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American Public Human Services Association
American Public Human Services Association
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Operations


In order for the agency to execute the strategic plan, the following elements must be well established and realized in daily operations. These operations include: role clarity; staff understanding and buy-in; monitoring progress; monitoring system integrity; collaboration and integration; and risk management vs. managing by crisis.


Role Clarity

For both developing and executing a strategic plan, many distinct roles within your agency will be required:
  • The executive team is ultimately responsible for strategic planning and monitoring.
  • Department and function heads are responsible for leadership platforms, culture, structure and models of practice that align to strategy.
  • Middle management is responsible for key processes that support implementing strategy.
  • Supervisors and front-line staff are responsible for daily performance in alignment with strategy.
  • A planning role or function is useful for facilitating strategic planning and managing the plan itself and for linking strategic plans with other high-level planning efforts.
  • A communications role or function is useful for connecting strategic planning to all of the participants as well as to the intended audiences.
  • Human Resources, Information Technology, Budget and Finance and other support functions also play critical roles since many of the remedies identified for closing gaps fall within their areas of responsibility and expertise.
  • Multiple hats above are common in smaller agencies.

Staff Understanding and Buy-In

The typical member of the staff has thoughtful answers to these questions, not as a set of canned, memorized responses, but as their primary way to connect their daily work to the big picture of the agency:
  • What is your agency’s vision and mission and how do you advance that mission in your particular role and function? How does the vision and mission make you feel?
  • What are your agency’s values and what specifically do you do to live by them?
  • Who are your agency’s main external partners/stakeholders and what do you know about them that informs your work?
  • Who do you serve, what do they want and need from you and how does that inform your work?
  • How do the leaders in your agency help you to be more strategic in your work?
  • What is your agency best at doing? What does it need to improve and why? How are you all going about making improvements?
  • What are your agency’s strategic goals, objectives and main initiatives? What part do you play in advancing them?
  • What are your individual performance goals and objectives and how do they connect with the agency’s overall ones?
  • How well are you and the agency doing in achieving your goals and objectives?
  • If you have any questions like these yourself, to whom do you go for answers?
There are a number of ways that an agency can help front-line staff understand and buy into the agency’s strategy, including:

Monitoring Progress

Monitoring is an essential way to maintain energy and focus for what really matters in an agency and to manage knowledge and lessons learned across departments and functions, up and down hierarchical levels and with external partners. Monitoring is what enables strategies to continuously improve and, at times, sets the stage for breakthrough innovations. Characteristics of effective monitoring include:
  • Regularly scheduled, participative “happenings” that invite stakeholders, partners and persons served by the agency to get involved
  • Two-way dialogues that focus on problem-solving versus judgment
  • Presenting is informal, candid and shared among many participants
  • Methods of presenting information are flexible, provided data and materials address plan progress, impact on goals and outcomes, lessons learned and adjustments to consider making
Monitoring how well an agency’s strategy is working often falls into one of these ineffective modes, which should be avoided:
  • Compliance-based, with a focus on checking boxes and moving on
  • An “inquisition” by senior managers, ripe with performance anxiety
  • A dog-and-pony show, with praise mainly for one’s presentation skills
  • An exercise in form-over-substance, often true of canned approaches
  • Regularly postponed, cancelled or otherwise put on the back-burner

Monitoring System Integrity

Mechanisms must also include ways for persons served by the agency or front-line staff to alert agency leadership when they experience or observe actions by agency staff or private providers that are contrary to the agency’s mission and values. For example, providing direct access to an agency ombudsperson or executive when someone sees or experiences abuse or coercion by a caseworker, supervisor, or private provider is critical to protecting the agency’s integrity and trustworthiness.


Collaboration and Integration

Strategic planning, key process development and continuous improvement thrive best when they are cross-program and cross-system work. For example, services integration requires that certain strategic initiatives be developed and implemented by a number of departments alongside public child welfare. Some strategic initiatives with the greatest impact on child and family outcomes might be collaboratively developed and implemented at the local, state, tribal and federal levels simultaneously. Finally, an agency’s strategic plan should be directly linked to other important planning efforts -- such as its PIP or reform plans -- through a central planning and coordinating function. Example: Tennessee Quality Service Review Process


Risk Management vs. Managing by Crisis

By its very nature, public child welfare work includes responding to legitimate and, at times, severe crises being experienced by children, youth, families and communities. However, some agencies are consumed by the crisis of the day and therefore don’t have time to develop or remain engaged in their unfolding strategic initiatives. Other agencies respond well to crises but the related stress on time and emotions take a toll on the organization’s climate. In developing a strategic plan, environmental scans and an analysis of who is served should lead to significant reflection about how an agency manages crises, towards establishing practices and protocols for crisis prevention, early risk detection (such as a “hot line” for children, youth and families served or staff to report abuse and coercion) and systematic crisis response. This “risk management” effort will, over time, help an agency respond to risks and crises in a way that models what it wants the children, youth and families it serves to learn and practice: crises should be prevented if possible and responded to thoughtfully and constructively if not.