Cover: Developing Strategic Plans for Defense Human Resource Management

Developing Strategic Plans for Defense Human Resource Management

Case Study of Planning in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness

Published Jan 18, 2022

by Charles A. Goldman, John D. Winkler, Nathan Thompson

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Research Question

  1. What principles should guide the development and implementation of strategic plans in public sector organizations, particularly in defense human resource management?

Although leaders of many public and private organizations appreciate the value of strategic planning in guiding their work, they wrestle with the principles that they should use to guide a planning process and the methods that they should apply to document and implement the resulting strategic plans. The authors identified a set of principles to aid leaders of public sector organizations, particularly those charged with the management of defense human resources, in developing and implementing sound strategic plans to focus and guide activities of the organization. The five broad topics the authors identified are grounding the strategic plan, building a system and capacity for planning, framing the organization's mission and understanding its operating environments, articulating strategic priorities and objectives, and monitoring performance and allocating resources. The authors assessed the degree to which the principles have been applied in strategic planning activities for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness between 2001 and 2020.

Key Findings

  • There are 13 guiding principles for strategic planning in public sector organizations: articulating the specific motivations for developing a strategic plan; anchoring the plan in higher-level strategic guidance; instituting a clear and formal process that balances top-down guidance with bottom-up engagement; identifying key stakeholders and determining their role in the planning process; developing capacity for planning and implementation; carefully defining the business the organization is in; identifying and assessing relevant internal operating environments; identifying and assessing relevant external operating environments; specifying a manageable set of high-level strategic goals linked to more-detailed objectives; defining strategic goals and objectives sharply enough to constrain courses of action; balancing the focus on process and outcomes; selecting performance indicators to measure accomplishment of the strategic goals and objectives; and developing an implementing system that guides activities and resource allocation to support the strategic plan.
  • The principles may be divided into five broad topics: grounding the strategic plan, building a system and capacity for planning, framing the organization's mission and understanding its operating environments, articulating strategic priorities and objectives, and monitoring performance and allocating resources.

Recommendations

  • When developing strategic plans for defense human resource management organizations, clearly anchor the plan in higher-level guiding documents (and seek opportunities to influence these documents).
  • Balance top-down guidance that represents leadership's strategic intent with bottom-up engagement that builds buy-in and capacity for planning.
  • Frame goals and objectives that clearly express leadership priorities and provide direction to guide offices and organizational units, which should develop their own plans that support the main plan.
  • Include both process and outcome objectives in the plan, with clear metrics for success.
  • Complement a concise strategic plan with a substantial implementing system that will align activities, data collection and reporting mechanisms, and resources with the plan.
  • Adopt a rapid and light approach to the strategic plan and implementing system to increase the likelihood of effectiveness, especially if leadership turnover is likely.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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