Strategic Thinking, Intent, And Communication:
There are many ways to engage in strategic
thinking but two warrant specific attention here. First, focus on one of the
primary outcomes, e.g., protection.
Now begin a list of ways the agency might protect children or a sub-group of
children better than it is currently protecting them or new ways the agency might
better protect children. Once you have added all of your ideas to the list, you
could review the relevant literature, brainstorm with co-workers, or use other
approaches to expand the list. When the list is about as complete as you can
make it, share it with others in the agency and in the community to select the
strategies that are most promising. With those strategies in mind, develop a
work group to explore how the agency can work toward better outcomes for
children by using those strategies.
In contrast to the above active, strategic
thinking approach, there is a passive strategic thinking process that all
highly successful leaders have mastered. They are continuously involved in
meetings, conversations, and other experiences within the agency, in the
community, and other contexts. As they participate in those experiences, they
constantly “filter” the content of the experience through the primary
outcome filter. “Is there anything here that may have the potential for
increasing resources or authorization for the agency, its clients, or its
staff?” They are attuned to what people say and do and continuously relate
that to the primary outcomes. If there is a possible match, they then either
pursue it immediately or make a reminder note so they pursue it later, when
doing so is more appropriate. Additionally, they remember experiences that may
not fit right now and are able to recall them later when they may fit with new
information or experiences.
This passive strategic thinking process, of
course, only appears passive from the perspective of other people. They see the
leader appear to magically find resources, opportunities, and authorization
where none were obviously present. From the outside perspective, this seems
like unusually good luck but there is much more than simple luck to the
process. The leader is continuously scanning experience and filtering it
through the primary outcomes. Through this strategic thinking, the leader
discovers and then exploits the otherwise hidden opportunities in every experience.
Strategic thinking, in turn, leads to
strategic intent. This is what the agency and the leader “intend” to
do in order to incrementally move toward the primary outcome. For example, LCCS
engaged in a strategic thinking process focusing on long-term success for
children. One of the potentially useful strategies developed through that
process was to increase the likelihood that children in out-of-home care would
succeed in school. This strategy was further narrowed to academic success for
all elementary school children in out of home care. The strategic intent was
then conceptualized as doing whatever is necessary to assure that all children
in out-of-home care who have the ability to do so pass the fourth grade
proficiency test taken by all fourth grade children. The process had progressed
from strategic thinking to a specific strategic intent.
Strategic communication, then, is in the
interest of actualizing the specific strategic intent. Assuring that children
in out-of-home care pass the proficiency test is outside of the agency’s
expertise. Expert resources must be found and applied to the task. Also,
authorization to move into the education business must be forthcoming, as well
as permission to involve teachers and other educators. Appropriate stakeholders
must support and contribute to the process. Through strategic communication,
agency leadership must get appropriate stakeholders to buy into the strategic
intent and actively participate in realizing that intent: all children who are
in out-of-home care, are in elementary school, and who have the ability to pass
the proficiency test do pass the test when it is time for them to take the
test. As you can see, this is an ongoing process that extends into the future.
It cannot be completely accomplished today. Long-term success for children is a
In the last chapter, you considered strategic
planning and saw how to develop a strategic plan for your agency. Along with
developing specific strategies, you developed a mission statement and vision
statement for your agency. The result was a “picture” of where your
agency will be in three to five years, why it has to get there, and how it will
move from where it is to where it needs to be. In a later chapter, you will
focus on public relations and on how to work both internally and externally to
assure that “relationships with the public” serve your agency’s
interests and support the strategic plan and the primary outcomes. Strategic
communication relates specifically to actively engaging stakeholders in that
When engaging stakeholders, the first two
rules are these:
stakeholders to help increase resources or authorization in the interest of
achieving a specific, well-considered strategic intent.
request the involvement of those stakeholders for whom there is a good fit
between PP and VE on the one hand and the strategic intent on the other hand.
To keep focus, get a small notebook that you
will use for strategic communication dealing with a specific strategic intent.
On the first page, write the strategic intent, in one sentence. For example,
all children in out-of-home care who are able will pass the fourth and sixth
grade proficiency tests. Under that statement, write the names of those key
people in the agency who are responsible for achieving the strategic intent.
Underline the name of the team leader.
Now, return your attention to the stakeholder
map. Identify the rows where the primary outcome relates directly to the
strategic intent. If the strategic intent seems to relate to more than one or
two primary outcomes, it needs to be further narrowed and defined. You can
usually only pursue one primary outcome through a specific strategic intent.
Write the primary outcome at the bottom of the first page of your notebook so
you always see it when looking at the notebook.
Next, identify those stakeholders on the map
who can directly influence the outcome and can also contribute to achieving the
strategic intent. Simply list their names on the second page of the notebook.
This is your initial stakeholder team. You will want to refresh this list as
you regularly update your stakeholder map.
Focus on your stakeholder team. Put a
“*” beside each name if the strategic intent cannot be achieved
without the support and cooperation of that individual. For each of those
essential stakeholders, use one notebook page. Write the person’s name at the
top of the page. You will not proceed to involve other stakeholders until you
have gotten buy-in from each of the essential stakeholders.
Under the essential stakeholder’s name,
transfer the PP and VE information from the stakeholder map. Also, include the
names of anyone who is associated with that person as someone who can directly
influence that stakeholder.
In a later chapter, there is a more extensive
discussion of power messages but for now, you need to develop a one sentence
power message for each essential stakeholder. The first part of the message is
PP. How can the stakeholder positively participate in achieving the strategic
intent? Next, what is the value exchange (VE)? What value does the agency get
and what value derives to the stakeholder? For example, the Superintendent of
Schools is an essential stakeholder for the school success initiative. She can
“authorize” school staff to work with the agency on the initiative
and provide expertise. For her, PP = authorizing and adding expertise. If she
does this, she gets an opportunity to improve the school performance of abused
children and recognition of her pro-active approach to the education of
children. The agency gets needed authorization and expertise. VE = an
opportunity to help children combined with additional resources for the agency.
Both sides benefit.
Your next task is to combine PP and VE into a
power message for the stakeholder. For the Superintendent, the power message
is, “If you choose to work with us to assure that our children pass the
proficiency tests, abused children will have a better chance at long-term
success, the agency will have the opportunity to do the right thing for the
children, and we hope you and your staff will have a special opportunity to
assure that these children are successful in school.” Of course, add the
tag that goes with all power messages, “Together we can assure that our
children are safe and that they do well. Working together, we can do this far
better than either of us can do that by ourselves.”
Once you have the specific power message for
the particular, essential stakeholder, put it in the notebook on that
stakeholder’s page. Now, under that, write at least two more versions of the
power message for that stakeholder. Continue until you have appropriate power
messages for each stakeholder in the notebook.
You now have specific people to whom you need
to deliver specific power messages. You know what you want to communicate to
whom and why. You are successful when they choose to do what they can do to
help. Strategic communication is the process of succeeding, the process of
getting stakeholders to do the right thing, getting them to increase resources
and authorization for your strategic intent.