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In this article, the authors examine the motives, results achieved and conditions for success in twelve departments -- six in Ottawa and six in Quebec.
The majority of Canadian and Quebec government departments have been conducting strategic planning exercises for several years. In this article, the authors examine the motives, results achieved and conditions for success in twelve departments -- six in Ottawa and six in Quebec. They find many motives for introducing strategic planning, ranging from the identification of strategic issues to the introduction of "cultural" change (organizational values, management philosophy, mobilization of employees). As well, they discuss the basic conditions for success, which include personal involvement of the Deputy Minister and the management team, support of the Minister, simplicity of the process and participation.
At both the federal and provincial levels in Canada, a number of departments are utilizing a process of strategic planning. Its aim is to establish the general orientations of the organization involved by defining its mission, the objectives to be met, its values and management philosophy, the products and services that it intends to offer and the means (strategies) it intends to use to meet its objectives.
Some authors, however, have pointed out differences between the private and public sectors that may explain why strategic planning does not apply to the public sector in the same way.(1) The main differences relate to the legal framework, the form of competition, client influence, political direction, public nature and the management and organization systems in effect in the public sector.
To get an idea of strategic planning practice in particular departments, in 1990 we began an exploratory study in six federal government departments and six Quebec government departments to gain a better understanding of the nature of these strategic planning processes, the objectives they pursue, the way the exercises are conducted, the results achieved and the conditions for success. In this article, we present part of the results of this research. We will deal with the objectives of strategic planning, the results achieved and the conditions for success.
Strategic planning motives and objectives
The introduction of strategic planning was not carried out without the experience of particular needs, without some compelling contextual variables. Several factors pushed federal and Quebec departments to adopt strategic planning (see Table 1).
The key reasons for adopting strategic planning in the federal government are changes in political orientation, the Cabinet decision-making process, scarcity of resources, departmental size, national co-ordination of policies and programs and the arrival of a new deputy minister.
The Cabinet decision-making process, especially the Policy and Expenditure Management System introduced in 1979, had a direct effect on strategic thinking within federal departments. The Policy and Expenditure Management System required departments and agencies to submit a "strategic overview" in order to set national priorities for the federal government. As one of the results of strategic planning, that overview was to specify the role of the department, its long-term objectives and the strategies, policies and programs it intended to use to achieve those objectives. It is important to point out that, thus, the Cabinet decision-making process had a direct impact on strategic thinking in federal departments and agencies.
In two federal departments, the size of the organization seems to be an important contextual factor in the introduction of strategic planning. These departments are characterized by a large number of employees, provincial and regional presences and involvement in areas that do not always have an obvious connection. In these departments, the various branches have, over time, become relatively independent, thus creating basic coordination, communication and consistency problems on the priorities level.
The same departments suffered from lack of co-ordination on the national level. In addition to …