Strategic plans help entities prepare

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ Reporter

 

While the purpose of a strategic plan may vary depending on the entity, the overall idea is to outline the overall direction of an entity or organization. 

For the city of Newcastle, the strategic plan acts as a strategy for the entity moving forward, to provide direction and help allocate funds, according to Clerk-Treasurer Greg James. Weston County School District No. 1 on the other hand, uses a strategic plan to remain focused on its overall goal, while using maintenance and facility plans to outline where purchases and projects may come from. 

One thing that both entities have in common when it comes to strategic plans is that they are all forward thinking. 

“In other words, our strategic plan is looking ahead to the future,” James said. “How we can best allocate resources we have for the benefit of the community, in this case.” 

The reason the strategic plan is important, according to James, is that it provides direction for the city, just not for the current time but “ideally the direction or plan for two to three years down the road.” 

For example, James said, the city’s strategic plan will look at potential water and sewer lines that may need to be replaced, what roads may need to be repaved and any other projects that may be necessary. 

“The city tries to look about five years down the road,” James said, noting that other entities may look at different lengths of time, although most are for longer than a year. 

“In my mind, the importance of a strategic plan is the opportunity it gives an entity to plan resources. Not just money, but personnel and time as well, although money is certainly important,” James said. 

Weston County Health Services CEO Maureen Cadwell said that facility uses strategic plans as a “road map or guideline” of where the facility wants to go. 

“The strategic plan highlights services needed, projects needed and whatever
else the facility may need to look at,” Cadwell said. 

She explained that she was taught to prepare a strategic plan in a way that involves visiting with individuals both inside the facility and out to determine the needs and wants of the community involved in the entity. 

“The more people involved in the development of the strategic plan, the more information you gather on what is needed,” Cadwell said. “A lot of it starts with gathering data and information relevant to the business you are in.” 

Cadwell said that in the health care field planners look at census data, including age, gender, race, industry of citizens and education level. She also uses information from the Wyoming Department of Health specific to illnesses and issues seen in
the area. 

According to Cadwell, this information is the beginning backbone of the strategic plan prepared for Weston County Health Services. After gathering the data, Cadwell then does a SWOT – strength, weakness, opportunities and threat – analysis. 

“Outlining all of those things gives you the opportunity to look at where services could be needed,” Cadwell said. “The next step is then narrowing down the list to what you can accomplish.” 

The hospital, according to Cadwell, narrows its strategic plan to what the facility wants to accomplish in two years, which allows time to determine if it is something that can be accomplished. 

Weston County does not currently have a strategic plan that she is aware of, according to County Clerk Jill Sellers. 

“I have suggested developing one a few times over the last couple of years. In my experience, strategic planning is vital in order to provide organizational direction and priorities and to best manage assets and taxpayer money,” Sellers said. “It will take a combined effort of all departments, under the leadership of the Board of Commissioners, to do it.” 

Sellers noted that former County Administrator Dan Blakeman did have a complete capital asset plan for buildings and major maintenance in the county and that she believes Road and Bridge has plans for equipment replacement and road maintenance. 

“The true purpose of a strategic plan is to give you and others that sense of transparency of where you are going,” said Brad LaCroix, superintendent of Weston County School District No. 1. 

He explained that this is a common denominator in strategic plans, although the school district uses its strategic plan differently than other entities use theirs. 

“We put our mission statement and vision out there and sort of break it down to who does what and how you do it,” LaCroix said. ”Ours primarily focuses around student achievement.” 

According to LaCroix, the school district staff looks at how they know the young people in the district are learning and what will be done to get those who are struggling to a different level. 

LaCroix said that the school district uses a major maintenance plan or facility plan that includes future projects as well. 

James, Cadwell and LaCroix all admitted that a strategic plan, no matter the entity, is a living document and has the potential for change. 

LaCroix said that when school year started in 2018, it became clear that the health and safety of students within the district needed to become a priority over learning. 

“To get students to learn, we had to make sure they were safe and comfortable amongst themselves,” LaCroix said. “There are things that make you adjust periodically.” 

As for the city and the hospital, several factors can play a role in whether or not an item remains in the strategic plan, including time, personnel and money. 

According to Cadwell, an item may start on the strategic plan and, after review, the venture may not be as necessary as originally believed and it is removed. 

“Resources are another reason for things to get pushed off of the strategic plan. You may not have the personnel to do it, the money to do it or the time to implement the project,” Cadwell said, noting that a lot of resources go into implementing a project, and if any of those factors are “off,” the plan may change. 

“What makes a strategic plan difficult is certainly emergencies that may intervene,” James said. 

There may be resources allocated to a project, for example, but then an emergency arises and those resources have to be reallocated, he said. 

“Something could come up that is deemed a higher priority than an item on the list,” James said. 

He noted that he can’t underscore the importance of finances in a strategic plan. 

“There are lots of projects the city wants to do and have been on our strategic plan for some time, but we haven’t had the money,” James said.

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