Friday, March 02, 2012

Strategic Planning Is Organic, Not One-And-Done

I've created a few strategic blueprints and supervised the process for others during my now-concluded career in community-destination marketing management.  So I understand a little bit about what a Herculean effort it must've been, even with consultants to produce strategic plans recently for both the City of Durham and Durham County.

I remember how stunned I once was when a consultant told me that the plan I had written and supervised in 1992 and then updated each year for a much smaller organization was recognized internationally as best practice.  I also remember how stunned he was to learn it had been produced internally.

I was even more stunned when he told me in front of my governing board at the time that it would have cost $100,000 or more if you import done externally.

Of course the strategic plans produced for the City and County are not nearly as in depth as the one with which I was so closely involved  because it was a much tinier and more narrowly-focused organization but also in my view the City’s and County’s are sub strategic plans sandwiched between the overarching Durham Comprehensive Plan and soon-to-be created tactical plans for each of the 20+ agencies that make up each of these large organizations.

As I thoroughly read and enjoyed the individual plans for the City and County which have been accepted/adopted by their respective governing bodies, I hoped that enough flexibility had been built in to the process for the management and staff of these organizations to infill things that are always overlooked in any process of this size.

Plans such as these should be organic anyway.  Even though by nature they are multiple-year plans, they are much stronger and improved if small modifications can be made ongoing rather than one-and-done.

For instance, it is probably just an oversight that Keep Durham Beautiful and the Durham Appearance Advocacy Group were not included under the excellent list of community partnerships that were begun near the end of the City plan.  I also see “appearance” listed as a priority in the SWOC section (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges – more typically referred to as threats in private sector plans – or SWOT) but seemingly not addressed in the action portion.

It may be just my take but ironically, it seems that infrastructure has been broadened to include “green” infrastructure in the older, bigger-picture Comprehensive Plan but may still be somewhat limited to traditional references in plans specific to the City or County.

A helpful addition to each plan for residents might be to modify the respective mission statements so that the inherent division of effort between the City and County is more apparent.  This would particularly help those who are under the mistaken impression that the the organizations are unnecessary duplications.

It would be a shame and a waste of time if small details like this can't be remedied without going back through City Council, which for a governing board is far too involved in day-to-day minutia.

I was pleased that both plans include visitors as external stakeholders and customers, something overlooked by many communities.  I was also impressed that both plans included a central role for communications and marketing and that things such as community image and pride were mentioned.

I was also pleased to see both plans include a statement of core values, especially one in the County’s plan about “building consensus through give and take.”  Had that value existed during my now-concluded career, I would not only have far fewer tire tracks up my front and backsides, but many win/lose decisions would have been more win-win with even better results.

It is a little puzzling that these two plans don't more explicitly connect the dots back to the equally excellent but much longer-term and bigger-picture Comprehensive Plan that is just completing a midcourse update and overarches both organizations.  I hope it's not a case of the overarching plan being “siloed” and that I'm just missing something.

An example would be the comprehensive plan’s goal and objectives for”Roadway Image” in Chapter 4, Community Character and Design.  There are places in both the City and County plans that could've easily tied back to the two areas in particular where residents have recently given the community negative scores on scientific surveys such as roadside appearance and communitywide wayfinding.

That same segment in the Comprehensive Plan seems to signal that expanding the Urban Tree Canopy, street tree replacement and buried utility lines should be noted in the individual strategic plan for each organization. These are just examples and of course related to passions of mine, but they aren't isolated.

I think the creation of these two strategic plans is a huge step forward and a real tribute to the many excellent public administrators who worked so hard to create them and many more who will now be expected to not only execute them, but keep them current.

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