By Scott D. Grayson, CAE, CEO of American Public Works and KCSAE Board Secretary
I am glad you decided to read this article even though the title probably scared you away immediately. Anytime anyone sees the words “Strategic Plan” they induce immediate yawns. What can be more boring than talking about a strategic plan that no one will ever read or see again until you update it three years later. Well, I have tried to make strategic planning fun. More importantly I have tried to make the strategic plan at APWA come alive, so it is a living breathing document.
Before being hired by APWA to serve as their CEO I worked for 26 years at a very large association. We spent a lot of time and money developing a strategic plan but unfortunately once it was approved most of us didn’t look at it again.
I vowed that if I ever became the CEO of an association, I would ensure that we actually used the strategic plan to keep us on course. In my first year at APWA we embarked on developing a strategic plan. We held a day and a half Board retreat and invited our staff leadership team to participate. Both the staff and the volunteer leaders worked in partnership. Prior to the retreat, however, we sought the input from all of our association’s stakeholders. We surveyed members, chapter leaders, committee volunteers, customers, exhibitors and even provided a survey on our conference app.
We created a new vision, a new mission and four strategic goals. Previously APWA had nine different strategic goals. I think nine is too many to accomplish anything and do it well. Less is truly best when developing a strategic plan. Our vision is: “Advancing quality of life for all.” While somewhat lofty, it really is what we do. We provide education, credentialing, accreditation and advocacy for our members so they and their public works agencies and private engineering firms are the best they can be to serve the public. If we do this correctly, we are helping to advance the quality of life of all throughout communities in North America. So, how do we do this? That is captured in our mission statement: “Support those who operate, improve and maintain public works and infrastructure through advocacy, education & member engagement.” We established just four goals: Value, Voice, Education & Credentialing and Membership & Engagement. But of course, this is not enough. How do we know what this even means. Each of the four goals are supported by strategic activities that support the goal. Once the plan was approved, each department developed an operational plan to support the strategic activates that support the strategic goals.
If you are starting to yawn by now here comes the exciting part. From there we developed new employee performance review forms. On the new form we included one section that focused on 2-3 strategic goals with metrics. For each staff member the goals not only relate to their specific job description but related back to the strategic plan. Based on their performance and preestablished metrics, employees are eligible for incentive compensation beyond their merit increases each year.
For those of you who work at organizations that have committees you may have noticed that sometimes the direction of the committee’s workplan can be dictated by the volunteer leader who is the most vocal. To be more focused and more productive, we asked each committee to work with staff to create a committee charter that aligns with one or more of the four strategic plan goals. Then the Board of Directors approves those charters or suggests changes.
Ok here comes the really exciting part. I am sure you stopped yawning a while ago and are wide awake now. We implemented project management software called Wrike. Every department enters their operational plans with metrics that align with the strategic activities that also align with the strategic goals that ultimately help us advance quality of life for all. We take this so seriously that we even have created a hashtag #AQLFA. We didn’t stop there. We have even put the strategic plan on everyone’s screensaver.
To keep the strategic plan alive, I ask every staff meeting, “How have you lived the strategic plan today?” Many staff are actually excited to share. One staff member who works in the mailroom and warehouse said, “I stuffed hundreds of National Public Works Week posters in a tube to be mailed. That is assisting in showing the Value (one of the four goals) of public works to society.” Our government affairs staff talk about being the Voice (of Public Works). This goal focuses on explaining the importance of public works and infrastructure to elected officials and the media. Our education staff know that everything they do relates back to education and credentialing and lastly our membership and engagement staff know their goal as well.
Even our 62 chapters have begun to adopt the APWA strategic plan. Most use the four goals and create their own strategic activities and operational plan but we have begun to align our staff, our board, volunteers leaders, committees, chapters and branches. They all know the vision #AQLFA – Advancing quality of life for all.
We ask Siri where to go and google maps pops up in our car. We get instant directions, and we know where to go with turn-by-turn directions. I think at work we all want to know where to go and how to get there. Having a roadmap or a strategic plan with clear expectations and goals helps to make work more enjoyable. For most, the strategic plan has helped both staff and the volunteers to understand where they fit in within the organization. Having a clear direction helps us all to feel that we are continuing to move forward with momentum providing the organization a clear path for growth.
I am glad you stayed awake for this!