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Taking Command of Change:
A Practical Guide for Applying the Strategic Development Process
in State Historic Preservation Offices

by
Doug Eadie, President
Doug Eadie Presents!, Frisco, Texas
Web Edition 2003
(originally published in 1995 by the National Park Services and
The National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers)

 
Taking Command
of Change
Table of Contents
 
Foreword
Preface
Acknowledgements
Executive Summary

1. Overview
 
2. Creating a Strategic Framework
 
3. External and Internal Environments
 
4. Issue Identification and Selection
 
5. Strategy Formulation
 
6. Launching a Strategic Development Process
 
7. You Can Do It!
 
8. Sources of Information on Strategic Development

 
 
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4. ISSUE IDENTIFICATION AND SELECTION

WHAT IS A STRATEGIC ISSUE?

The crux of the strategic development process is the identification and selection of the STRATEGIC ISSUES that the SHPO Office will tackle – above and beyond its normal, day-today business (what we called the "operational agenda" in Section 1). These strategic issues, and the strategic change initiatives that are fashioned to address them, comprise a SHPO Office’s STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT AGENDA, which must be managed separately from the office’s day-to-day affairs.

Figure 9

STRATEGIC ISSUES

  • CHANGE CHALLENGES

  • IN THE FORM OF OPPORTUNITIES AND PROBLEMS

  • CAN RELATE TO NEEDS OR MARKETS, PRODUCTS OR SERVICES, REVENUE STREAMS, MANAGEMENT OR COORDINATION

  • OFTEN CROSS ORGANIZATIONAL BOUNDARIES

Strategic issues, which come in diverse shapes and sizes (Figure 9), are basically CHANGE CHALLENGES in the form of opportunities to move toward our SHPO Office vision and of barriers or problems impeding our progress to our vision. They might relate to:

  • CUSTOMERS, PROGRAMS, AND REVENUES – for example, the opportunity to provide a new service to a new customer, such as a federal agency or an Indian tribe, or the decline of a traditional revenue source that forces the SHPO Office to search for new revenues. The New Hampshire planning team decided to address heritage tourism as one of its strategic issues.

  • IMAGE AND EXTERNAL RELATIONS – for example, the need to build a stronger image in the state or to repair a dangerously frayed relationship with a key stakeholder, such as the state legislature or a nonprofit board. The Texas planning team decided that stakeholder management generally merited immediate attention as one of a small number of high-priority issues.

  • ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP, PLANNING, AND MANAGEMENT CAPABILITY – for example, the need to strengthen a SHPO board’s governance capability, or to upgrade a particular planning or management process. The Illinois planning team chose to tackle three internal issues – budget preparation, personnel management, and internal communication. The Kansas planning team decided to focus intensive attention on designing the process for preparing a statewide preservation plan that would be highly participatory and issue-focused.

Certain characteristics tell us we are dealing with a strategic issue, rather than a matter that should be handled through the normal operational planning and management process: it involves high stakes; it demands intensive attention; and it cuts across SHPO Office programs and operating units.

  • HIGH STAKES – A strategic issue demands attention because the likely cost of NOT dealing with it will be high, in terms of direct penalties or lost benefits. For example, because of a failure to repair its working relationship with a politically influential nonprofit preservation association, a SHPO Office might lose legislative support in the state budget process. Or, a poorly designed budget process that fails to involve all of a SHPO Office’s management team actively will exact a high price in terms of staff morale and program innovation and refinement.

  • INTENSIVE ATTENTION – The issue is so complex, and the need for action in the near term so pressing, that the issue cannot be left to the SHPO Office’s routine planning and management process or merely be delegated to a staff person to spearhead. For example, developing a heritage tourism program may involve complex dealings with several other state agencies and one or more nonprofits and the orchestration of planning sessions that must be meticulously designed and facilitated. And the outcomes that might be produced through the SHPO Office’s statewide preservation planning process are so diverse (including upgrading the roles of one or more policy bodies and building alliances with state legislators and nonprofit associations, for example) and the process so complex that designing and carrying out the process cannot sensibly be delegated to one person, even if she or he is the normal planning officer on staff.

  • CROSS-CUTTING, ORGANIZATION-WIDE – Very often, strategic issues just do not fit into any existing SHPO Office operating unit or program area and are, therefore, organization-wide matters. Examples are stakeholder management, going after grants to fund new programs, strengthening a policy body’s leadership capability, and building a more effective internal communication process.

SELECTING STRATEGIC ISSUES

The overriding objective of a SHPO Office’s Strategic Development Process is to generate ACTION – and CHANGE – in the NEAR TERM. Old-time supermarket planning, with its shopping lists of tantalizing possibilities, does not cut ice in this regard. The cruel fact is that a SHPO Office can handle only a very few, truly strategic issues well over the course of a year, while also managing day-to-day affairs.

SELECTIVELY IS THE NAME OF THE STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT GAME, AND IF A SHPO OFFICE IS SERIOUS ABOUT STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT, THEN THE PROCESS MUST BY ITS VERY NATURE FOCUS ITS ATTENTION ON A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF HIGHEST STAKES ISSUES.

And keep in mind that we are not talking about General Motors here. The challenge for the average SHPO Office is to find some time, and perhaps a little money, to deal with two, three, or four serious issues at any given time, while continuing to spend 98 percent of the time on running the shop. It stands to reason, then, that the average SHPO Office must choose issues it can realistically handle. Far from being earth-shaking or grandiose, to be manageable the strategic issues must be CHEWABLE BITES that will not overwhelm the SHPO Office.

Narrowing down a list of 43 tantalizing prospects to the four "chewable bites" that a SHPO Office can afford to address is more an art than a science, but a SHPO Office’s planning team can bring rigorous logic and common sense to the selection task only by asking certain key questions:

  • What is our SHPO Office likely to pay because we do NOT deal with a particular issue this year? Penalties typically take the form of direct damage (eroding of staff morale, alienating the governor, a cut in the budget) or less direct consequences (missing a major new grant opportunity).

  • Are we realistically capable of tackling a particular issue, either alone or in alliance with one or more stakeholders? Our SHPO Office may need to build stronger staff capability or raise new funds to address an issue. What are the odds that we can muster the resources required?

  • What risks are involved in tackling a particular issue? Is it politically or technically complex enough to make risk a serious issue? Is it so controversial that by merely tackling it we will tarnish our reputation?

Our SHPO Office planning team may have no choice but to address certain issues because the penalties of failing to act are so high. Usually, however, such easy and dramatic decisions do not come our way. Our task is to do a balancing job, choosing a small number of issues that promise the greatest benefits, that are assessed as affordable and manageable, and that involve the most favorable ratio of benefits to costs.

A TEAM AFFAIR

Teamwork is at the heart of strategic issue identification and selection, and the SHPO Office planning team will most likely require at least two intensive sessions for this purpose. A reliable approach is to accomplish the issue identification step as part of a one or one-and-one-half-day work session or retreat (see Section 6 below), and soon thereafter to select issues in a follow-up half-day session. The break-out groups that identified issues in the retreat might prepare for the follow-up issue selection session by performing a benefit/cost analysis of the issues they generated. This would ideally be made available to all members of the planning team in advance of the second session.

 

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