Before You Start
Preparation is the key to successful strategic planning, and the following ideas will get you started.
- Secure full commitment from key people in your organization. Ensure that you have support for strategic planning from your organizational leadership. Creating buy-in within the team will increase the likelihood of developing and implementing a successful plan.
- Deepen your understanding of the current state landscape of early childhood education. Look at both existing services and system administration to define the scope of the strategic planning effort. Identify the authorities or agencies that receive funding and administer the programs and services. Seek to understand how they currently interact or collaborate. Assess the current political and budgetary climate in the state as it relates to moving a systems building agenda forward.
- Identify existing strategic plans within the state, territory, or Tribe, and consider the connections. Does it make sense to create another strategic plan, or should you seek out the owners of the existing plans and determine if a collaborative strategic plan is the right direction?
- Create ownership for your strategic plan. Pull together a diverse, appropriate group of people to comprise your planning team to support the project manager. Diversity, inclusion, and equity lead to improved understanding of your system and help create shared values that will result in building a better strategy. Bring together a small core team of staff and partners—between 6 and 12 leaders and managers—who represent the rich tapestry of early childhood. Consider the role of existing advisory and oversight bodies and how they will be included. Identify and include experts from outside traditional early childhood domains who may add value to this process. Engage unusual voices—people and groups you seldom engage—to hear their diverse perspectives. This helps to ensure your plan moves into purposeful action and doesn’t sit on the shelf.
- Create an environment of open communication. Encourage open conversation between staff, partners, and community members to better understand their perceptions of the future. Promote creative thinking.
- Agree upon the strategic planning process. Identify key decisionmakers, create a timeline, and determine the desired results.
- Allow time for big picture, strategic thinking. People try to squeeze strategic planning discussions in between other efforts, such as overcoming challenges. To create a strategic plan, you and your partners and team need time to think big. Do whatever it takes to make that time for big-picture thinking, including gathering your partners and team offsite and scheduling intentional opportunities for planning. It can be slow work engaging others and creating a process everyone can trust. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort if the conversation encourages a greater sensitivity to strategic design, which in turn can drive innovation.
- Identify a project manager to guide and be accountable for the process of developing and delivering a final strategic plan.
- Consider the use of a trained facilitator who has no stake in the plan’s outcome. An impartial third party can concentrate on building and delivering a trustworthy process and can ask the tough questions that others may be hesitant to ask. The Office of Child Care Technical Assistance (TA) Centers can provide assistance with strategic planning facilitation through specialized individualized TA available at the State Capacity Building Center.
- Allow for open and free discussion regardless of each person’s position within the organization or partnership. This tip applies to everyone, including the CCDF Administrator. Encourage active participation, and do not allow one person to dominate the session (this situation can be avoided by using an outside facilitator who can support the process and associated outcomes).
- Articulate next steps after every planning session. Before closing the strategic planning session, explain what steps are next and who is responsible for what tasks. When the session ends and you walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand their responsibilities and associated deadlines.
- Create a timeline for key tasks and plan development and implementation.
- Determine a process for internal and external engagement.
- Identify the types of engagement planned for various internal and external groups (e.g., working groups and focus groups) to acquire feedback on the planning process.
- Determine other means for collecting input from the broader interested population and building interest and support for the planning work (e.g., surveys and social media).
- Consider how to incorporate partner and community member feedback into the planning process and proposal development.
- Think about execution. It does not matter how good the plan is if it is not well-executed. The implementation phase turns strategies and plans into actions designed to accomplish objectives and goals. This critical phase changes a strategic plan from being a static document that sits on the shelf to executing specific actions that drive success.
Remember, success begins with a solid foundation. Commitment, open communication, ownership, and planning form the core of a strong strategic planning process.