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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 long-term endeavor.

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 process.

When engaging stakeholders, the first two rules are these:

·       Only ask stakeholders to help increase resources or authorization in the interest of achieving a specific, well-considered strategic intent.

·       Only 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.

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