Monday, 14 April 2008

Know Your Strategic Objectives

As part of an activity on one of our workshops at JISC infoNet I ask delegates to list their organisation's strategic objectives. For some of them this is an impossible task as they just don't know them.

This isn't because of any lack of attention or poor memory - in one conversation I had recently a college manager said "We don't tell staff below Senior Management Team level what our strategic objectives are because they don't need to know."

Now I have to agree that for a data entry clerk in an office, feeding student data into a database, that may be true in as far as their day-to-day work is concerned, although even there it may explain why some of that data is important to the organisation.

However when we look at the sort of work carried out by many staff which is outside the normal day-to-day routine - i.e. project work - then it would surely be of some help in identifying projects that contribute to strategic objectives and allow some prioritisation or even a basis for saying "no" to running a proposed project.

Projects are funny things in many organisations and they are run along the lines of Mastermind - they've started so they'll finish. By which I mean that, despite it becoming obvious sometimes that a project has no hope of achieving the goals and outputs it was created to achieve, no one will actually take the responsibility of pulling the plug and saving the money allocated but as yet unspent.

Where strategic objectives are disseminated throughout an organisation it can give a sense of purpose to the work of staff who are able to to make the links between what they do and the strategic objectives of the organisation. It helps to engender a corporate culture - rather than what is all too often the case, where lots of clashing sub-cultures exist and staff are happy to form their own game plans without any thought or check to see whether there is goal conflict with another team elsewhere in the organisation.

I'm minded of the time when a colleague was at a senior management away-day. At the end of the day when everyone was happily getting sloshed in the bar, one of the managers had withdrawn to a corner with some papers. One of the other managers felt this unacceptable and went over to enquire what she was doing.

"I'm working on my Departmental Plan" came the answer and in evidence the documents were thrust under the second manager's nose. About to dismiss this as a poor excuse for sobriety, the second manager noticed one section of wording on the plan.

"Hang on," he said, "if you do that you'll be using resources that I need and I won't be able to achieve my goals..."

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