steps include the following: formulating a vision for the organization, developing a mission statement, scanning the environment, identifying strategic issues, selecting goals and objectives, and defining action steps for accomplishing goals and objectives. Strategic planning clearly involves two key elements of any successful planning process: the identification of broad issues (organizational vision, a mission statement, and strategic issues) and defining more specific operational procedures and steps (goals, objectives, and action steps).
Applying the Strategic Planning Process
In simplest terms, the strategic planning process asks the organization to respond to four questions: 1) Where are we now? (analysis); 2) Where do we want to be? (strategy); 3) How do we get there? (implementation); and 4) How do we measure our progress? (benchmarking).
Where Are We Now? (Analysis): Whatever technique is utilized, strategic planners should analyze local institutions, services, general economic conditions, population trends, and the business community. Typically, this is accomplished through techniques such as analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats, or SWOT analysis. For each area of concern, organizations should examine both internal and external factors. Internal factors include resources (inputs), current strategies (process), and performance (outputs). The internal factors should be analyzed in terms of strengths and weaknesses. External factors are things the organization does not control but, nevertheless, have an impact on the organization. These factors should be documented as opportunities or threats to the organization. This stage of the planning process provides a starting point for identifying important, or strategic, issues that should be addressed by the plan. The strategic plan should, at a minimum, outline ways to overcome weaknesses and counter environmental threats. At the same time, it should ensure that the organization takes advantage of organizational strengths and opportunities in its environment.
Where Do We Want to Be? (Strategy): After determining where the organization is, the next step is to determine where the organization wants to be at some future time. This is a critical step in the strategic planning process because it involves reaching some level of consensus about what the organization would like to become. This step involves developing an overall vision for the community or organization, a general statement that reflects organizational hopes and aspirations for the future. Ideally, the vision statement should have the power to inspire organization members to pursue their desired futures.
Next, for each strategic issue that is identified, strategic planners must develop goals and objectives. Goals are broad and general descriptions of desired outcomes. Objectives are specific and measurable targets for accomplishing goals. For example, if the strategic issue is “Improving Governmental Effectiveness,” one goal might be to develop the skills and abilities of the city’s workforce.
How Do We Get There? (Implementation): The next step is to develop the specific action plan, a detailed description of how goals and objectives will be implemented. An action plan specifies who (individuals and units) will be involved, the time frame for accomplishment,needed resources (personnel, money, equipment or other resources), key milestones, and the expected result(s) or product. The more detailed, and action-oriented, the implementation plan, the better. The action plan turns strategic planning into strategic management.
How Do We Measure Our Progress? (Benchmarking): Each strategic issue should have an associated set of benchmarks or measures to evaluate accomplishment and correct implementation problems. Without appropriate benchmarks, it will not be possible for organization stakeholders to know what success is being made toward accomplishing their goals. Important features for effective benchmarks include: 1) making the benchmarked item a key activity; 2) making sure that objective, understandable measurement information is available; and 3) assuring that the benchmarked item measures accomplishment or results, not simply activity. Another important source of information for measuring progress is the organizational budget. Finally, it is critical that a lead group such as a strategic planning steering committee be responsible for monitoring progress and continuing to involve key stakeholders in the process.
This can be accomplished through quarterly (or monthly) progress reports from the responsible parties. Some organizations have found it effective to use multiple committees dedicated to discrete strategic issues (such as economic development, infrastructure, or public safety) as monitoring units. The steering committee(s) should also play a key role in keeping the strategic plan a dynamic, evolving process. As goals are accomplished, the committee will be able to develop new tasks and to modify existing goals.
The city of Mississauga set forth a strategic plan, preparing themselves and their community for the new millennium. This plan was developed as a framework to identify long-term growth and development and to create a link between all City plans and strategies. In 1992, the city approved the initial strategic management plan in a response to their rapidly growing city. The Plan consisted of nine vision statements, each with detailed objectives and strategic action in place. Since it’s inception, this strategic plan has been reviewed and revised as a strategic plan should be, with a tenth vision statement added in 1999. The ten vision statements for the City of Mississauga are outlined as follows:
1) Mississauga will be a distinct major Canadian city.
2) The City Centre will be downtown Mississauga.
3) Mississauga will have distinct and recognizable communities.
4) Mississauga will have a dynamic and diverse economic base.
5) Mississauga will have a transportation system which allows for safe and efficient movement within and beyond the city.
6) Mississauga will provide the right services, delivered in a superior way, at a reasonable cost.
7) Mississauga will be an environmentally responsible community.
8) Mississauga will be governed in an open and responsive manner.
9) Mississauga will achieve excellence in public administration.
10) Mississauga will offer a diversity of cultural opportunities.
The City of Mississauga did not simply design a strategic plan to have it framed and hung on the wall. They first determined where they were and where they wanted to be. After the creation of the strategic plan they have reviewed it, measured it against their successes and implemented changes where needed. Each of their vision statements contains specific, measurable objectives, and actions to help them achieve their goals. Their strategic plan meets the criteria for a progressive plan as outlined by Bryson, in Strategic Planning in Public and Voluntary Services. The plan identifies a clear vision of success, with measurable, obtainable goals. The individuals within the community are viewed as an asset and a source to help achieve the vision. (Bryson, 1999)
Mississauga, through their strategic planning, identified where they are and where they wanted to be. Their plan has tremendous value to their community, not simply because it identifies positive direction, but because it brings the community together to reach those goals and objectives that they have laid out. They demonstrate this community support in terms of the relationships they have built within the city and outlying areas, in order to meet their goals. For example, the Stewardship Centre was created by a joint effort between the city and the University of Toronto in order to work towards improvements in health within the community. Together, they identified nine priority health issues, specific to the community and developed strategies to work on those issues. Without the collective effort of units like this, the likelihood that they would address issues of concern for all, would decrease.
Mississauga will be a distinct major Canadian City. Strategic objectives identified in order to meet this goal include the creation of a safe, well-designed city with a population exceeding 780,000, the creation of over 500,000 jobs, promotion of a variety of cultural and social amenities, and a positive and progressive identity. To date, Mississauga has a population of 700,000, and is identified as Canada’s 6th largest city. Employees in Mississauga are currently 425,000 with 20,000 in the larger City Centre’s area. This is a vast goal, which will encompass many of the others in order to achieve Mississauga as a distinct Canadian city. Mississauga is recognized as one of Canada’s most successful communities.
Mississauga is always focused on the future and identifying objectives that can be measured, providing opportunities to promote the sense of community. Mississauga clearly identifies where they want to be, in measurable terms, including population growth, business development, transportation, and the cost of services, to name a few. With clearly defined measurements, they are able to assess how they are doing, relative to their goals, and make necessary changes along the way.
The City Centre will be downtown Mississauga. The development of a strong City Centre, that is visually attractive, with a strong identity, combined with providing a safe, functional, “people-oriented” city, are included in the strategic plan. Mississauga’s City Centre is a significant urban centre and transportation hub in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Currently 40,000 people live and 20,000 employees work in the greater City Centre area.
Their plan is to increase the number of City Centre residents to more 100,000 people and will be a work place for more than 60,000 employees.
Mississauga will have distinct and recognizable communities. Objectives identified to meet this goal include the preservation and enhancement of local communities, completion of appropriate services and facilities for communities, and the preservation of historical areas. Appropriate actions include the identification of community features that need protection and appropriate services and facilities for communities. This goal demonstrates Mississauga’s commitment to it’s citizens and community.
Mississauga will have a dynamic and diverse economic base. Economic development will be a primary support to accomplishing the overall vision for Mississauga. Objectives included in this goal are the retention of existing businesses, growth in businesses, attracting new businesses, establishment of a competitive edge, and a commitment to fostering business and education. Mississauga has focused a great deal of energy and assets to building a strong business community. Their economic development office will provide connections and resources to help not only establish new businesses but revitalize current businesses. Mississauga invests its money in its people. Having done so, both in communities and in business, the people of Mississauga support their administration.
Mississauga will have a transportation system which allows for safe and efficient movement within and beyond the City. Mississauga has invested capital in their transportation system, providing for the encouragement and success of area businesses. Businesses have easy access to both national and global markets. Mississauga maintains Canada’s largest airport. Well-maintained roads and major freeways, combined with an extensive public transportation system, encourage both residential and business re-location. Mississauga boasts an extensive network of seven major highways and two principal railways. In addition, there is direct access to all lake ports and to the Atlantic Ocean. (Quesnel, 2000)
Mississauga will provide the right services, delivered in a superior way, at a reasonable cost. Mississauga is a community that is debt free, with more than $600 million in reserves. They provide quality education, quality housing, and healthcare, while maintaining a low tax base.
Mississauga will be an environmentally responsible community. Mississauga supports a number of environmental challenges and supports to the business and residential communities. Their plan is responsive to their goals. They survey the community needs on a regular basis and plan accordingly. With respect to environmental issues, the Plan sets out how Mississauga will protect and maintain significant natural heritage systems, promote pollution reduction and land use compatibility; protect people and property from hazards and conserve and re-use natural resources. (Stokes, 1994)
Mississauga will be governed in an open and responsive manner and achieve excellence in public administration. Mississauga established a broad goal of wanting to be a distinct Canadian city, followed by more specific objectives used to accomplish that. Through governmental policy and procedure they are able to identify the operational or action steps that will help them accomplish their goals. The government of Mississauga is responsive to the needs of its citizens as well as to the strategic plan. This administration helps identify a specific action plan and allocate resources needed in order to meet their goals. This administration is also constantly measuring their progress and identifying where changes need to occur. The administration was very thorough in outlining their plan. They identified their goals, and defined specific strategies to carry out each stage of the mission. They prioritized and allocated resources appropriately in order to meet their objectives. (Cypher ; Deitz, 1997)
Mississauga succeeded, not only in terms of policy and procedure, but in terms of public relations as well. Their administration sold this strategic plan to the public. The public bought into service in order to accomplish the plan as well. Mississauga has thorough and direct lines of communication with the public. The agenda and minutes from all committee meetings are available to the public on their website, as well as updates in priorities and community updates. Communication tactics are the visible elements of a strategic plan. They are what people see and do—Web sites and news releases, tours and billboards, and so much more. Tactics are also the elements of the plan that can carry a hefty price tag, so planning and coordination are particularly important. (Smith, 2005)
The purpose of strategic planning is to provide management with a framework in which decisions can be made which will have an impact on the organization. A conscious effort to systematize the effort and to manage its evolution is preferable to an unmanaged and haphazard evolution. The basic planning problem is how to allocate the organization’s limited resources.
The major benefits to be expected from planning include an improved sense of direction for the organization, better performance, increased understanding of the organization and its purpose, earlier awareness of problems, and more effective decisions. Long-range planning is most often an extrapolation of the present. It answers the question of how to get the job done.
Strategic management may have two diametrically opposed definitions. One is that it is the overall encompassing effort for total management of an organization, meaning that strategic planning is merely a portion or tool of strategic management. (Mercer, 1991) It is sometimes thought that strategic planning is just another buzz word for long-range planning. There are major differences between strategic planning and garden variety long-range planning. First, strategic planning is much more sensitive to the external environment than long- range planning. Traditionally, long-range planning was inwardly focused. The goals and objectives were formulated with minimal attention to the larger system in which the institution functioned.
Traditional long-range planning could be conducted with minimal involvement of stakeholders, those affected by the plan. Strategic planning relies on information from internal and external stakeholders regarding their needs, expectations and requirements as the foundation for planning.
Related to the first difference is the fact that traditional long-range planning tends to maintain the status quo over time. Assuming that the future will be a linear extension of the present, planners typically spend little time attempting to reshape the organization. Strategic planning is much more likely to result in a deliberate shift in direction or refocusing of mission in light of changes, actual or anticipated.
Since long-range planning has generally been oriented to the status quo, visioning was not a critical component. Strategic plans, however, are developed around a vision of success or a vision of the desired future. This idealized word picture represents the best possible future for the institution. The plan helps the make this shared vision a reality. (Bryson, 1988)
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Bryson, J. (1988). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Cypher, James M., and James L. Dietz. The Process of Economic Development. London: Routledge, 1997. Questia. 22 June 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=104127114>.
“From Strategic Planning to Visioning: Tools for Navigating the Future.” Public Management May 2001: 23. Questia. 22 June 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001037727>.
Mercer, James L. Strategic Planning for Public Managers. New York: Quorum Books, 1991. Questia. 22 June 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=23600373>.
Quesnel, Louise. “Municipal Reorganisation in Quebec.” Canadian Journal of Regional Science 23.1 (2000): 115-34. Questia. 22 June 2006 <http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002322097>.
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Strategy Safari A Guided Tour Through the Wilds of Strategic Management
by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand, and Joseph Lampel
The Free Press, New York, 1998