The topics and pace may change based on team progress.
On January 13, the Strategic Planning team gathered at Fort Snelling State Park for the kickoff meeting. After receiving an introduction to strategic planning and the project plan, the group jumped right in on the first topic: Stakeholder Identification. Prior to the meeting, each team member was asked to submit, with the help of supervisors and other staff, a list of EWR stakeholders. After removing duplicates, the list totaled 313 stakeholders! (Some were lumped, e.g., tribes, colleges, other divisions.) The team then organized each stakeholder on a grid to determine the best way to engage them in our strategic planning process. The engagement strategies varied, and included techniques such as email notifications, fact sheets, “opt in” monthly updates, focus groups and personal interviews. The results will be refined as the team pins down how to coordinate some of the recommended tools and techniques.
What stands out is the LONG list of stakeholders that was compiled. It really shows how diverse the Division is and the reach it has in our state.
Most of us are familiar with the children’s game in which players must obey the leader’s instructions if (and only if) they are prefaced with the words “Simon says.” The Mandates Analysis that the planning team conducted at the February meeting felt a little like that game. Only, in this version, the “instructions” were really a long list of mandates and “Simon” was a policymaker, like the legislature. The team reviewed the mandates that shape our division’s work to find out which ones we “must” do (i.e., the ones “Simon says” we must do) and those we do for other reasons.
Mandates are anything formally or informally required of an organization. Formal mandates are those actions that must be done, such as found in statutes, rules, Operational Orders or funding requirements. Informal mandates are pretty much everything else. Our division sees a good mix of formally- and informally-mandated work. Permitting is a good example. Our division “must” make permit decisions, so that is the formal mandate. But the permit decision needs to be informed by data, and collection of that data is the informal mandate?it’s not required, but it helps inform work that is required. Therefore, both are necessary. A lot of our informal mandates support or help meet public expectations, particularly when it comes to public safety. We also sometimes do non-mandated work to provide exceptional customer service.
Understanding our formal and informal mandates is an important step toward helping our division define our existence. When mandates are combined with an organization’s vision and mission, it clarifies the value we provide the public.
The March Strategic Planning meeting was centered on three primary topics: Vision, Values and Mission. These three components of a strategic plan describe where we are now (i.e., our mission and present status), the ultimate picture of what we want to achieve (i.e., vision) and the standards we exhibit in attitude and behavior (i.e., organizational and personal values). To help the team figure these out, we took an unconventional approach: VISION BOARDS!
A Vision Board is literally a board on which you arrange materials (e.g., mini trees, pebbles, string, buttons, glitter, puffy paint, markers, pipe cleaners, sequins, magazine pictures, fabric, cotton balls) to display a 3-D representation of what you want to be; in this case, what we wanted our Division Vision to be. It’s a powerful way to get a team to think outside the box and clarify or concentrate on a long-term goal. EWR’s current vision is: Healthy Watersheds. The team is going to be revisiting this vision at every meeting.
To help develop the Values, the team used multiple resources. After much moving, combining and deliberating (and referencing the dictionary/thesaurus a couple times), the team settled on five DRAFT values:
The DNR’s Mission is also our Division’s Mission: to work with citizens to conserve and manage the state’s natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.
The next step in our process was to select the key strategic issues/challenges that would become the Plan's focus or main points. The team had a rough idea of what some of those ideas might be, but before they could definitely call something an issue or challenge, they wanted a little bit more information on certain topics. This meeting consisted of a series of presentations by subject matter experts on the seven topics below.
In May, the team made it through what we started to call "the Groan Zone". It's called this because the team was tasked with distilling 109 potential strategic issues into five issues that would become the focus of our Strategic Plan. For an organization, the strategic issues are those that will jump up and "bite" you if you don't pay attention to them; causing large, expensive, chaotic and/or vision-failing consequences for being ignored. We want to avoid that; so we are going to develop strategies to address each issue.
The five draft Strategic Issues the team landed on are:
The June meeting will center on developing goals for each of the Draft Strategic Issues. Goals answer the question: Where do we want to be in teams of [the issue]? For example, where do we want to be in terms of "Workforce Health"? Goals are our desired future condition.
The June meeting focused on developing the goals and strategies for each strategic issue. But before that started, the team first reviewed the five draft Strategic Issues (developed in May) to ensure they still reflected what had been learned during information gathering and internal and external engagements. After that review, the five draft Strategic Issues were updated as follows (in no particular order):
Second, the team jumped right in and started developing goals (which define where we want to be in terms of the Strategic Issue, or the desired future state of the issue) and strategies (which say, at a high level, how the goals can be achieved). Some of the goal and strategy suggestions were brought to the meeting by individual team members, who had collected ideas from fellow staff. Other ideas surfaced through formal, internal Division engagements in which staff provided suggestions. All ideas were put on the table and discussed among team members during the meeting.
The team produced a very long, comprehensive list of potential goals and strategies, which they knew would need to be cut back and/or refined. The team decided to sit on the potential list for a bit and revisit it at the July meeting.
In July, the team picked up the long list of potential goals and strategies that were developed in June and started reworking their ideas. It was a meeting full of difficult decisions deciding which ideas to lump together because they were similar; which ideas to split because they were describing distinct strategies; and which ones didn’t rise to the level of being included in a strategic plan. Many of the suggestions that fell to the cutting room floor were very specific and won’t be forgotten; rather, they will be taken up when the strategic plan becomes operationalized.
After two days of great conversation in Cloquet, the team is eager to share what they distilled. Starting in August, the draft work products will receive multiple levels of internal review and editing.
The August meeting covered a smorgasbord of topics: reviewing staff-submitted photos and facts, developing the plan outline, and reviewing other agency plans. The team reflected on what they heard over the last several months, discussing what they didn't want to lose, what hadn't been said yet, what are good and bad words to use. Another major task was starting to develop the "story" behind each issue. In other words, what made the issue/challenge stand out? What was the trend? What is the most important expectation to convey?
Non-planning team meetings were also held in August. There were a total of eight staff-focused reviews of draft works products, which included over 80 individuals from all four regions and other divisions. In total, over 18 percent of the division was able to participate in these reviews!
September centered on editing the plan. The Planning Team considered staff feedback received in August, as well as high level considerations from division managers, supervisors and leadership.
Additional feedback received at the end of September meant that October would be another editing month. After two days of editing, the plan content looks much different than it did in August. Goals and strategies were leveled and/or elevated to all read at the same strategic level, and a lot of "lumping" took place to bring clarify to the issues. Many of the operational-level details were removed (to be saved for future operational plans).