In my last entry I mentioned the idea of a Council (or Board of Township Trustees) having a retreat for the purpose of setting goals for an upcoming year (or years) and integrating it into the personnel evaluation system. From the retreat we work on attaching the goals to the personnel system. In this entry I am going to discuss the Council Retreat portion of the process.
One method to consider for this goal setting session is using a SWOT analysis. Most of us know the acronym: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. Some organizations will use an outside party to perform this type of study. For our purposes, I will suggest that the SWOT analysis be completed by the Council as the retreat process.
Depending on the style of the council and the manager/administrator, a decision will be need to be made whether to bring in a third party to facilitate the retreat, or whether the manager should facilitate the retreat. However, I do not recommend that the manager take the role as the facilitator. The reasons for this are two-fold: (1) Councils can veer far from the process, and not return to the agenda for the retreat, especially if one or more of the council members has a particular agenda or if the Council sees the retreat as an opportunity to deal with a present or pending crisis. This can place the manager in a very difficult and anxious position (not to mention potentially job threatening); (2) an outside facilitator is usually provided a greater respect and latitude in keeping the Council from veering too far from the agenda.
Even with a facilitator, it is appropriate and necessary that the manager/administrator be present during the retreat. The purpose of this is two-fold: (1) the manager can answer any technical questions, and (2) the manager will need to be able to explain the Strategic Plan from the retreat to the staff members so that they can prepare the Implementation Plan for the Council and community and create the metrics to be able to report back to the Council and community.
To prepare the Council for the retreat, they should receive a report explaining the purpose for the retreat, the alignment of the Strategic Plan they are creating with the Implementation Plan to be prepared by the staff and the alignment of the personnel goals to the Strategic Plan. Secondly, the SWOT process itself needs to be defined. The general parameters of Strengths and Weaknesses can be the organization or the community, or both. It is crucial to make this distinction for both the manager and the council. The issues of Opportunities and Threats need to be considered as activities outside of the political /geographic boundaries. This too needs to be explicitly explained.
The report should also include any enabling legislation describing the duties, responsibilities and powers of the legislating body. The reason for enabling legislation, if for no other is to serve as a reminder to the governing board of its parameters of governance and role in governing the city (see comments to last entry by Dr. Lawrence Keller).
The Nominal Group Technique works very well in this goal-setting process. The facilitator will need some flip charts, masking tape, magic markers and sticker dots.
The facilitator will engage the council in a round-robin process of defining the Strengths of the organization and community, writing down the exact words being used by each council person on the flip charts. As each piece of paper becomes filled, the sheets are taped on a wall. In this round-robin process, it is best to discourage any “cross-talk.” The purpose is to list the issues not discuss them, other than asking each person to clarify their comments if there are questions as to the meaning of the comment. Each person can, and at some point will, “pass” as he/she will have run out of comments. Once every one has passed or run out of comments, proceed through the Weaknesses of the organization and community.
Return to the Strengths list. The facilitator will review the responses looking for common ground or topic areas. As these are identified, there needs to be agreement from the council members that some of the topic areas are related; these areas will then be consolidated and re-listed. The list will then be reduced based on the number of common areas. Some comments will not be able to consolidated and must be included in the new list.
Repeat the process with the Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats portion of the SWOT analysis. Again, remind the council that the latter two are related to issues outside of the organization/community.
Once this is completed, it is time to give each council member eight (8) of the dot stickers. The idea is to vote for, prioritize the Strengths of the community/organization. The council members apply the dots to the items on the list. They can place one dot by eight (8) items, or they can place more than one dot by any of the items. It is important in this voting process that there be no talking, lobbying, etc. This process will then be repeated with the Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. At the conclusion of each round of voting, the facilitator should review the results with the Council before the next round of voting takes place.
At the conclusion of the retreat will be twenty (20) priorities (five from each category), which will be the job of the manager and facilitator to craft into a final report creating a Strategic Plan for the Council to achieve in the following year or defined number of years.
A follow-up meeting with the facilitator and the Council should be held to review the document with the manager and senior staff. It is important for the Council to formally adopt the Strategic Plan. The adoption of the Strategic Plan should then guide all members of the staff as to the direction of the governing body and by extension, the community. I will describe the next step in the process in a follow up entry in two weeks.
But first I need to acknowledge my friend, consulting partner and Editor: Dave Anderson for his edits and suggestions on this topic. Thanks Dave.