The biggest hurdles local governments face in strategic planning come after the plan is published. How do we get the organization aligned with the priorities and goals identified in the plan? How do we ensure that frontline staff knows how their efforts help achieve corporate outcomes and the organization’s mission? And most importantly, how do we know that our investment will help produce the results we want?
The City of Maplewood, Minnesota tackled this problem head-on and discovered three important tactics toward fully deploying the strategic plan: engaging all stakeholders, having a reporting framework, and sharing progress with the community.
Goal-Setting as a Management Exercise
Shortly after Melinda Coleman took the reins as city manager in 2015, Mike Funk joined the City of Maplewood as assistant city manager and director of human resources. Their first priority was building the city’s strategic plan.
“We sat down with the City Council for a day-long retreat. At that time, we had more of a focus on goal-setting rather than strategy,” Mike explained. The discussion stayed among the senior leaders in the organization, however. “In fact, later when we asked our staff members what was in the strategic plan, many did not know that we even had one.”
Tracking progress towards goals was another challenge. “As we all know, cities are data rich, but we weren't using our data. We were using action steps and trying to report on those. Our strategic plan was spread out across 36 elongated Excel spreadsheets and it was really just a lot of words. We did not have performance measures. We did not have charts and graphs, and we didn't talk about starting places or end places. That all made reporting difficult,” explained Mike.
There had to be a better way.
“We wanted to make sure we got buy-in for our plan throughout all levels of the organization. We also knew that we needed to get beyond annual reporting. We weren't able to really gauge if we were on target when we looked at the data just once a year,” said Mike. “After 2016, we knew that we were not putting our best foot forward on the strategic plan. That's when we first started working with Envisio.”
The City of Maplewood adopted Envisio to keep their strategic plan on track and to help them collect, analyze and visualize city data to better inform decisions. The city management team also planned to roll out a public dashboard to showcase their progress to residents.
Element 1: Engage Stakeholders in Planning
In their next round of strategic planning, Maplewood went beyond just consulting with the council to include all stakeholders, starting with residents.
“We did a community-wide survey to help us really get an understanding of the community,” Mike explained. Lois Knutson, who works with Mike and Melinda as administrative services and performance measurement coordinator, used that feedback from residents to support extensive planning meetings with six department heads, 40 supervisors and many of the city’s 170 full-time employees.
According to Lois, “We had parks and maintenance staff, for example, sitting at the table with us creating action steps that feed into our performance measures and, ultimately, our key outcomes.”
This time, when Mike and Melinda arrived at the City Council retreat, they were empowered with community feedback, a list of key outcomes indicators, supporting performance measures and a staff action plan—all aligned to help achieve the six City Council priorities.
Mayor Marylee Abrams commented on the city’s new strategic plan, “It's our roadmap on where our city is headed. I think it brings the community into the decision-making of the city so that they can see clearly what it is that we're doing and why we're doing it.”
They also knew that the strategic plan couldn’t hide in spreadsheets anymore. They sought out a centralized strategy and performance management solution.
Today, employees at all levels track their progress on actions and initiatives in personal, color-coded dashboards. Blue means ‘completed,’ green ‘in progress,’ yellow ‘some disruption,’ and so on. They receive email reminders to help them stay on track and ensure they make regular performance updates.
“Every day everybody comes in and they have a playbook to go by,” said Melinda. “I think that actually helps employees feel good about coming to work and about the work that they're doing.”
Lois explained how centralized performance management is also helping to break down department silos: “There has been more of a common focus among our departments. The breakdown of silos has really created more teamwork and camaraderie amongst our departments.”
Element 2: Regular Reporting to Maintain Focus on Strategic Priorities
Mike described the importance of progress tracking throughout the year to support better decisions and maintain focus on their six strategic priorities: “Reporting is really important and one of the biggest advantages of using software to manage strategy execution. We set up quarterly reports that are automatically generated and sent out to our department heads. They use them at staff meetings, and it helps keep us all focused.”
Reports are also generated for city council meetings to provide updates on action items in context with strategic priorities. “It helps City Council stay focused, especially when there might be road projects or other capital equipment purchases on the agenda,” said Mike. “It helps us counsel and remind them what our priorities are to keep us thinking strategically.”
Element 3: Build Community Trust with Online Dashboards
Maplewood residents can visit their public dashboard online to stay abreast of the outstanding work that city employees are doing for the community.
“One of the hallmarks of our City Council is that they want to be transparent,” emphasized Melinda. “Envisio allows us to report to our community and our residents on what we're doing. It allows us to tell our story and show that we’re being good stewards of their resources.”
“About 32% of our community is from a diverse background. So, we want to make a real effort to make those people feel included as part of our city. To support our ‘community inclusiveness’ priority, the police department in 2018 had a goal of spending a combined total of 672 hours doing volunteer outreach in the community. We can see from our data that they actually spent over 1,000 hours working at different public events within our community!”
While there have been bumps in the road, the journey for Maplewood’s management team has been well worth the resulting outcomes. Today, the City of Maplewood has reached new maturity levels in city performance and analytics, operational effectiveness, employee morale, transparency and public trust.
Mayor Marylee Abrams commented on the City’s new inclusive and transparent approach to planning, performance management and reporting:
“I think it means everything to our community that they can trust that their elected officials are making the very best decisions, and that those decisions are transparent, that there is a foundation for them, that they are part of the strategic goals that we've set for our city, and we know exactly what it is that we're accomplishing.”
Maplewood Public Dashboard – Strategic Priority 6: Targeted Redevelopment
The Bottom Line: Effective Deployment Requires Good Communication
The common theme running through these practices is frequent, open, and meaningful communication. First, by involving your residents, businesses, and staff in conversation about the direction of the community and organization, you’ve opened a dialogue that results in a plan that includes their perspectives. Second, frequent and robust reporting allows individuals to understand how their activities are supporting the overall direction. And lastly, publicizing the progress and achievement of goals on a public dashboard helps close the loop and provide transparency into the process.
Your plan will go from sitting on “the shelf” to a living document that influences daily decision-making.
Envisio provides the strategic planning software, performance analytics, and strategy execution team to take civic leaders from plan to action. We help local governments to build trust with their communities and elected officials by visibly delivering on their plans and clearly communicating performance.
Manage all of your strategic and operational plans in one place. See exactly what is being delivered, by whom and when. Create on-demand or scheduled reports and share them in a single click. Use customizable public dashboards to tell your story to your community.
Envisio works with 80+ cities, counties and towns across North America.