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Having been personally involved in and having led a variety of strategic planning efforts over the last 15 years, I have discerned a number of factors that contribute to successful, impactful, and sustainable processes and outcomes. Just to name a few:

• A sufficiently thorough understanding of the various environmental and internal characteristics that can contribute to or inhibit success.

• Collaborative engagement of staff (at all levels) and community members throughout the process—not just at the conclusion for validation of thought work that has already been accomplished in a philosophical vacuum.

• Putting in place achievable but growth-inducing organizational and departmental goals.

• Actively evaluating against relative attainment of plan goals and objectives through the tracking of viable and operationally relevant performance metrics.

While none of these factors should be particularly groundbreaking or cutting edge to the learned readers of this article, organizations still struggle or fail to incorporate these foundational pieces into their strategic planning endeavors, thereby dramatically inhibiting relevance and buy-in.

Many of the efforts I have been part of or privy to were relatively ineffective (or unmitigated disasters), exhibiting a dearth of robust engagement of various stakeholders and full appreciation, understanding, and practical incorporation of environmental risks and operational constraints. Rather, they were largely isolated, executive-level-only processes. Little to no credence was given to line-level or community wisdom; day-to-day, practical operational experience; or awareness of potential or recurrent stumbling blocks.

Given the innate frailty of many such initiatives, how can the deputy administrative officer (DAO) enhance the success of strategic planning efforts? What is it about this pivotal role that can create the necessary connective tissue and synergy that drive collaborative planning efforts forward in a meaningful way? I would argue that the DAO role is pivotal in this circumstance for three principal reasons.

First, the DAO often serves as a relationship-building and sustaining bridge between the chief administrative officer (CAO) and departmental leadership and staff. Most effective and fully leveraged DAOs actively and purposefully interact with staff throughout their assigned departments (including attending staff meetings, etc.).

Accordingly, the DAO is in an optimal position for securing informative strategic planning input, feedback, and buy-in from staff at all levels. Similarly, the DAO’s often deeper relationships, based on mutual trust and daily support and collaboration, can garner richer and more honest feedback on the direction and focus of the planning process. This not only enhances the process and the end product, but increases the potential for inclusive decision-making and plan creation.

Second, the DAO, given that his or her duties transverse both the administrative and operational realms, is in the best position to inform the strategic planning process and enhance its functionally inclusive and thematically exhaustive nature.

A DAO on an effective and highly functional administrative team plays the vital role of balancing the expressed political will, which is filtered from the elected body through the CAO, with operational feasibility. The DAO, therefore, can assist with aligning the policy goals of the elected board or council with the functional realities (both good and blemished) of the organization, with the latter being viewed through the collective eyes of the managerial and line-level subject matter experts.

Finally, the DAO typically has a more robust and pragmatic, day-to-day understanding of the operational and environmental concerns and constraints impacting each department (particularly when viewed through the lens of a formal performance measurement/program evaluation system). He or she is arguably in the most optimal position to facilitate (in the connective sense) the creation of operationally relevant and functionally plausible strategic goals. At a minimum, the DAO is more intimately aware of which subject matter experts to leverage as arbiters of substantive legitimacy. This relates not only to the defined strategic goals but also to the strategies and actions to be undertaken in their pursuit.

Again, the principal contentions of this article presume that the DAO role is being utilized optimally as a vital part of the administrative team (with sufficient degrees of functional autonomy and protected authority over the individual’s portfolio of departments). Though even in a suboptimal administrative environment (in which the role is largely relegated to that of a task functionary) the DAO can still be an effective bridge between visionary policy goals on the one hand and the practical realities of the operational sphere on the other.



STEVE WRIGHT, a Lean Six Sigma black belt, is deputy county administrator for Gloucester County, Virginia.

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