Developing and implementing a strategic plan for your municipality is no easy feat. Success in today's business environment requires that a company's leaders have the ability to create a vision of the organization's future direction as well as the course it needs to get there.
Strategic planning should be a process that provides for the following:
- Balanced input
- Thoughtful consideration
- Selection of a course of action that will transform your municipality and lead to profitable growth
- Highly focused action on a few strategic initiatives in support of that course and direction
If your current process is virtually non-existent or fails to attain the intended results you may need to bring in a professional management consulting firm to help set your municipality up for success, such as The Mercer Group. William “Bill” Stipp, Senior Vice President for The Mercer Group, sat down with us to define the unique process used to facilitate the creation of municipal strategic plans across the United States.
Bill has a unique understanding of the issues facing local government as he was elected to serve as a member of the City Council in his hometown of 72,000. This extraordinary perspective further deepens Bill and The Mercer Group’s recognition of the issues regularly plaguing local governments.
The Mercer Group believes in being inclusive and ensuring all layers of the government are tuned in to the strategic planning process.
"We start with an alignment survey through confidential surveys online and it basically ensures that the council is in agreement around alignment that strategic planning itself is important and that the process of strategic planning is important. Finding the common ground for that process is where we start,” says Stipp.
By giving identical surveys to the Mayor and Council members, and to the City Manager their team, it’s easier to see whether or not alignment exists. If there are areas of divergence, they must be fixed before proceeding with the strategic initiatives otherwise the foundation of your plan may have a crack in it that could eventually collapse the whole thing. According to Stipp, “You can’t execute a strategic plan if you have a broken organization.”
Some of the key factors that Stipp suggests focusing on are fiscal, sustainability, city growth and organization, community quality of life, and infrastructure. These help form the foundation from which a plan can be built on, while also taking into consideration any other major concerns that may be pertinent to the specific municipality such as transportation needs or waterways.
The Mercer Group ensures that the cities they collaborate with have a strategic plan that is focused on meeting the strategic priorities for their community. Follow up interviews are conducted with individual Council members and staff where the main topic of discussion is the strategic focus area.
But, one of the most important aspects of bringing in a management consulting firm is how they support the municipality from discussions, planning, and ultimately the execution of the strategic plan. The Mercer Group does what they call "Best Practice Maintenance" to identify programs or resources that can aid the sustainability of the infrastructure included the plan to help get to the crux the municipalities objectives.
Without people, there is no plan, so The Mercer Group aims to achieve, “Engaged employees, trained employees, and a collective workforce that is happy to execute their work,” says Stipp.
Strategic focus areas are the product of engaging the town or city's vision, mission and core values and help the Mercer Group answer the question of what exactly the focus should be. This is where The Mercer Group’s three areas of strategic focus come into play: Purpose, Function, Process (all three making up the “What” questions), and Structure (encompassing the “How” questions). Without having answers for the “What” questions, there is no way to get to the “How”. Although as always there is no guarantee, there is strong evidence that link long-term stability to adherence to a strategic focus.
What does it all mean?
When the Mercer Group completes their process, local governments have a sustainable, usable plan.
“Some strategic plans are between 60 and 100 pages long. When we’re done we leave the municipality with a document that’s about 30 pages in length. When we leave a city, they’re able to get things done. We tell them, ‘You don’t have to bring us back, the process we’ve given you can be updated annually without bringing consultants back in year after year,’” says Stipp
The Mercer Group encourages strategic implementation and reporting software in order to stay on track and operationalize city’s strategic plans.