How to be strategic in local government

Systems thinking for girls /   June 29, 2015 at 8:36 PM 3,256 views

1. Just say things Just saying things is also known as ‘being strategic’. To contribute to a high level strategy meeting, you need a mouth and something to say. The easiest thing to do is talk about the arrangement of words in documents. For example:

  • “I think this comes under people and not places”
  • “The Joint Strategic Needs Assessment sits under the Community Strategy”
  • “Does equality underpin everything we do or should it have its own theme?”
  • “Why isn’t environment a priority in its own right?”

Another way to be strategic is to say the opposite of the previous contribution. For example, if someone mentions concrete actions, you say “I think we are getting bogged down now”. If someone talks about doing something locally, you suggest doing it regionally or nationally. 2. Take it to the next level If you want to be amongst the most strategic people in the room, you say:

  • “What can we do together that we can’t do on our own?”
  • “Is this aspirational enough?”
  • “I think we need to keep it high level”
  • “Should we go for some quick wins?

If you want to be the MOST strategic person in the room, you need to talk about planning 15 years ahead. Try saying, “I think we are limiting ourselves by only looking 5 years ahead” Go too far ahead (75 years) and you’ll look stupid. Pitch it too low, say 1-3 years and you leave yourself open to being out strategicked. To hold onto your strategic reputation, distance yourself at all times from anything operational. Strategic people are too busy being strategic for operational matters. Or, if you want to distance yourself further, refer to it as, the detail. 3. Now go and do something else Once you have finished saying things, you can do something else because, as the most strategic amongst us know, when you are asleep strategies:

  • inform other strategies
  • underpin other strategies
  • emerge from each other
  • integrate with each other
  • dove tail with each other
  • refresh (often automatically)
  • feed into each other

Disgusting but true. 4. Then forget about it The beauty of just saying things and leaving the documents to it, is that you can just forget about it. No one will ever  be proved wrong or right. No one will ever know whether it was aspirational enough or whether equality should have been a separate key theme. No one will know because there is no explicit theory, nothing you can test. No one sees the big theory called ‘IF strategic managers meet, say things, write it down and arrange it in the right way, THEN the lives of service users will improve’. That one is not up for grabs. Too difficult, too awkward. Writing strategies is hard to criticise because there is nothing offensive or obviously wrong with them. It’s like trying to criticise the sky or a monkey. You can’t. They both just exist, as do local authority strategies. But unlike the sky and monkeys, local authority strategies are completely pointless. No one will ever be responsible because there is nothing to be responsible for. Most of the stuff is either incredibly easy to wriggle out of or you can simply wait until it goes away or gets redefined. Stop being strategic and start being good Local authority strategy writing is doing the same thing again and again without learning. No one questions the method. No one questions the point of doing it in the first place. This is the definition of single loop learning. Single loop learners go around the circle once and come out more or less unscathed to start the same loop again. It is shallow, predictable and repetitive. It’s for simple minds who like easy things. The theatre of being strategic is easily copied. Just follow the rules of engagement, use the right words. Anyone can do it. Double loop learning questions the underlying theory. It gets underneath things. It is hard and requires thinking. For example, you could ask the question ‘IF strategic managers meet, say things, write it down and arrange it in the right way, then DO the lives of service users improve?‘ Yes? No? How do you know? If you don’t know, is that good enough? Is not knowing and carrying on regardless a responsible attitude? Being strategic is not big and clever. If you want to improve the lives of service users just saying things about the arrangement of words on a page isn’t enough. It is harder than that. You need to be smarter and more resilient because the job is messier. You need to get out into the actual work and find out what is going on, warts and all. You need to understand what problems people have, what gets in the way of staff solving them and what you can do improve things. Neither the documents nor the strategic prattle will help you with that. Courtesy of System thinking for girls

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