When developing strategic plans, keep these tips from OWP members in mind:
- Process is critical but don’t lose sight of the end. Have an adaptive product that provides direction and guidance. “You can create a great document, but a change in policy, budget or environment can render it obsolete tomorrow,” reminds Heidi Nelson at Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
- Do your homework. Work to fully understand the drivers and needs of your agency or program. “Then, you can use the plan as a foundation for navigating unforeseen challenges in the future,” adds Nelson.
- Think broadly. Colorado Parks and Wildlife considered current research and data on changing demographics in the state, as well as trends in outdoor recreational uses and interests for their strategic plan.
- Secure staff and stakeholder engagement. “It’s critical to get their buy-in,” says Amy Derosier at Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “But it takes a lot of work, thought and time.”
- Manage expectations. “Be careful of setting them too high,” warns Desrosier. “It’s hard to do.”
- Prioritize! Not everything can be a top priority. You’ll need to make some hard decisions, and determine what is really most important to tackle at this time.
- Leverage and align with existing processes. In some states, there are state laws and/or policies about strategic planning and performance reporting. Understand these and weave them into your process where possible.
- Planning is a thinking exercise, not a writing exercise. Perhaps the most important part of the strategic planning process are the discussions about what are the most important issues, why we think they are important and then crafting alternative solutions to consider.
“The value of strategic planning is in creating a common understanding of the direction the organization is heading. The plan itself is a map that keeps staff moving in that direction,” says Ann Fortschen, former OWP President, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”
Even after your strategic plan is completed:
- Stay relevant. Link everyday business with the plan, once it’s completed and approved.
- Use common language. Encourage leadership to continue to talk about the plan, and especially about your work in the context of the plan. This reinforces the plan among the staff and stakeholders.
- Develop an annual report tied to strategic plan. “It shows transparency as an agency, and conﬁrms how your work supports the plan,” adds Desrosier.
- Use metrics tied to plan. Michigan, for instance, developed one or more metrics for each objective in the plan to track “This helps us think about the outputs and outcomes we are trying to achieve, it helps us report on our PR grants and it provides data for our annual reports,” reports Derosier.
- Remember the plan is a communication tool. “Consider developing a simpliﬁed (less technical) version of the strategic plan for public/management consumption,” suggests Nelson. “It will help make it clear what you are working towards.”
- Implementation can be tough! Be aware of defensive excuses for inaction and reframe as “Let’s go! Where is the best place to start?” Be sure you convey the importance of implementation and do your best to build a collective understanding of common pros, cons and roadblocks. Start small and build upon success, and expect SARA along the way: Surprise, Anger, Resentment and Acceptance.
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