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"Be Fiscally Sound, Help People, Stay Relevant" – A Three-Year Strategic Plan for The Agency

March 5, 2018

Family & Children Services recently implemented a new three-year strategic plan. Developing the plan took the better part of a year and involved employees throughout the organization, plus the board of directors. The result is a plan with three goals: Be Fiscally Sound, Help People, and Stay Relevant.

Quality Services and Compliance Manager Rebecca Clore served in the role of facilitator during the plan's development process. "I was Switzerland," she says with a chuckle, "staying neutral and helping move the process along."

We asked Rebecca, CEO Sherry Thomas-Cloud and Board Chair Mac Waldorf about the process of developing the plan; its overall objective, goals, and measurements; what it means for Agency employees, clients, and the community; and more.

Rebecca Clore

Rebecca Clore

Mac Waldorf

Mac Waldorf

Q. Why is it important to have a strategic plan?
A. Whether you are a small business, a big corporation, or a local social service agency, you need a strategic plan. It's the guiding force that drives daily actions and long-term financial results. Without it, any organization and its people would get mired down in confusion, redundancy, and frustration. There's too much at stake not to have one. Our current plan was coming to an end. It was time to look at where we were and where we want to go.

This plan specifically spotlights the Agency's mission and values within the context of our work in the community. It forces us to assess our core programs and competencies that ultimately guide us toward a future plan of action. As times change it is important to revisit what we do and why to assure that we are relevant and impactful.

Q. Why three years?
A. The funding and program landscape for nonprofits changes too frequently to go farther out than three years. The needs of the children and families we serve can change, as well as the priorities of our funders and their ability to help us financially. A three-year horizon allows us to remain both focused and flexible.

Q. How did the process of developing the plan unfold?
A. Following some preliminary work last spring, the process began in earnest last June when Sherry began a series of meetings to gather info from direct-care staff, caseworkers, counselors, and supervisors. She listened to what they felt was important in their work, what they valued, and what could be improved.

Rebecca also conducted individual interviews with Sherry, our program managers, and directors to determine the Agency's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This SWOT analysis and Sherry's learning went into a white paper that our team reviewed and discussed throughout July and August. We also took a close look at our mission statement to make sure it is still accurate and relevant. It is.

All the discussions (and some marathon meetings!) revealed common themes. Remaining fiscally sound was hugely important to everyone, as was evaluating our programs and services to make sure we were living up to everyone's expectations. Through last fall, we steadily developed and refined goals around finance, operations, and people.

Q. Did you have outside consultants?
A. Chad Bareither from Stryker Instruments was very helpful throughout. He gave us invaluable technical advice that helped us structure our work toward developing the objectives, goals, strategies, and measures. We then presented a preliminary plan to the board of directors in September.

With feedback from the board and ongoing discussions within our team, we further refined the plan and presented again at the December board meeting. I'm happy to say that they approved it. I can't say enough about how hard everyone worked, and how committed the board and our team are to carrying out the plan.

Q. Why was it important to follow this process?
A. The process of strategic planning is just as important as the completion of the plan. Engaging staff members and various stakeholders is key to capturing top priorities for the Agency. When you include staff they imagine the future with them in it. They feel ownership of the plan. This process assures that the Agency is unified in its mission, aligning stakeholders, staff, and board members in what we want to accomplish over three years and how best to allocate resources to that mission.

Q. What is the overall objective of the plan?
A. Our objective is stated in one simple statement: "Stabilize and strengthen existing programs while taking targeted strategic risks around new opportunities focusing on integrated healthcare, crisis services, and prevention services."

It's only a single sentence, but it captures so well our guiding vision for the next three years.

In addition to strengthening our current programs, we must also be brave enough to take some strategic risk in areas where we see the field growing. We've identified integrated health care, crisis services, and prevention services as those fields. Seizing opportunities that build on the existing strengths we have in these areas will allow us to expand the breadth and depth of the services we offer, with the goal of helping more people.

Q. What are the strategic plan's top goals?
A. We have three overarching goals:

Be Fiscally Sound
Based on our experience, we know that being fiscally sound is critical to our existence. That's why it's a top goal. We need to be attuned to changes in the financial landscape to Medicaid, Medicare, and insurance coverage, for example. We must also be good stewards of the monies and the trust we receive from our incredibly generous community donors. So, we will look for ways to reduce our administrative costs and invest in key programs and staff development.

Help People
We want to help people and families live good healthy lives. We cannot do this without highly trained and experienced staff using evidenced-based practices that are proven effective and produce results for kids and families. Part of this process is to evaluate our current practices, learn where we might have gaps, and get more people trained in evidenced-based services and treatments.

We also intend to help our mid-level managers and supervisors effectively handle their administrative and managerial tasks while still directly connecting to client service. Our goal is to provide them with the training, skills, and resources they need to do their jobs while they help our frontline staff deliver their best work for clients. Advancing our approach to cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion are also ways we can help people that we will be focusing on.

Stay Relevant
We had many conversations about this goal. Accomplishing this means meeting the changing needs of our community and clients. Thus, we will devote time by senior staff members to search out new program opportunities, build relationships and develop partnerships with other community organizations, and further establish the Agency's expertise - all with an eye toward helping the children and families that we serve.

Q. How will you know if the plan is working?
A. A lot of work went into this plan. It will not just be put in a drawer and forgotten. We have many initiatives to put the plan in place and metrics to measure our progress. For example, we will dedicate a portion of staff hours to new business development. Those numbers will be monitored regularly, so we'll know if we fall behind. We've done the same with a focus on increasing targeted staff skills through training opportunities and coaching. Staff survey results and performance coaching reviews will demonstrate increased manager skill acquisition.

There will be regular reporting on the strategic plan at employee and board meetings. If you come to our staff offices over the next three years, you will see several visual reminders of our initiatives and our metrics. We call these our "huddle boards," because we huddle around them regularly to talk about where our struggles are, how to remove barriers to success, and how to capitalize on successes.

The board of directors will serve as a sounding board throughout the three-year plan and bring broader expertise and outside experience to assure the plan remains sound, feasible, and aligns with the Agency's mission.

Q. What does the strategic plan mean for employees, children and families, and our community?
A. For everyone, it means that Family & Children Services will continue to be a stable source of opportunity, hope, and services.

For staff members, it means they will have a place to do good work, to expand and enhance their skills.

For the nearly 8,000 individuals and families that we serve each year, the new strategic plan means that we will continue to seek new opportunities to offer services, that those services will be highly effective, and will be delivered by highly qualified and trained staff.

For the community, it means that our Agency will be ready when new opportunities and challenges arise. Sometimes those hit you fast and furious, sometimes they bubble to the surface over time. We will be ready when they come.

Our 115-year history has shown that this Agency is ready to accept a challenge, that we are good stewards of the community's dollars and trust, that we understand the clinical needs of our clients, and have trained professionals on staff to serve them.

Our three-year strategic plan will continue this legacy. It's fluid enough to be able to respond quickly to opportunities within our wheelhouse, while concurrently focusing on maintaining core programs and services.

Fiscally $ound