If your strategic plan is understood to be the definitive articulation of your organisation’s goals over a defined period of time, the necessity for translating and co-ordinating these goals is at a ‘local level’.
In some respects the term ‘local level’ is misleading as this implies the existence of a single, flat organisational level below that of senior management which is an over-simplification of the true organisational complexity which makes up most institutions.
Instead we should acknowledge the importance of articulating and co-ordinating a network of integrated strategic and operational planning documents all of which are informed by, and consistent with, the overall strategic plan and which contribute at some level to realising its objectives.
This policy framework should cascade down from the institution-wide focus of the strategic plan through faculties and/or departments to individual teams or units and, ultimately, to individual members of staff through the annual review and appraisal system.
It is this framework that gives unity and cohesion to an institution’s strategic planning and, more importantly, provides a means of coordinating the activities it engages in to realise it. The exact components of this framework will vary from institution to institution but are likely to include some or all of the above:
- ‘Structure specific’ strategic plans (eg, at department or faculty level)
- ‘Issue specific’ strategies which are pan-institution (eg, environmental strategies, information strategies)
- ‘Development strategies’ which are designed to specifically achieve a specific, ‘one off’ objective (eg, a move to a new campus, achieving university status etc)
- Team/unit objective setting and planning documents
- Forward work planning as part of each member of staff’s regular appraisal activity.
The tone, style and content of each of the above will all differ from one another, reflecting their different purpose. Whereas the institution’s strategic plan is intended to describe the ‘big picture’ and outline the general strategic drive, so the documents which support it are likely to be more focused, specific and detailed.
As a general principle the fewer people covered by the document the more detailed it is likely to be. It is in this way that the kind of strategic framework outlined can be cascaded throughout the institution and make the transition from words to deeds.
Whatever strategy and planning documents you choose to introduce to support your institution’s strategic plan it is important that they are all fit for the specific purpose they are designed to achieve. To help ensure this is the case it is worth asking yourself the following questions:
- Are all the objectives outlined in our strategic plan specifically addressed within all relevant supporting strategic documents?
- Are the objectives outlined in each of your supporting strategic documents consistent with those expressed in your strategic plan (note: it is worth emphasising that your strategic plan is not going to include every objective outlined in every departmental or other supporting strategy, but questions should rightly be asked if goals are defined locally which appear to be directly contradict those defined at an institutional level)
- Are the objectives outlined in each of your supporting strategic documents consistent with each other?
- Are the objectives stated in ways which are appropriate for the audience covered by the particular strategy in question?
- Are the objectives achievable by the particular audience in question? (for example, have efficiency savings identified for the institution as a whole been broken down to clarify what is expected from each area of the institution)
- Is there a process for ensuring that all supporting strategic documents are reviewed, updated and reissued when a new version of the strategic plan is approved?
- Is it clear who is responsible for ensuring the objectives are achieved and for reporting back on progress?
The institutional experience
"It is also important to note that the master strategic plan informs the development of individual annual ‘QuIP’ documents – these are ‘quality improvement plans’ or ‘individual operating statements’. These documents are annually renewed statements of intent for each senior manager in the college that relate the strategic plan in terms of activity (or actions) and key performance indicators (KPI’s).
Taken as a whole the QuIP’s are a summary of all the activity the college will undertake within a year.
These top level documents then feed into the work programs of individual senior managers and in turn these feed into the work programs of individual middle managers and ultimately to front line staff. This then feeds back up the chain to the strategic plan to form a continuous feedback loop so our strategy documents are not just filed in a draw; they should actually shape and influence the direction of the college, and are informed by all managers and their staff so the strategic plan is a functional genuinely working document.
Ensuring that all managers enable their teams to operate in this way is a key success factor in our use of the guide."