Strategic Planning (the cynic in me returns)

Every government department needs a five-year plan, whether they realise this or not. Many departments even get their act together to actually produce such a plan. You should be familiar with the standard process so that when the time comes you can participate with an appropriate level of skill. The process usually follows a path similar to this:

Step 1

The executive management team gets together when the realisation dawns that the department or branch has been doing the same thing for many years, and they are now so far behind everyone else in their area that they are almost completely irrelevant and in danger of becoming a joke. Worse than this, the department may be disbanded. If this happens it is the managers that would be most at risk of losing their jobs. Something must be done to regain the illusion of usefulness and relevance.

Step 2

The staff have to be kept in the dark about the need for a new plan. This ignores the fact that the staff have been muttering and grumbling about the lack of direction for years and pleading for a new strategy.

However, involving the staff is to be avoided at all costs as it will only complicate the process through the involvement of too many people, or worse still, it will attract numerous sensible and practical ideas that necessitate decisions to be made and actions to be undertaken.

Step 3 (Meeting 1)

The management team must meet behind closed doors to discuss the future direction. These discussions must follow the pattern of such documents, so the first step is to define the Vision and Mission Statement. A great deal of time is spent on this task as these set the scene for the final strategic plan. The Vision is usually a one or two line statement that encompasses the dreams of the organisation. It should be noted that these dreams cannot relate to wishes of permanent anonymity and increased funding, as this is a public statement. In normal circumstances the first two hours of a three-hour meeting are taken up creating and refining the Vision. In fact this usually involves lots of arguing over the precise wording, as personal preferences in language and grammar take over and the meeting degenerates into an argument about whether the word ‘provides’ or the word ‘presents’ is a better option.

An experienced procrastinator can ensure that the whole meeting can be taken up by this debate without a definite resolution. However, a great deal of skill is required for this and it should not be attempted by beginners. A tip for first-timers is to initially stir the waters by bringing up a deeply philosophical question such as, ‘At its core, what exactly is the purpose behind coming up with a vision? And what is the difference between the Vision and Mission Statement anyway?’ It is guaranteed that most people in the room, if not all, will not really know the answer and are just following the standard headings without question. Some will attempt to answer and in the process derail the meeting and demonstrate their own lack of knowledge, tailing off into silence as they realise the hole they are digging. Hopefully by then it will be too late and numerous arguments will have broken out about what the differences actually are.

Step 4 (Meeting 2)

A repeat the previous meeting, but this time relating to the Mission Statement. It casts doubt on the progress made so far and re-opens the battles that were apparently left unresolved concerning the Vision. These battles are never completely resolved because an experienced civil servant knows the value of holding a grudge for long periods of time.

Step 5 (Meeting 3)

This meeting will move on from the debacle of trying to define the Vision and Mission Statement, leaving them poorly worded and open to ridicule, and preferably meaningless. Now it will be time to agree on the Objectives and Desired Outcomes. It goes without saying that the same confusion about the meanings of these two terms will cause this meeting to degenerate in the same way as the previous meetings. What is a Desired Outcome? What is an Objective? Surely the Outcomes you are working towards are the same as the Objectives…aren’t they? Say no more.

Step 6 (Meeting 4)

If there is any will left to continue this process, and in reality it has often disappeared by this stage, it is now time to look at Actions and Responsibilities. In all likelihood what happens is that the procrastinators have successfully ground their colleagues into the dust and they are only able to come up with vague general statements about intent, with no substance. Where responsibilities are assigned, the vague nature of the actions is such that nobody knows what they mean and nothing will happen. And there you have the generic government strategic plan.

(This is an extract from You Can’t Polish a Turd – the Civil Servants Manual)

About George Fripley
I am a writer who enjoys writing humour, satire, poetry and sometimes a bit of philosophy. I live in Perth, Western Australia and occasionally get a poem or article published. It's all good fun! I have two books available for unwary readers, Grudges, Rumours and Drama Queens- The Civil Servant's Manual (This contains all that anybody could ever want to know about why government runs so slowly) and More Gravy Please! - the Politician's Handbook. (available through Amazon)

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