Repeating our past, creating our future through consultation and mediocrity

Godzillas_strategy2

A Strategic Plan is under way for the town of Aurora.

If I am to believe what I read then staff and consultants have completed a number of consultation “activities” to inform the development of the plan for the town to follow for the next 20 years including:

  •     Over 30 key informant interviews with community stakeholders, Councillors and staff;
  •     Intercept interviews with residents at various events including a Youth House League Soccer Tournament, Canada Day celebrations, Concerts in the Park and the Aurora Farmers Market;
  •     A community survey at the Aurora Home Show;
  •     A Tea and Talk at the Aurora Seniors Centre;
  •     An online survey hosted on the Town’s website, and promoted through the Notice Board, Twitter and Facebook;
  •     A Council and staff Visioning Session; and,
  •     A focus group session with youth soccer players.

After filling in the survey, and having comments deleated from their community forum I started to wonder exactly what they were planning to do with the information they were taking down.

Steve Jobs, a visionary in creating user experiences who recently passed away this week recognized

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” 

To ensure that the town wasn’t taking this approach I attended the Strategic Plan Public input session held this Monday October 3rd at the Seniors Center from 7 to 9PM.

The attendance was staggering. 

In addition to 5 members of council, I think I counted 8, including myself.

Not an excercise that I considered an acceptable use of everyone’s time.

In short it was a huge fail, with a capital “F”.

The meeting was conducted by DPRA Inc. : http://www.dpra.ca/consultation-communications-facilitation/

DPRA is the same consultants that were involved with the town’s 2006 Strategic Plan update, which you can read here: http://businessaurora.ca/photos/custom/Final%20Strategic%20Plan%202006.pdf

The evening started out with more formal structure than I expected.  
What eventualy broke down into a freefall brain storming session started out with an agenda, something that would have been useful to know prior to arriving at the meeting, but obviously failed to communicate.

It took a signifcant amount of time just to hear and discuss the consultants “vision statement”, which is:

“Building on our past, creating our future through leadership and innovation.”

The number of puzzled looks on the faces of the attendees was priceless.
It didn’t take long for one member of the public to point out how this in no way resembles a vision statement.

He then went on to offer the consultant the defenition of a vision statement:

A Vision statement outlines what the organization wants to be, or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future. It is a source of inspiration. It provides clear decision-making criteria.

Everyone was in agreement.

How is it that a professional consulting firm, whose name stands for Development, Planning, Research & Analysis could get something like that wrong?

Well, perhaps it should be expected.

Look at the abomination of a Vision statement that was drafted from the 2006 plan, as found on page 10 :

“A welcoming and dynamic town with a strong sense of community pride and volunteerism committed to healthy and inclusive lifestyles inspired by its natural heritage, historic culture, diverse neighbourhoods, thriving businesses and natural environment.”

WTF is that?

You have to take three breaths when trying to say it outloud.

If these so called experts can’t even write a vision statement it should come as no suprise that the goals outlined are equaly flawed, of which there are 3:

Apparently these are items listed under the heading “what the town is currently doing”:

Televised Aurora Council and General Committee Meetings 

It reads “the Town televises meetings” 

Bullshit.

The town “televises” nothing.  Rogers televises council meetings, not General Comittee and do so in an inconsistent manner.

If the “town” tapes any meetings they are certainly not televised, they are offered at a significant cost to the public.

Economic Development website 

The joke of a website says it was developed to support and informs businesses of current initiatives, incentives and opportunities.

Interactive Media is an industry for economic growth

Because it is not an industry at all in Aurora.  Any “experts” who claim otherwise should provide both a framework to back-up their assumptions as well as a list of companies that they have consulted with. 

Strategic Plan 

The Strategic plan references itself as one of the things the town is currently doing.

Ah, the irony.

The whole exercise reminds me of this Dilbert cartoon :
 

Strategic-objectives1

Ron Price is the founder and CEO of Price Associates outlines six reasons why most strategic plans fail.

The following three seem to resonate with what is underway in Aurora:

1) Lack of focus

4.) When the process becomes too political and too driven by special interest, it breaks down.

5) Lack of follow up.

Many times, strategic planning fails because even though the actual plan is complete, there’s little or no follow up to ensure that the plan is executed. They get the plan created and in a notebook, but they put it on the shelf and never look at it again. The plan never gets integrated throughout the organization.

The lack of follow up is emphasized by this piece from The Harvard Business Review which puts the ROI of traditional planning at 34% or less: http://blog.thehigheredcio.com/2011/08/16/why-strategic-planning-fails/

In fact according to several surveys of top executives only 19% of strategic plans achieve their objectives. 
Perhaps another not so surprising data point is that among those same executives, only 25% of them are even motivated by the plans they create.

Here are some additional statistics from this post:

  • Many organizations don’t have a consistent way to even describe their strategy, other than in a large strategic planning binder.
  • 85% percent of management teams spend less than one-hour a month on strategy issues
  • 92% of organizations do not report on lead performance indicators.
  • 90% of well-formulated strategies fail due to poor execution.
  • 60% of typical organizations do not link their strategic priorities to their budget.
  • 70% of middle managers and more than 90% of front-line employees have compensation that is not linked to the strategy.
  • 95% of employees do not understand their organization’s strategy.
Another Dilbert cartoon comes to mind:

Strategy2

We only need to look back to page 35 of the town’s 2006 Strategic Plan to see how both the town and DPRA failed in following through with the vision that was drafted only 5 years ago even though icluded in the plan is an “implementation process”.

The objective of the implementation process is to assist the Town in determining over time whether or not the Actions identified in the Strategic Plan have been effective. 

DPRA even recognized:

One of the limitations of municipal strategic planning is that while communities can articulate Visions, Goals, Objectives and Actions, they almost always fail, because there is no commitment to implementation, assessment of whether or not the Actions
have been taken and whether or not the Actions have been effective.

That must be why it was determined:

The CAO as the Chair of the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee should report progress in achieving the Objectives and Goals annually to Town Council. Similarly, the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee should report progress on an annual basis to Town staff and Community Residents.

The Strategic Plan Implementation Committee is to meet annually with Department leaders to review and revise annual work programs which align with the Strategic Plan and its associated Actions. Semi-annual meetings should also be held to assess progress with respect to implementation of Actions.

Ask anyone in town if they recall being provided with an annual report on implementation of the strategic plan.

Where is the record that the Strategic Plan Committee met at all over the past term of council?

Perhaps there were meetings but they just weren’t communicated effectively to us lowely residents.

Before the town, or its costly consultants, continue this process they may wish to review the following eight ways to communicate strategy more effectively : 

James F. Hollan, CAE, president and CEO of GALA: Globalization and Localization Association, explains why most strategic plans don’t work: http://www.asaecenter.org/Resources/ANowDetail.cfm?ItemNumber=35661

“They involve too much paper, too much time, too many nodding heads, and far too many poorly informed so-called experts. I know that many association CEOs believe the same, but we exist in an environment where it is anathema to even question the validity of the strategic planning process. You might just as well stand up at the next board meeting and suggest everyone strip down to his or her underwear as question the usefulness of the strategic plan you have in place.  


The job of association executives and board members should be to lead the organization. They must evaluate all that the organization does and examine how the organization does it. Planning is fundamental to success—always has been and always will be. However, it is naive and counterproductive to believe that strategic planning, as we know it, is the answer. 


Are there great strategic plans out there? Yes. Do some strategic plans advance some associations? Yes. Is strategic planning necessary for association success? Absolutely not.”

For Hollan flexibility and fluidity, not strategic plans, are the keys to success. 

Let’s hope that Aurora plans, and executes both.

Oh, and well we’re at it, lets drop that cheesy slogan too.
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