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PUBLIC SERVICE AND IMPERATIVES OF STRATEGIC PLANNING

 

 

  1. Akintola Benson Oke

 

An anonymous author once affirmed that: “In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.” Similarly, Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” And, of course, according to popular wisdom, only the unwise embarks on a journey without a map.

The importance and indispensability of strategic planning in management has been proved and validated over the years. Surprisingly, however, organisations are not always readily open to embracing a culture of strategic management. Ironically, every well meaning organization strives to be the best in their sphere of influence. For the public service especially, the sure way to be the best lies in embracing a culture of strategic management. Strategic management model remains, perhaps, the best ever and definite way to ensure an efficient and productive public service that would impact greatly on good governance and quality service delivery.

 

In an article titled: ‘Introduction to Strategic Management,’ Ryszard Barnat listed the benefits of strategic management for organisation to include provision of a way to anticipate future problems and opportunities, providing personnel with clear objectives and directions for the future of the organisation, more effective and better performance compared to non-strategic management organisations,   increased personnel’s satisfaction and motivation, faster and better decision making and cost savings.

 

In addition to the above, Ryszard Barnat equally stresses that strategic management allows for identification, prioritization, and exploitation of opportunities, provides an objective view of management problems, represents a framework for improved coordination and control of activities, minimizes the effects of adverse conditions and changes, allows major decisions to better support established objectives, allows more effective allocation of time and resources to identified opportunities, allows fewer resources and less time to be devoted to correcting erroneous or ad hoc decisions, creates a framework for internal communication among personnel, helps to integrate the behaviour of individuals into a total effort, provides a basis for the clarification of individual responsibilities, gives encouragement to forward thinking, provides a cooperative, integrated, and enthusiastic approach to tackling problems and opportunities, encourages a favourable attitude towards change and gives a degree of discipline and formality to the management of an organisation.

 

At this point, it is important to draw attention to five essential attributes of strategic management, according to the thoughts of a leading management consultant, Mr. Mark Rhodes. First, an effective strategy should be deeply understood and shared by the organization. Rhodes argued that the ancient Mongols defeated far larger Armies because they were able to make adjustments on the battlefield despite ancient systems of communication that limited the way orders could be delivered to warriors already in action.  He then stated that the secret was instilling battle strategy in the hearts and minds of all soldiers so that they could make correct tactical decisions without direct supervision or intervention.

 

Like the mission statement published in the annual reports or guiding principles framed in the lobbies of organisations, a strategic plan itself accomplishes nothing.  What matters is whether personnel in the organization understand and internalize the strategic direction that have been well articulated and can make tactical choices on their own.  Strategic plans must be articulated in a manner such that operational and tactical decision-making can follow suit.

 

Furthermore, the leading strategist must count on the employees or members of the organization to make sound tactical and operational decisions that are aligned with the desired strategic direction.  To ensure that these decisions are well made, the articulated strategic direction and strategic plans must be applicable and clearly related to the issues that people face.

 

It is always helpful to remember that an effective strategy provides a picture of the desired long-term future.  In order to make sound day-to-day decisions, all members of the organization must be able to begin with the end in mind.  All steps must ultimately keep the organisation on course toward the long-term objective.

 

In the second place, an effective strategy allows flexibility so that the direction of the organization can be adapted to changing circumstances. Rhodes explained that rigid strategic direction seldom turns out to have been the best course of action.  To assure that your organisation is nimble and able to react to changes, it is essential that your strategy is flexible and adaptable.  As a strategist, you will count on timely and accurate information about prevailing relevant conditions.  It is essential to build and employ effective mechanisms for observing and listening to what is going on in the environment.  Real-time information, in turn, must feed on-going strategic and operational shifts and deployments.

 

Thirdly, effective strategy results from the varied input of a diverse group of thinkers and participants in strategic decision-making must be unafraid to state contrary opinions.  Managers of human resources must look carefully in the mirror in order to ensure that their strategic team is ready to make effective decisions.  They must encourage debate, even argument among their strategic team about key decisions. Encouraging blind alignment with the organization’s positions can be counterproductive. Personnel must be allowed to feel free to air contrary views about organizational goals.

 

Fourth place, an effective strategy follows a thorough and deep analysis of both the external environment and the internal capabilities of the organization. This is the essence of the famous SWOT model (an evaluation of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  The strategist must understand the effects and dynamics of external entities such as competitors, suppliers, regulators and strategic partners.  A sound assessment of these external factors leads to a rich understanding of threats to ward off and opportunities to pursue.  The strategist must also understand the internal capabilities of his or her organization.  A realistic self assessment enables the organization to leverage the strengths of the organization and to shore up areas of weakness.

Finally, an effective strategy is one that identifies areas of Competitive Advantage.

Many aspects of the organisation must be held at parity across a wide swipe of the competitive landscape. In business, this is called the “business essential” elements of organizational design.  You do not need to be world class at mundane business practices that are not your distinctive competence, but you must maintain standards of work equal to that of your competitors.  That is, the organization must maintain parity with competitors in the ordinary and mundane matters.

 

Moreover, all members of the organization must keep the uniqueness of their company in the forefront, always keeping competitive advantages unharnessed in order to compete in a vigorous manner.  In short, every strategic plan must educate the full organizational team how it must use carefully identified competitive advantages in order to compete and win.

 

In the absence of a well defined strategic management plan, personnel merely become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia. This is why the Lagos State Public Service is radically tilting towards strategic planning and the results have been  amazing.

 

Oke, is Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions, Lagos State

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