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Posted by on Aug 28, 2018

The President’s Management Agenda Series: Thinking Strategically

The President’s Management Agenda Series: Thinking Strategically

Business teamwork, success and strategy concept

In March 2018, the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) was released to the public. The PMA “lays out a long-term vision for modernizing the Federal Government in key areas that will improve the ability of all agencies to deliver mission outcomes, provide excellent service, and effectively steward taxpayer dollars on behalf of the American people.”

So how will the U.S. Government carry out these goals? In this blog series, we will explore some of the actions, processes, and practices it can leverage to ensure success.

Thinking Strategically

How do you think strategically when your day is comprised mostly of the tactical work? How can organizations think strategically when they are overwhelmed with accomplishing the day-to-day operations required to keep them running smoothly? How can the biggest organization of all, the United States Government, balance the need to think strategically while achieving objectives at a tactical level?

Tactical and strategic thinking provide different perspectives, but these concepts are intertwined and essential to individual and organizational success.

Strategic thinking requires a broader recognition of all the elements in our environment that will affect our plans for the future. Instead of simply focusing on what exists, strategic thinking allows us to consider what could be. Strategic thinking:

  • Helps with setting and achieving long-term goals
  • Recognizes relationships and interdependencies
  • Allows us to better prioritize our work
  • Identifies risks and opportunities inherent to our plans
  • Allows leaders to better align tactical work to organizational objectives

While the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) lays out several initiatives the U.S. Government aims to carry out, an overarching theme among all the different goals and objectives is the need to think strategically. One of the main ways the PMA suggests the government can shift to a strategic thinking framework is by recognizing key mission requirements and aligning the workforce to meet those needs.

According to the PMA, “Progress on these complex and interconnected challenges has been attempted in the past but often failed due to siloed efforts. Getting traction calls for broader, system-level thinking to tackle interconnected barriers to change, most notably related to aging technology infrastructure, disconnected data and an outmoded civil service framework.”

So how can the government leverage a broader, system-level thinking approach to achieve its mission?

Understanding the role that tactical thinking plays regarding strategic thinking is key; government leaders should broaden their perspectives and examine problems through a strategic lens. To begin to examine things through a strategic lens, the government must ensure that the various elements of its organization are aligned. Below are the elements that influence how strategic thinking occurs within an organization:

  • Mission. The organization’s mission is its reason for existence. Most organizations have a mission statement that outlines why the organization exists, what it is meant to do or accomplish, and who it is meant to serve.
  • Vision. The organizational vision describes what the organization strives to be. Most vision statements illustrate a future state that would result if the organization is successful in achieving its mission. The vision statement is meant to inspire and motivate individuals to help the organization achieve that desired future state.
  • Goals and Objectives. Organizations typically have documented long-term and short-term goals, as well as reasons for why reaching those goals is a valuable endeavor.
  • Climate. The climate is how you describe individuals’ shared perspectives and attitudes about the organizational environment, including how people feel about the organization, levels of satisfaction, and engagement.
  • Culture. Culture refers to implicitly shared beliefs, values, traditions, and norms that encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

To see an organization’s big picture, you have to recognize how all the different departments within your organization work toward common goals. In a well-aligned organization, the established mission and vision play a direct role in identifying goals and objectives, which then cascade down to team and individual roles and responsibilities, and are key to the culture and climate of an organization.

On the other side of this same token are the leaders within the organization. When leaders don’t think strategically, an organization has no hope of carrying out its tactical goals within a broader strategic framework. Effective leaders engage in three levels of thinking:

  • Tactical thinking. Thinking that helps accomplish day-to-day work and short-term goals.
  • Strategic thinking. Broader thinking that considers the long-term implications of actions and interdependencies within a system.
  • Systems thinking. Holistic thinking that recognizes all the interactions and connections between elements in a system.

According to the PMA: “To achieve a 21st Century Workforce, the government needs to do a better job of end-to-end strategic workforce management. It needs to look at work in a different way—assessing what our key missions and outcomes are and understanding how we can best align the workforce to meet those needs, particularly through the Administration’s lens of using IT modernization to drive increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency. It needs to engage in constant research and knowledge building, and integrate that work into our workforce planning and strategic planning in order to build a leading edge, first-in-class workforce to meet mission needs efficiently.”

The PMA states it clearly: assessing what our key missions and outcomes are. This understanding is key to the government’ success, and is the first step in moving toward strategic thinking.

Strategic thinking requires us to zoom out from the tasks that are directly in front of us. When we only focus on the here and now, we lose the opportunity to make concrete plans for the future and recognize the ongoing impact of our actions and decisions. And that’s what the President’s Management Agenda really focuses on answering: how can the U.S. Government make concrete plans for the future?

While the answer may be simple, the implementation is certainly challenging. But a strategic thinking approach will serve as the framework for achieving success.

Source: President’s Management Agenda. President’s Management Council and the Executive Office of the President. March 2018. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Presidents-Management-Agenda.pdf.

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