Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | The nature of work has changed. Purpose-driven strategic plans can build purpose for workers across an organization.
The “Great Resignation” has led to discussions amongst local government leaders about why workers are leaving and how to keep them. Recent data has shown that the pandemic has caused the nature of work to change. According to a survey from McKinsey in April, nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees said that Covid-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. Nearly half said they are reconsidering the kind of work they do.
The same survey found disparities between front-line workers and the rest when it comes to whether they feel supported in their purpose at work. It raises the question how can local governments offer workers purpose? Historically, strategic planning is a process to define a mission, vision, and strategy for an organization to guide decision-making and allocation of resources. However, I would argue that strategic plans can be a device to build purpose for workers across an organization.
How do you build a strategic plan that affects the entire organization? How do you align the budget with your strategic plan? How do you connect each staff members’ work to a greater purpose? Leaders in local government can build and use strategic plans, the budget process, and department goals to answer each of these questions. They can then reinforce this work through storytelling throughout the organization.
Connecting the Dots Between Plans
In building our new strategic plan, we sought to align the goals of each department with the overall goals of the agency. We have done this in two ways: the budget process and long-term department goals.
Like many local governments, we use the annual budget process to plan the annual work for each department. In the past, the budget goals loosely connected the high-level themes of our strategic plans. However, because the alignment was so high-level, it was not always clear how a department’s work connected. Thanks to the work of our Finance Manager and the Business Operations Department, we now align each strategic goal in the strategic plan to the annual budget goals. In doing so, we connect the annual work of the agency to the greater purpose of the organization.
For example, one of the budget goals of human resources is to "establish a minimum of two partnerships to create a broader search for full-time and part-time staff to intentionally reach more diverse applicants by December 31, 2022.” This goal now aligns with the Strategic Plan Goal of to attract and retain a quality staff. By building this alignment, department work clearly shows how it addresses the agency’s overall purpose.
The next step was to align the long-term goals of a department to the Strategic Plan Goals and use the long-term ones to drive future budget actions. To do so, we facilitated long-term department goals that align with the overall agency’s goals. For example, while working with the Business Operations Department, we aligned the department goal of “to facilitate financial plans and processes to maintain PDOP financial sustainability and build trust with the community” with the strategic plan one of “financially strong: to develop sustainable financial plans and processes.”
Next, we aligned the actions to accomplish this goal in the Department Plan with the Strategic Plan ones. By creating these direct connections, the department can clearly see how their work aligns with the greater purpose of the organization. When supervisors assign individual performance goals, that work will now connect with the department’s long-term goals and in turn the long-term goals of the Strategic Plan. By taking the time to build this alignment, you make people value the plans because now they connect them to their work, creating purpose.
How many of your staff know your organizational values? While many agencies have organizational values, many do not reinforce them in conversations with staff. During one of our all staff meetings, the executive director asked if anyone knew our values. Only one staff member raised his hand. How can we expect staff to embody the principles of our agencies if we do not talk about the values on a regular basis?
During our performance dashboard quarterly review meetings, we now open each meeting with a discussion about why storytelling is important. To emphasize storytelling, we review a different movie (last quarter was Nightmare before Christmas), identifying the characters, challenges, actions, and desired outcomes (the key components of any narrative).
Each staff member then shares a story related to one of the values of the agency. It gets them speaking about where they are seeing inclusivity, innovation, responsible leadership, integrity, sustainability and community engagement in our agency’s work. Another way we do this is at the all staff meetings; Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Chair interviews different staff about what diversity, equity and inclusion means to them. These stories connect staff and help us all understand why inclusivity is important and benefits everyone.
We also have staff identify the story behind the data to connect how the work of the agency is addressing community challenges and achieving our strategic goals. For example, one of our goals is “to ensure all people have access to parks and recreation opportunities.” When analyzing our total scholarships offered for programs and passes, we identified that outreach is the most important challenge to overcome and that rethinking our social media and engagement strategies has been key in increasing participation.
While the data is important, it is the story that connects with staff about how their work makes an impact on the community. Moving forward, we will take this model and apply it to each department so more and more staff can use storytelling as a vehicle to connect their work to the greater purpose of the agency.
As we launch a new Strategic Plan in 2022, I am excited by the potential to incorporate the lessons we have learned in our performance review meetings and all staff meetings to all areas of the agency. With the long-term goals as a connector, we can connect front-line staffs’ work to the larger goals of the department and the departments’ long-term goals to the agency’s long-term goals. Through storytelling around the implementation of these plans, we can connect the day-to-day work with how we are moving the community forward. It is in this way local governments can position themselves to recruit and retain those desiring to leave their current organizations for greater purpose in their work.
Greg Stopka is strategy and innovation manager for Park District of Oak Park, Illinois.