Strategic Planning: A Virtual Possibility

By McMahan, Arthur | Army, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Strategic Planning: A Virtual Possibility


McMahan, Arthur, Army


Army Management Staff College (AMSC) teaches leadership and management to the Army Civilian Corps and military leaders at two campuses - Fort Belvoir, Va., and Fort Leavenworth, Kan. One of my responsibilities as director of educational services is to manage the strategic planning process, including the annual strategic planning review of the mission, vision, goals and values of the college. When I arrived at the college several years ago, I was given four days for strategic planning. The time allotted for strategic planning this year was one day. How could we possibly develop an effective strategy in one day?

Since launching the civilian education system, the daily tempo for AMSC has increased dramatically, making it almost impossible to schedule meetings and training for all members at once. After spending several days trying to coordinate individual and departmental calendars, I finally bemoaned to myself, "This is virtually impossible!" I didn't know at first how fortuitous a statement I'd made.

I realized, after reading an article on Twitter and watching a television show that incorporated virtual discussion into its format, that a virtual strategic planning meeting might be possible. We began by exploring the virtual resources available to our employees at our two campuses. We needed to convince leadership that this was a good idea and that we could conduct a quality strategic planning meeting using the virtual mode for most of the underlying discussion.

Strategic planning is much more effective if everyone is involved, so it is critical to have a process that is accessible to everyone, in which all feel welcome to give their thoughts and opinions. The virtual process puts participants on an equal footing, regardless of their position in the college, and gives introverted personalities a way to engage that may be more comfortable for them. Participants can comment on any topic whenever they want, with one caveat: Their names are printed with their comments. With the approval of college leadership, principally the commandant, Col. Garland Williams, we continued planning the event.

Fortunately, the college had just launched a "community of practice" (or virtual learning community) that utilizes SharePoint software. This configuration allowed virtual collaboration and discussion for faculty, staff and students. After a meeting with the contractor for the project, I concluded that we could use this existing platform to conduct a review and discussion of our current mission, vision, goals and values preceding our oneday face-to-face meeting. AMSC has 121 employees (on two campuses), each of whom has access to the Internet, which allowed us to design a virtual discussion site and permitted everyone to contribute from individual workstations.

After obtaining approval from the organization's leadership, we had to convince the rest of the workforce that this plan would work well for them. Because of the age range in our workforce, some employees (mainly Generation X-ers and Millennials) quickly engaged in the process because they were quite comfortable with technology, while others (Boomers and Traditionais) who were not as familiar waited to engage until after they witnessed the successful interaction at the site.

The promotional campaign included weekly reminders to the leadership team about the process that expressed expectations that everyone get involved and an e-mail from the commandant inviting everyone to join the discussion, assuring them that their comments were valuable to the organization's success. We also used a word-of-mouth campaign, by which my team members and others talked with employees about the merits of participation in this important process. In each of our discussions, we emphasized that time should not be a factor because participants could enter the site at their convenience and post their comments in a matter of minutes.

We divided the site into four topic areas: mission, vision, goals and values (MVGV). …

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