In order to “go from here to there,” an agency must establish and implement an effective approach to strategy. An agency should consider participation and input from stakeholders, the strategic planning cycle, other planning within the agency, effective facilitation, the competencies of staff and how to overcome obstacles.

Participation and Input

As opposed to the “war room” or executive retreat method, an agency’s strategic planning efforts should invite input and direct participation from all levels of the agency, those being served and a range of partners and stakeholders. In reviewing the Strategic Plan, questions to consider are: 1) who has the expertise to best answer these questions; and 2) who needs to buy into these answers. This will guide agency decision-makers as far as who to involve in strategic planning activities.


Openly testing and refining a draft of a strategic plan in a highly inclusive way is an effective means to generate understanding and buy-in prior to any implementation of changes. Moreover, this level of involvement helps to groom future managers and executives, as more and more staff will be familiar with the work of the roles above them in the hierarchy and better connecting the perspective of those roles to their current work.


Strategic Planning Cycle

Many agencies develop and update their written strategic plans annually, in synch with their annual budgeting cycle and this is sensible timing for the purpose of securing needed resources. But to get the full value out of strategic planning as a participative activity, designed to drive continuous improvement and innovation throughout the agency and within its environment, months should be scheduled for its development and revisions to be completed. In a highly developed 

agency, a plan might be updated as needed with lessons learned from related monitoring activities, making it a “living” document. And these plans should contain multi-year goals, objectives and initiatives, not just those that impact the current year’s budgets.


Other Agency Planning

To implement and support the agency’s strategic plan, a number of other high-level agency plans should be put in place


  • Budget and Finance 
  • Administrative Practices 
  • Information  Management
  • Workforce (e.g., staff development, staffing) 
  • Communication (both internal and external)

As described above, department and function-specific work and capacity plans would also follow directly from the agency-wide strategic plan. While their primary development would likely occur in the final quarter of each fiscal year, these are also “living” documents based on the evolving agency strategy and lessons learned from monitoring activities.



Strategic plan development and related planning can be a highly innovative and an enriching developmental experience in and of itself. The facilitation of participative working sessions that result in such an experience should be highly customized and dynamic, allowing for safe, candid reflection by those involved, while still resulting in concrete work products and clear accountabilities. An agency’s planning or staff development functions should include such 

facilitators or contract with an outside facilitator to enable this experience.


Staff competencies that lead to effective strategy development and implementation include:

  • Communicating vision and direction 
  • Promoting ethics and fairness 
  • Strategic and systems thinking 
  • Systematic planning and organizing 
  • Time and stress management 
  • Continuous learning
  • Decision-making  and collaboration
  • A service orientation focused on the children, youth and families 
  • Environmental astuteness
  • Driving innovation

Overcoming Obstacles

An agency should anticipate and plan how it will overcome obstacles to implementing its strategy, a there will surely be a few.Typical obstacles to implementing a strategy include:

  • Shifting policies and regulatory requirements, PIPs, reform plans and consent decrees 
  • Unexpected traumas such as a child death or negative news cycle
  • Budget shortfalls and other unplanned resource cuts 
  • Changes to the executive team or other key participants 
  • Internal politics and interdepartmental turf disputes
  • Lack of effective support from functions like Human Resources and Information Technology 
  • Resistance from staff; cultural inertia
  • Lack of time to focus on strategic priorities vs. reacting to crises 
  • Operational or project performance below expectations
  • Limited performance of vendors and private providers


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