February 2, 2013 in Opinion

State needs strategic plan

Howard Behar

Gov. Jay Inslee faces no shortage of critical issues demanding his attention. From our poorly performing health, transportation and education systems, to diminished citizen confidence that we are spending resources wisely, we need strong leadership to drive collaborative goal-setting to produce desired outcomes.

Crosscutting all of these issues is a common problem – the lack of effective process to develop collaborative solutions. This situation is not unique to government. A business that lacks good process and practices for managing its supply chain, product cycle, or internal decision-making will negatively affect the quality of its products, and in turn, customer satisfaction. To overcome these challenges, successful organizations – private, public, for-profit and nonprofit – utilize strategic planning.

Strategic planning forces answers to the questions of why, what, who and when we perform or fund specific functions. It enables an entire organization to align itself around a common vision, set goals for improvement, and employ best practices to achieve desired outcomes. It drives consideration of financial tradeoffs and the expected return on investment, and produces the information necessary for solid decisions.

No matter how good a plan is, however, it is shelf art unless implemented and monitored. Successful leaders know this. They use strategic plans to guide management of complex systems and to meet the challenges of multiple, and often competing, stakeholders. They develop solutions through collaboration, and they hold themselves and their organization accountable for achieving specific and measurable goals.

A well-designed and effectively implemented plan is exactly what our state’s current challenges demand. There are already promising examples of this approach in both local and state governments:

• Former Gov. Chris Gregoire’s LEAN management initiative resulted in simplified permitting and stronger interdepartmental communication.

• In Eastern Washington, Priority Spokane launched the Community Indicators Initiative, utilizing data to guide decision-making and set clear goals.

• The Washington Economic Development Commission has created a state strategy to support an innovation-based economy.

Two popular governors are scaling this approach at the statewide level. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley has received national recognition for implementing a comprehensive benchmarking system to guide decision-making. In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 10-Year Plan for Oregon, and the operationally aligned 10-Year Budget, are changing state agency culture and driving higher-quality outcomes.

A commitment to develop and implement this level of planning is not an attack on state government or its workforce. Rather, it is recognition that a proven process will achieve better results. Better results in state government can mean a stronger economy, workforce- and college-ready high school graduates, better air and water quality, an efficient transportation system for both people and freight, and a healthier population – in short, a higher quality of life for state residents.

Continuing on our current path will not lead to the outcomes citizens need and want. We should instead draw from our wealth of talent, with examples of Maryland and Oregon in mind, and design a compelling model of our own, to improve workforce morale, agency outcomes and public confidence.

In his inaugural address, Inslee said he would bring “efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency” to state government and “measure success by results … not [by] the money” allocated to programs or initiatives.

A Washington State Business Plan would deliver these goals.

As business leaders committed to the success of our state, we welcome the opportunity to work with the governor to design and implement a plan that sets us on a course to achieve the prosperity, health and environmental sustainability our state deserves. We have the talent, the leadership and the resources to generate a plan for success. Let’s put it to work for Washington.

Howard Behar and David Giuliani are co-founders of the Washington Business Alliance, a nonprofit association of business leaders committed to the notion that proven business practices and principles can help solve critical government issues and achieve prosperity throughout Washington. Behar is also a former president of Starbucks Coffee. Giuliani was co-inventor and former chief executive officer of Sonicare and Clarisonic.

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