20/20 Strategic Vision

What is a strategic vision?

If a police agency takes on the strategic planning process, the early stages will find the police department CEO and staff members dealing with the challenge of determining the direction of the department in terms of the future.  More specifically, long into the future.

Once thoughtful conclusions have been made about the long-term direction, the details of the direction choices will coalesce into a strategic vision.  The ideas that were once simply thoughts become more formalized and become valuable tools to continue on with the strategic planning process.

What are some of the barriers to a clear vision?

For a typical business, this is fundamental to survival and success, so it is no surprise to find it likewise fundamental to business decision making.   This is not an easy task in policing, however, for a variety of reasons:

  • The role of the police department and its function is often presumed to never change: “protect and serve”, “combat crime”, “provide a safe community” and so forth.
  • Strategies are often already in place or assumed to be in place, possibly established many years ago.  Making course changes may find resistance and animosity from those that charted the original course, as well as other personnel that are loyal to those plans or leaders.
  • Police departments find themselves caught up in the here and now; the dynamic environment that exists as a result of responding to changes in the police environment leave little time to contemplate where we are going several years down the road.
  • Some administrators may confuse a strategic vision for predicting the future, when, in fact, a strategic vision’s goal is to determine the future.
  • And last but certainly never least: “we’ve always done it that way.”

Bringing the vision into focus

The level of clarity of the strategic vision is critical because it is not just a road map for the police CEO and staff; it is the communication detailing where the department is headed to both the police department personnel AND the community.  This is one of the business considerations where all of the stakeholders are needed on deck.  Everything needs to be in focus.

  • The strategic vision must be distinctive to the police agency, not the policing industry as a whole.  The vision should be easily recognizable as the specific vision the agency has for the community that it serves.  This approach challenges the first barrier listed above, moving the agency from broad feel-good statements that do not detail  how the traditional services of policing will be delivered for the agency’s community.  A creative vision strategy crafted by the best wordsmith may fall short of the expectations that are placed on the vision.
  • Strategic visions can and should, change.  Regardless of how well intended or successful previous visions have been, the constantly changing policing environment will always dictate adjustments to strategic planning.  As far as hurt feelings?  This will always be one of those situations where we get as many on the train as we can, and leave the ones that do not want to take the ride at the station.  That, is just business.
  • Moving from the here and now to where we are going can usually be accomplished by making strategic planning a more formal process that adheres to goals, objectives and schedules.  This combats the sinkholes we find ourselves in when things feel too busy to look ahead.
  • The strategic vision should not be confused with public relations statements or mission statements.  The vision will never fulfill the role of giving the police department a sense of direction if it is no more than soundbites and slogans.  When the vision is put to paper, it should never be more than one or two paragraphs long, and only take a handful of minutes to explain.
  • The strategic vision must function as a management tool; it has to deliver the image of what the CEO and staff see the police department as in the future, so this image can be used a reference point and planning decisions are synthesized through the strategic vision.
  • The strategic vision’s success is dependent on how well it is communicated to the members of the police department.  The vision should be reduced to writing, distributed from the top down and supervisors in the chain of command should meet with personnel (roll call, squad training, in service training, etc.) to personally explain the vision.  The more the personnel understand about the vision, the more they are likely to buy-in and take ownership of the concepts.  This in turn increases the likelihood of the success of the vision.
  • A well-crafted slogan can shed light on the agency’s direction and serve as a subtle reminder to the agency personnel that the department has a direction, and everyone needs to be on board.

Clear vision = clear leadership

The ability of a police chief or sheriff to create a realistic and convincing picture of the department’s direction in the future and inspire their personnel to work toward the goals that will complete that vision, will build confidence in his or her strategic leadership capabilities.

Time for a checkup with the strategic eye doctor?

Just this year in 2014, policing has seen an incredible amount of environmental changes. What have you seen in the last few years that will impact police agencies and how they need to plan for the future?

If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

© 2014 David A. Lyons
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