You should invest in strategic planning if you would like your office to be more effective this year with regard to getting constituent email and mail turned around quickly; better communications between the Washington and district offices; and more productive employees because the Member’s goals are clear.
Strategic planning also guides staff on how to handle the challenges of serving a new district: this process helps you decide where the office should be focusing and how (i.e., Member’s appearances, mailings, email, website content, casework outreach, field work, etc.).
The objective of strategic planning is to develop a forward-looking plan for an office for the coming year (or session). This plan will establish 3–6 major strategic goals and plans for achieving them. To effectively create and select goals, we use a process that helps an office assess:
- The mission of the Member. The best starting point for a congressional office planning process is to clarify the over-arching or long-term goals of the Member. There are a lot of interesting initiatives Members can champion. What needs to be discussed and decided is: is this initiative right for this Member; does it support the Member's longer term goals; and is it a subject for which the Member has genuine enthusiasm? CMF often works with the Member to develop a mission statement prior to the planning meeting. Alternatively, a short mission statement can be generated at the session.
- The needs of the district/state. While it is not essential that all office goals target the direct needs of constituents, it is important that as many goals as possible have the interest of the constituent at heart. Consequently, it is important to systematically analyze not only what the interests of the district or state are today but also what they might be 2–3 years from now.
- Office strengths and weaknesses. In this phase of the process, we assess the internal environment — the strategic strengths and weaknesses of the Member and the office, both real and perceived. It is critical in making plans that an office understand both its strategic assets and liabilities. Effective goals should capitalize on the office's strength while minimizing its weaknesses.
- Opportunities and threats. Then we explore the external environment. What is happening locally, nationally and internationally that will create opportunities as well as pose threats or problems to the Member, the office, and the Member's future political goals (e.g., economy, change in Administration, state budget problem, changes in composition of committees, emergence of a new issue, possible state referendums)? Too often congressional offices react to events rather than anticipating them. As a consequence, offices are sharply limited in their ability to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities or avoid problems.
The purpose of the actual session is to work from the data generated to develop one- or two-year goals for the office. The goals established should meet all five of the following criteria:
- They are either of great interest to the Member or the district/state;
- They capitalize on external opportunities or minimize external threats;
- They take advantage of the internal strengths and not the weaknesses of the Member and the office;
- They are realistic, achievable and measurable; and
- If achieved, they will provide a clear benefit to the Member and the office.
For each goal selected an action plan will then be developed that includes the following:
- A complete listing of the tasks that must be completed to achieve the goal (e.g., legislation, media/press, constituent services, outreach communications, scheduling, and office administration);
- An indication of who is responsible for completing each task (i.e., LA, CoS, District/State Director, Member); and
- A date by which each task is to be completed.
To ensure follow through, CMF can also lead your office through a two-hour review to measure progress on your strategic plan and modify goals to adapt to internal and external changes. For more information on this service, click here.
A related process that is often beneficial in enhancing the planning process is a "Stakeholder Analysis." This process is based upon a "customer service orientation" — understanding what your important customers expect or want from you and your staff, and making sure the office meets these expectations. The process CMF has developed for congressional offices follows the following steps:
- Identify all of the constituent groups, business interests, government entities, or individuals who can "stake" a claim on you or your staff's attention or affect you and your office.
- Systematically analyze each stakeholder to prioritize the relative importance of each.
- Assess how well the office has met the most important stakeholders' expectations.
- Develop strategies to better meet the needs and expectations of your most important stakeholders.
What was most helpful to you about the retreat?
"A sense of direction for the entire team."
"Understanding how to prioritize my time based on our mission statement and goals."
"I left with a much better grasp of the big picture and a much clearer path forward."
"I feel much more connected with the district staff than I did beforehand."
The cost to a House office for: staff interviews, design of the agenda, preparation, facilitation and follow-up of a strategic planning session is $3,000 for the first day, and $1,000 for the second day. If the session is held in the district, there will be an additional charge for travel time. All of the facilitator's travel and lodging expenses are also paid by the office.
The cost to a Senate office is slightly higher and varies depending upon the size of the staff, preparation time, and the number of facilitators required to effectively perform the work. If the session is held in the state, there will be an additional charge for travel time. All of the facilitator's travel and lodging expenses are also paid by the office.
If you would like further information about this service, or other CMF services, please contact CMF at 202-546-0100 or through our Web form. All contacts with CMF are strictly confidential.
Several characteristics distinguish CMF from other management groups. These include:
- We have been researching, writing, and providing advice on the subject of congressional management since 1977.
- We have successfully worked with over 100 House and Senate offices and provide management services that are tailored to the unique needs of congressional offices.
- Our fees are 50–90% less than standard management consulting fees. We recognize that congressional offices cannot afford to pay either private sector or executive branch consulting fees.
- As a nonprofit, we are able to set our fees at a level that is within reach of congressional office budgets.