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The guide to creating a five-year strategic plan for government

By George Fripley - posted Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Not everybody realises this, but the wheels of government actually do turn … sometimes. But to turn there needs to be a plan of action. Every government department needs a five-year plan, whether they realise this or not. Many departments even get their act together to produce such a plan. The process is fairly generic, and usually follows a path similar to the steps outlined below.

Step 1: The executive management team get together when the realisation dawns that the department has been doing the same thing for many years and they are now so far behind the private sector that they are almost completely irrelevant and in danger of becoming a joke. Worse than this, the department may be disbanded, and it is the management level people who would be most at risk of losing their jobs. Something must be done to regain the illusion of usefulness and relevance!

Step 2: First, the staff have to be kept in the dark about the need for a new plan. This ignores the fact that the staff have been muttering and grumbling about the lack of direction for years and pleading for a new strategy. However, involving the staff is to be avoided at all costs as it will only complicate the process through the involvement of too many people, or worse still, result in sensible and practical ideas that necessitate decisions to be made and actions to be undertaken.


Step 3: (Meeting 1.) The management team must meet behind closed doors to discuss the future direction. These discussions must follow a pattern, so the first step is to define the Vision and Mission Statements. A great deal of time is spent on this task as these two items set the scene for the whole strategic plan.

The Vision is usually a one- or two-line statement that encompasses the dreams of the organisation. In normal circumstances, the first two hours of a three-hour meeting are taken up creating and refining the Vision. This usually involves lots of arguing over the precise wording, as personal preferences in language and grammar take over and the meeting degenerates into an argument about whether the word “provides” or the word “presents” is a better option.

An experienced procrastinator can ensure that the whole meeting is taken up by this debate without a definite resolution resulting. However, a great deal of skill is required for this and it should not be attempted by beginners in procrastination. A tip for beginners is to bring up a deeply philosophical question such as “At its core, what exactly is the purpose behind coming up with a vision?” “And what is the difference between the Vision and Mission Statement anyway?”

It is guaranteed that most people in the room, if not all, will not really know the answer and are just following the standard headings without question. Some will attempt to answer and in the process derail the meeting and demonstrate their own lack of knowledge, before tailing off into silence as they realise the hole they’re digging. By then it will be too late and numerous arguments will have broken out about what the differences actually are.

Step 4: (Meeting 2.) Repeat the previous meeting, but this time relating to the Mission Statement. Doubt is usually cast on the progress made at the previous meeting, as everybody’s notes are different, the battles that were resolved concerning the Vision are recommenced.

Step 5: (Meeting 3.) This meeting will move on from the debacle of trying to define the Vision and Mission Statements, leaving them poorly worded, open to ridicule, and preferably meaningless. Now it will be time to agree on the Objectives and Desired Outcomes.


It goes without saying that the same confusion about the meanings of these two terms will cause this meeting to degenerate in the same way as the previous meetings. “What is a Desired Outcome?” “What is an Objective?” Surely the Outcomes you are working towards are the same as the Objectives … aren’t they? Say no more.

Step 6: (Meeting 4.) If there is any will left to continue this process, and in reality it has often disappeared by this stage, it is now time to look at Actions and Responsibilities. But, in all likelihood, what will happen is that the procrastinators will have successfully ground their colleagues into the dust to the point that the meeting is only able to agree on vague general statements about intent that contain no substance. Where responsibilities are assigned, the vague nature of the actions are such that nobody knows what they mean and so nothing is likely to happen.

And there you have the generic government strategic plan.

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About the Author

George Friplely has worked in the public service for more than eight years, and in that time has risen to the dizzying heights of managing an agency (for a brief period of time). He has a great deal of experience in dealing with the day-to-day decision-making processes and has a wealth of knowledge about government process. He is currently in hiding among the stacks of files in his government department, hoping that his revelations do not cause him to become the subject of an ASIO investigation, or worse still, that somebody realises that he actually exists and sends some work his way! George blogs at and George's thoughts on government and bureaucracy are now available in the definitive government employees manual, You Can't Polish A Turd - the Civil Servant's Manual, published by Night Publishing. His next book provisionally titled The Dregs of History is due for release in 2011.

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