In today’s complex and ever-changing business environment, public sector entities need to recognise the importance of a well-developed and clearly articulated strategy.
Developing and implementing effective strategies helps organisations achieve their objectives and vision. They can offer a direction and a pathway to strive towards a goal. However, merely developing a document with goals, visions, objectives, and actions does not constitute a strategy. Often too much emphasis is placed on the strategy document and not enough emphasis on actually developing a strategy.
Fundamental questions around options, purpose, values, and directions the entity wants to take need to be considered – as highlighted in section 10 of the Queensland Government’s Agency Planning Requirements.
In our audits, we continue to find entities either do not have strategies, or that they’ve been poorly developed and delivered. A common issue is that entities set unrealistic and unmeasurable goals or outcomes. This makes it hard to know what, if anything, they have achieved.
It’s critical that entities develop measures and targets at the same time as the strategy to ensure they align to the entity’s strategic objectives. Our audits have found instances where entities develop strategies first, and then establish measures and targets afterwards. As a result, these measures and targets do not always align to the entity’s objectives and can end up being unrealistic or not implemented properly. When entities develop measures and targets at the same time as the strategy, it helps clarify what success looks like and provides a clear framework for measuring progress towards achieving the overall goals.
Entities should not overlook the difference between setting a goal as opposed to a strategy. Mistaking them for the same thing can lead to confusion and ineffective decision making. Goals represent the entity’s desired outcome, while strategy outlines the plan of action that the entity will take to achieve those goals.
What should entities include to ensure they develop effective strategies?
A good strategy can bring about changes, address potential risks to an entity’s goals and purpose, and result in improved outcomes. When a strategy is well-planned and implemented, it can help an entity determine if it is making progress towards its desired outcomes.
To develop a comprehensive strategy that is meaningful and useful, there are key areas that entities need to include. We have outlined these below.
Clearly outline your organisational objectives and goals
A strategy should clearly set out what the entity or entities want to achieve. The objectives and goals within a strategy need to be clear and measurable, and entities need to ensure the goals are realistic and objectives can be met.
Outline accountability and performance measures
A strategy can provide a framework for the entity to measure progress and assess the effectiveness of policies and programs. It should include key performance indicators and milestones that allow the entity to monitor progress with clearly identified accountability.
Performance management is one key area that we continually see issues with across all our audit work. As we highlight in our report 2022 status of Auditor-General’s recommendations (Report 4: 2022–23), many entities’ performance targets focused on outputs rather than outcomes, and they failed to develop specific targets that were relevant and achievable. We also identify that performance monitoring was the second highest outstanding recommendation to be implemented across all entities.
Our report Protecting our threatened animals and plants (Report 9: 2022–23) found that the entity had implemented a biodiversity strategy but this did not contain measures or targets on how it will achieve its outcomes. We highlight a similar finding in our report Improving grants management (Report 2: 2022–23), where we identified that entities needed to put measures in place to assess the performance of the recipients of grants and alert the department if the grant was at risk of not meeting its objective.
Identify how your organisation will coordinate with others
A well-developed strategy will enable different entities to coordinate their efforts towards a common goal. Responsibilities need to be clearly defined to allow for better coordination, collaboration, and communication between stakeholders and to reduce duplication. The described responsibilities must also consider stakeholders' needs and expectations. By articulating roles and responsibilities through the strategic planning process, each entity better understands what is required from it.
Where entities need to work with other agencies and stakeholders to deliver outcomes, they must define the scope and role of the engagement. Benefit realisation plans will help them measure the success of their strategies.
For example, in our report on protecting threatened animals and plants we note that entities should work closely with other entities that have complementary roles. This ensures clear alignment between strategies to ultimately better support the achievement of community or environmental outcomes.
When more than one entity is involved in the delivery of the strategy, clear accountabilities need to be agreed and assigned. Entities must work collaboratively to ensure the success of the strategy.
Identify how you will manage your resources
Most entities operate with limited budgets and resources. A strategy should identify what resources the entity needs to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. This helps with planning and prioritising resources to ensure they are being used to their maximum potential.
Include risk management
As per the Queensland Government’s Agency Planning Requirements, section 12.7, identifying and managing risk must form part of a strategy. It allows entities to anticipate and manage their risks and develop contingency plans to mitigate the risk.
It’s important to identify key strategic risks and critical issues that could prevent an entity from achieving its goals, and clearly explain what might cause these risks and what impact they could have. Risks can come from both internal and external factors within government. The entity should also have internal controls in place to manage these risks, which are integrated into processes and risk management documents. Strategies need to address these risk factors and ensure they integrate with the relevant risk management plans.
Consider what can be learned from previous experiences
Strategies are crucial for driving continuous improvement. It’s therefore important that entities leverage insights they gain from their activities and outcomes and use the information to help further improve the development and implementation of new strategies.
- Agency Planning Requirements, Queensland Government
- Improving grants management (Report 2: 2022–23)
- Managing Queensland’s COVID-19 economic response and recovery (Report 3: 2022–23)
- Protecting our threatened animals and plants (Report 9: 2022–23)
- 2022 status of Auditor-General's recommendations (Report 4: 2022–23)