Strategic planning facilitation and business planning process for progressive mid-sized municipality.
Our customer organization is a mid-sized municipality of approximately 26,000 residents. Historically, the municipality has been well recognized for the quality of its fiscal planning, and has won several awards from the Government Finance Officers Association for the quality of their fiscal plans. Starting in 2008, the organization undertook to expand their planning focus and also significantly enhance the quality of their strategic and business planning.
Interthink Consulting Incorporated was selected through a competitive procurement process in September, 2008, to facilitate and support a comprehensive approach to strategic and corporate planning for the organization. Since that time, we have worked extensively with the municipality to develop and continue to enhance their planning process.
At the outset of our engagement, one of the criteria for success was, as stated by a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), “that we say no to something.” The origin of this comment was an environment where virtually every request from Council was taken on as a new project. The consequence was that many things started, few things completed and there was a pervasive sense that resources were spread far too thinly and those things that were being done were not being done as well as they could be.
The strategic planning process that was undertaken adopts a collaborative approach, where members of City Council and SLT are both actively engaged in reviewing goals, identifying priorities and defining objectives and strategies. Our facilitation approach has also involved the extensive incorporation of team development and team building exercises to continue to develop awareness, understanding and a sense of trust and commitment between Council and SLT.
Interthink Consulting has also worked extensively to develop a supporting process of corporate and departmental planning in alignment with the strategic planning approach. The process that has been developed has been designed to secure input and involvement of staff at supervisory and management levels, in addition to members of SLT. The complete process is one that supports full alignment of plans at a strategic, corporate and departmental level, and directly supports and feeds into the development of departmental budgets and the corporate fiscal plan. A comprehensive approach to evaluating projects and service delivery has also enabled the organization to build a more accurate view of the resources required to fully deliver the work of the organization and its availability capacity to support the defined plans.
As a result of Interthink Consulting’s work with the organization, the municipality has been able to realize a number of significant and valuable outcomes, including:
- Development of plans and a prioritization process that have enabled SLT to focus on and recommend only those corporate and departmental initiatives that best align with organizational priorities. The result is that, in the last planning process, only a third of initiatives that were identified in the planning process were undertaken in that fiscal year; the remaining initiatives have been consciously deferred for reconsideration in future planning periods.
- A review and approval process by Council that is incredibly focussed and efficient. The review and approval process of many other municipalities is often extremely lengthy and acrimonious, involving multi-day sessions and a large amount of political debate and confrontation. Since adopting the new planning process, Council review and approval of the annual plan is typically no longer than two meetings of between three and four hours each. Council has repeatedly recognized and commended administration for the quality and transparency of the planning process, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the plan review.
- Administration has been able to more accurately assess the capacity and delivery requirements of its workload, including the effort required to deliver on-going services and support the implementation of corporate and departmental initiatives. This has enabled SLT to recommend and secure support for the creation of more than 30 new positions throughout the organization in the past five years. Previously, there had been a strong aversion to any increase of staff complement. Being able to rationally and objectively present the workload, capacity and increased demands has enabled SLT to objectively discuss and secure support for growth that was previously viewed as politically unacceptable.
- Increased levels of trust, and improved collaboration and co-operation, within SLT as well as between Council and SLT. Planning participants have remarked on numerous occasions as to the improvement in the effectiveness, collaboration and co-operation within SLT, and the objectivity with which SLT members approach the planning process. Members of SLT have learned to adopt a corporate perspective in approach planning and prioritization, and have noted on several occasions the degree to which the promotion of individual departmental interests over corporate priorities has declined. Council has also on numerous occasions noted and remarked the improvement in co-operation and collaboration between Council and administration. Both improvements have been attributed in part to the adoption of the corporate planning process.
- Progressive development of internal planning and facilitation capabilities. Rather than continuing to rely and depend upon external consulting support to facilitate the planning process, the municipality has progressively taken internal ownership of the process of corporate planning. A full-time corporate planner was hired in 2011, and Interthink Consulting has progressively worked to develop internal expertise, transfer knowledge and support the adoption of internal ownership and responsibility for the process of corporate and departmental planning. In 2013, the City assumed full internal responsibility for the planning process.