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From strategic plans to strategic results: Key tips for federal agencies

By Emily Benson
December 1, 2021

The Government Performance and Results Act requires federal agencies to publish a strategic plan outlining their mission, goals and success metrics over a set period.

In 2021, the Partnership for Public Service and Grant Thornton Public Sector hosted a workshop series designed to help federal leaders draft and manage their agency’s strategic plan. Federal leaders discussed best practices and tips that agencies could use as they prepare to submit their strategic plans for fiscal years 2022-2026 to the Office of Management and Budget.

Communicate

According to the participants, agencies must effectively inform staff working across different levels about the strategic plan. Staff should also be reminded of their role in achieving the plan’s objectives and vision. This strategy can help inform and energize employees, encouraging them to take ownership of agency goals and celebrate achievements alongside agency leadership.

Agencies can take simple steps to raise awareness about their strategic plans. In an in-person setting, some agencies have hung posters in common areas around the office; other agencies, operating virtually, have recorded short informational videos. One workshop participant also recommended leaders work with their public affairs team to develop a more robust and formal communications strategy around the plan’s release.

Integrate

Leaders should incorporate the strategic plan into key agency processes and activities—including budgeting, workforce management, enterprise risk management and performance management—to drive cohesive decision-making. These efforts will help agency leaders implement their plans fully and encourage staff to work toward the plan’s central goals.

At the National Science Foundation, for example, senior executives are required to explicitly connect their performance goals to the agency’s strategic plan—and their direct reports are encouraged to do the same.

The Treasury Department uses a similar process to manage budget requests. Requests are expected to include an explanation of how the money will advance the objectives of the agency’s strategic plan.

Monitor

Monitoring processes are critical to the success of a strategic plan. The Government Performance and Results Act requires agencies to evaluate their progress toward implementing their strategic plans and share this assessment with OMB annually. Agencies must also review progress on their short-term priority goals on at least a quarterly basis. These goals should be accomplished within two years and act as effective benchmarks that drive the plan’s long-term success.

Top-performing agencies include other evaluation methods as well—monitoring and reporting on their progress year-round and using the best available evidence to determine if their strategies are working.

Regular performance reviews with agency leadership can also hold staff accountable for carrying out the strategic plan. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, senior leaders meet routinely to update colleagues on the key performance indicators related to the plan.

By proactively communicating their strategic plans to staff, integrating the plan into key agency processes, and regularly tracking and reporting progress on achieving the plan’s goals, agencies can successfully implement strategic plans that deliver results and create a more effective government.

To learn more, watch our report release event or read “Meeting the Moment: Tips for Building Bold Strategic Plans and Turning Them into Results.”

Emily Benson is an intern on the Partnership’s Government Effectiveness team. 


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