May 2021 Edition | Volume 75, Issue 5
Published since 1946
Wildlife Management Institute Continues to Help Wildlife Agencies Become More Efficient (Part 1)
No one plans to fail, but many of us are guilty of failing to plan. In business, companies that establish and follow actionable strategic plans that clearly define and quantify expectations are able to properly position themselves to achieve their desired outcomes. Sound planning principles also apply to state and federal government agencies, including state fish and wildlife agencies. In fact, the autonomy provided to many fish and wildlife agencies as the result of dedicated funding streams means that agencies can, and should, operate within the roadmap of a well-constructed strategic plan. As a part of its service to conservation, the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) works with our state, federal, and NGO partners to produce actionable strategic plans that are comprehensive, collaborative, transparent, and accountable. Working at multiple levels (Agency, Division, Branch, Work Unit) our strategic planning process incorporates extensive staff input, a review of current strategic planning literature, public involvement, our professional experience and judgment, the knowledge derived from other state conservation programs, and the complexity of managing natural resources in a rapidly changing world.
No one appreciates going through a rigorous and lengthy strategic planning process only to find that the most frequent use for the final product is to prop a door open or to collect errant office dust. Strategic plans require a proper design and close monitoring, as well as periodic evaluation in order to maximize their impact. However, managing and conserving wildlife resources at a statewide, regional, national, or even international level often confounds basic planning principles, since strategic plans by definition are designed to attain specific, time-constrained desired outcomes.
For example, if a goal for an agency is to produce healthy and sustainable wildlife habitats and populations (an outcome), quantifying and evaluating this rather complex goal may be impossible or impractical to do. In these cases, creating clear quantifiable strategies with well-defined outputs that, when accomplished, will collectively result in the desired outcome, is essential. The success of achieving these strategies can then cumulatively allow inferences to be made about the success of the higher-level goals of the plan.
The value for an agency for a properly designed strategic plan is that it ensures staff, budgets, regulations, and other resources are focused on mission accomplishment. To facilitate the development of an actionable strategic plan, agency staff have to be engaged—which can sometimes be a challenge. Employees are the best source for establishing both a baseline (where you are currently) and a desired future condition (where you want to be). Our process is designed to keep staff focused on the important components of the strategic plan by facilitating discussions centered around the following five key components:
- Determine where you are currently. What are the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats that the agency faces? What are the current focus areas, assets, programs, etc.?
- Determine what is important. Where should the agency be headed? What is important to the agency, its customers, the public, and the natural resources under the protection of the agency?
- Determine what needs to be achieved. What types of work need to be done to achieve the priorities that are important to the agency and the public?
- Determine who will be responsible. Explicitly assigning strategies to individuals or groups ensures that the essential work gets done. Assigning deadlines for completion ensures that they get done on time.
- Connecting the plan with the work. Establishing linkages between the strategic plans and the budget, workforce, policy and regulatory changes, and resource needs ensures that the agency focuses its resources on accomplishing its mission.
Component 1 incorporates a SWOT analysis (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and is critical to the agency self-assessment that accompanies a well-developed strategic plan. Additionally, the identification of any needs and/or obstacles that are real or potential barriers to achieving success are equally critical. The components of a SWOT analysis use the following definitions:
- Strengths - Internal processes that may help in achieving the mission.
- Weaknesses - Internal processes that may prevent the mission from being achieved.
- Opportunities - External factors that may help in achieving the mission.
- Threats - External factors that may prevent the mission from being achieved.
- Needs - Important tasks that are not getting done.
- Obstacles - The competition, risks, or roadblocks to getting the important tasks done.
Ultimately, crafting a strategic plan requires the development of high-level Vision, Mission, and Values statements. Although the strategies in a plan are where the work gets done (and measured via the metrics), these functional building blocks must be crafted around well-defined higher-level components. Therefore, strategic planning starts with determining an organization’s role or function, what it wants to accomplish (the desired future condition), and how it would like to be perceived. The next step is defining broad focal areas for work that will help accomplish the mission and achieve the vision. These focal areas are broken down further into goals and objectives, which direct the quantifiable strategies. These hierarchical steps, when constructed properly, lead to a functional, actionable, and accountable strategic plan. These higher-level components are defined as follows:
Vision is the future state of conditions that an organization is striving to achieve. It is the blueprint or roadmap for success. Some planners compare the vision to the ultimate destination of an organization.
Mission is an organization’s purpose or reason for existing. It serves as the key driver in accomplishing the vision.
Values are a set of standards or behaviors that everyone can count on and expect. It ensures that everyone is playing by the same rules. Values, when adopted by staff, allow them to contribute to the success of the organization. The foundation of a successful organization is having values that are understood and agreed upon by all staff.
Strategic Focus Areas act as the foundation for a strategic plan. Expanding on the Vision and Mission by establishing broad parameters around which the Goals, Objectives, and Strategies will be arranged.
Goals and Objectives form the bridge between the ideological Mission and actionable Strategies. Goals are general areas within each Strategic Focus Area where the most amount of progress can be made to achieve the organization’s Vision. Objectives are more specific areas within each Goal where the most amount of progress can be made to achieve the organization’s Vision. These are the plan components where the big picture thinking is tied to the action items as part of the strategic planning process.
Impactful strategic plans should always use SMART planning techniques that ensure the outputs (products of Strategies) are meaningful, attainable, and measurable. This also ensures that the outcomes (products of Goals/Objectives) are achieved. The SMART planning technique requires the development of clearly defined, quantitative performance metrics. The following parameters identify the specific approach to developing SMART Objectives and/or Strategies:
- Specific - It should specify what needs to be achieved.
- Measurable - It needs to be quantifiable.
- Achievable - It can be met with the resources available.
- Relevant - It relates to the plan’s goals and objectives.
- Time Sensitive - It needs to have a time limit for completion.
By developing a hierarchical plan, a structure of increasing specificity is formed. At the Strategy level, that specificity becomes quantifiable once performance metrics are added. By carefully crafting Strategies that serve to complement and inform the higher-level Goals and Objectives, the impacts of higher levels of the strategic plan (Outcomes) can be inferred based on the measures built into the strategies (Outputs). Using this approach, strategies often are constructed in this format: “By [certain date], [person responsible] will perform the [described task or function].”
General Eric Shinseki once said, “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” Agencies and organizations in the conservation community are undergoing tremendous change that was unimaginable a generation ago. Customers are in a long-term decline, recruitment of new customers is more difficult, funding sources are changing, and employees that once committed to a 30-year career, now often stay only 3-5 years before moving on. Developing, implementing, and evaluating the outputs of a quantifiable strategic plan help to mitigate the negative effects of that change. The ability for staff, legislators, customers, and the public to clearly see where an organization is headed, how it plans to get there, and how it measures success along the way can often make the difference between a good organization and a great one.
If you have questions on how WMI can help you with your strategic planning process, please feel free to reach out to our staff at any time.