Key Processes

Key Processes are those activities or protocols necessary for developing and executing a strategic plan. For successful strategic planning, the key processes include: communication; decision-making; quality assurance; data collection and analysis; case management policies and procedures; continuous improvement; professional development; and performance management.


When the strategic planning process is open and inclusive of all levels of the organization, as well as children, youth, families and stakeholders, the result is more buy-in and more innovative and realistic tactics and initiatives. This requires a well-choreographed approach to bringing the right people together at the right times, informing them about answers to questions within the Strategic Plan, asking for their input regarding these same questions and informing them of ongoing 

progress and adjustments being made.


Making critical decisions, often “tough calls,” in alignment with an agency’s strategy requires  thoughtful decision-making process that includes the following steps:

  • Who is involved or will be impacted by this decision? 
  • What is the current situation related to this decision?
  • What data do we need to make a well-informed decision and do we have it?
  • What is our criteria for satisfaction- what is the outcome that we reasonably expect? 
  • What are the alternative decisions we might make and what are their pros and cons? 
  • What is the clear, specific decision?
  • How should our decision be implemented and communicated?

Establishing the basis for group input and group decision-making helps balance the need for quick and authoritative decisions with inclusive and empowering decisions where beneficial. In determining what type of decision to make, three factors are important to consider:

  • To whom is this decision highly relevant?
  • Who possesses the expertise needed to make a good decision?
  • Are those we might involve because of relevance and expertise committed to the same outcomes as we are?

Where relevance, expertise and commitment are all high, a group majority or consensus decision is usually the best approach. When relevance is high but expertise or commitment is low, group input is more beneficial. And when relevance is low, making an authoritative decision (with individual expert input if needed) is usually the best approach.


Quality Assurance

Like decision-making, quality assurance processes need to use criteria for satisfaction and measures of quality that are directly related to agency strategy and they need to examine all of the relevant, informative points in the process being evaluated. For example, a quality check at intake that monitors and troubleshoots accuracy and timeliness will not be sufficient if an agency’s strategic objectives include reducing disparity, improving how the agency is seen by those 

it serves, or connecting an individual or family to a fuller range of services when needed.


Data Collection and Analysis

When data translates into valuable information and knowledge it supports the development and monitoring of the agency’sstrategic plan. Typical data requirements that support agency strategy include:

  • Environmental trends such as demographic shifts
  • Longitudinal data across programs that focus on the individual, family and community
  • Data that enable root cause analysis for what is and isn’t working in the operation 
  • Data to populate an overarching performance “dashboard”
  • Data to support individual and unit performance management
  • Data to “tell the agency’s story” to staff, stakeholders and children, youth and families served


Budget Development and Finance

Processes and tools for allocating resources to current operations and new initiatives need to be directly tied to strategic goals and objectives. Too often they are tied instead to historical trends or basic compliance with stakeholder expectations.


Case Management Policies and Procedures

Effective strategic plans result in internal policies and procedures for cases that balance keeping the individual and family front-of mind while promoting compliance with required regulations. Policy manuals and related tools help caseworkers understand not just what to do, but how and why.


Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement as an ongoing practice at all agency levels matches the strategic direction established by a plan with the energies and insights of the staff as a whole, significantly raising the quality and impact of follow through, as well as the sense of accountability that everyone involved feels for the desired results and outcomes. An effective continuous improvement process includes three tiers of organization:

  • Sponsor groups, who are the champions and internal clients of improvement teams 
  • Continuous improvement teams, who establish specific improvement remedies 
  • Working teams, who implement more complex remedies through project plans

An effective continuous improvement process systematically guides continuous improvement teams through the following steps that constitute a self-reinforcing cycle:

  • Define the thing to be improved in observable, measurable terms 
  • Assess strengths and gaps between the current and desired state 
  • Identify the root causes for these “findings”
  • Plan quick win, short-term and longer term remedies that address root causes 
  • Implement remedies with the most appropriate tools (e.g., project plans) 
  • Monitor plan progress, impact on desired outcomes and lessons learned

For example, an agency’s approach to improving disproportionality and disparity would entail clearly defining what these terms mean for that agency, thinking of disproportionality as a finding and disparity as one of its possible root causes. An effective assessment of disparity may reveal many possible types, requiring an array of remedies. Disparity within the agency can be addressed more directly within casework processes and practices and perhaps faster than disparity outside of the agency, which may require longer-term remedies focused on research, advocacy and partnerships. 

Applying continuous improvement strategies to this area helps avoid the traps of either denial or crusading, essential to making systematic improvements.

Professional Development

Developing staff skills and experiences in alignment with strategy requires novel methods for development planning and techniques for “learning by doing.” Building staff capacity for emerging strategies can be achieved through novel talent

management and succession planning mechanisms.


Performance Management

Staff performance evaluations and individual development plans are most powerful when they are directly linked to the agency strategy. Strategic goals, objectives and measures at the agency-wide level should translate into department, unit and individual- specific performance goals, objectives and measures. Tennessee’s public child welfare agency uses its “practice wheel” for working w th children and families as the model for staff in every function and level of the agency - click here for Tennessee's example.


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