Strategic Planning Guide

To create an effective, accountable, and well-run state agency, your strategic plans should:

  • Demonstrate how your agency meets the needs of North Carolinians and stakeholders.
  • Chart a long-term direction for your agency and the allocation of resources.
  • Align global agency goals, program goals and initiatives, and individual expectations and results.
  • Establish a mechanism for evaluating your progress and continuous improvement.

The information on this page is meant to guide your agency through the process. You may also wish to review the Memorandum launching the 2023-25 Biennium Strategic Planning and download accompanying PDF version of the guidelines.  We encourage any agency employee who wants more insight into the process or recommended practices to sign up for our Performance Management Community of Practice. 

Where to Start   Plan Components  Checklist

Where to Start

At the highest level, the strategic planning process in North Carolina state government is driven by the four questions below:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?
  4. How do we evaluate our progress?

These basic questions prompt agencies to assess their current environment, develop what they wish to achieve, determine how to achieve it, and track progress along the way.

The planning process should incorporate a broad range of perspectives from across an agency. An agency’s strategic plan should not be the product of an individual or a small group of individuals; rather, a collaborative effort driven by the top executive with contributions and support from employees.

Below is a step-by-step guide to the process. 

Strategic Planning step by steap


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  1. Goals, Objectives, Strategies & Tasks
  2. Mission, Vision & Values
  3. Agency- or Departmentwide Goals
  4. Bureau- or Divisionwide Goals
  5. Performance Measures/Milestones
  6. Highlights & Opportunities

A goal is high-level and outcome-oriented but not overly specific (no targets).
Objectives are the progress needed to achieve a goal and should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound.
Strategies state the action steps the agency will take to achieve the goal and its measurable objectives. Strategies are actions and thus typically start with a verb.

Strategic plans are about goals and objecives

2. Mission, Vision & Values  Strategies and tasks, although vital to the implementation of any Strategic Plan, are more specific actions, more operation-related, and more subject to change than Strategic Plan components. Thus strategies and tasks are not included in the Strategic Planning Template. However, documenting your strategies and tasks in an Annual Plan can be a very useful operational resource.

The mission statement is the common thread that describes an agency’s basic purpose and concisely identifies what the agency does, why, and for whom. It reminds everyone, including the Governor, legislators, and the public, of the unique purposes promoted and served by the agency and provides a clear answer to the question, “Why do we exist?”

Every strategic planning cycle, your agency should review its mission statement. As part of the review process, you should examine your agency’s responsibilities and authorities as spelled out in North Carolina statute. It may be necessary to develop a new mission statement; however, an agency will most likely only need to make moderate revisions (or no changes at all) since mission statements often remain appropriate for long periods of time and, in the case of state government, are often mandated by statute.

A mission statement is easy to understand and should answer the following questions:

  • Why does our organization exist?
  •  What do we do that no other organization can do?
  •  Who are our customers? Stakeholders? Beneficiaries? What implications does this have for how you do what you do?
  •  What major activities or outcomes are we responsible or accountable for?
  •  Is our mission consistent with the agency’s enabling statute?

A vision statement is a coherent and powerful statement of what an agency wants to be in the future. A vision statement articulates a view of a realistic and creditable future for an agency and helps form the foundation for strategic plan development. It helps agency employees articulate what the agency want to achieve.

There are many key elements of quality vision statements, which include but are not limited to:

  • Setting high standards and ideals
  • Identifying a clear purpose and direction
  • Strengthening enthusiasm and commitment
  • Promoting change
  • Reflecting uniqueness

Note: A vision statement differs from a mission statement in that a mission statement tells who or what an agency is now, and a vision statement tells what an agency hopes to become in the future.

Effective values are clear, succinct, and widely communicated. They remain consistent and relevant over long time periods and provide substantial guidance for carrying out individual responsibilities. Values are the principles that govern behavior within an agency. They effectively communicate expectations of internal and external interactions, business conduct, and day-to-day operations. Consistent with an agency’s mission and vision, values should be integrated into all levels and functions of an agency to influence behavior, provide a moral compass, and help employees make tough decisions.

Values are typically listed as single words, but phrases or sentences that describe the value may help explain their importance to employees and others. While many values may be applicable to define an agency’s work and culture, establishing four to eight core values is usually sufficient and easy to communicate. After values are finalized and approved, they should be visible throughout an agency and reaffirmed by leadership and management on a continuous basis.

3. Agency- or Departmentwide Goals

Goals are broad statements that define what an agency wants to achieve over a long period of time. They stretch and challenge an agency but are realistic and achievable, and help provide answers to the question, “Where do we want to be?”

The strategic planning process requires agencies to identify the critical issues or “challenges” facing the agency. These challenges are the foundation upon which the agency develops its goals.

The development of agency goals is one of the most critical aspects of the planning process because goals chart the course for the agency and broadly illustrate how an agency will achieve its mission and vision. The goal development process begins to focus the agency’s intentions toward clearly defined actions.

Goals should:

  •  Be customer focused, i.e., derived from internal and external customer data included in an agency’s environmental scan.
  •  Be clear and easily understood by the public.
  •  Address the primary issues facing the organization.
  •  Limited in number to focus the agency on a manageable set of priorities. Although there is no established limit on the number of goals, best practice indicates that three to five goals is often desirable in order to clearly establish the agency’s direction and define priorities.
  •  Specific to your organization.

While developing goals, the agency should begin identifying the desired results of its efforts and consider performance measures that will demonstrate accomplishment of those goals. This will be useful in steps to follow.

During the goal development process, an agency should answer the following questions:

  •  Are the goals in harmony with the agency’s mission and will they help fulfill the agency’s vision?
  • What are the most important efforts we can undertake to pursue our mission?
  •  What are our weaknesses & how will we address them?
  •  Do the goals provide a clear direction for agency action?
  •  Do the goals align with the vision and priorities of the Administration?

4. Bureau- or Divisionwide Objectives

Objectives are clear targets for specific action. Objectives are specific, quantified, and time-based statements that outline measurable steps toward achieving an agency’s goals. Objectives represent the extent to which agency goals will be achieved at the end of the time period covered by the strategic plan. One goal may have multiple objectives.

Objectives should help prioritize resource allocation and shape agency actions. It is important that objectives be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART).

Measurable objectives are typically stated as “X as of Date becomes Y by Date,” where “X” is the baseline performance and “Y” is the target performance. Often, the “by Date” is the final year of the strategic planning cycle.

The following questions should help an agency assess its objectives:

  • Is the objective clearly related to the stated goal?
  • Does the objective clearly state what the agency intends to accomplish?
  • Does the objective have specific targets and time frames?
  • Can progress toward completion of the objective be measured?
  • What measures are needed to track the achievement of each objective?
  • Will someone unfamiliar with the program understand what the objective means?

5. Performance Measures/Milestones

Defining “success” is key to developing and implementing an effective plan. In order to track progress towards the goals outlined in a strategic plan, the objectives presented should have performance measures that will inform whether objectives have been accomplished.

Measures should be useful for answering the following questions:

Did we achieve the results that we expected, or did it produce results we didn’t want or expect?

Should our strategies to achieve the objective be changed?

OSBM recommends that state agencies submit strategic plans that capture objective-level performance measures that clearly define the method and unit of measurement for a desired event. There are many different types of measures, and a combination of these may be needed to inform decision-making at different levels. While our performance measure terminology is not universal, the table below provides definitions and examples of the measures we typically encounter in an agency’s strategic plan.

Type of Measure Definition Examples
Outcome Measure Measures the actual impact or effect on a stated condition or problem over a prolonged period (typically a year or longer).
  • Reduction in fire deaths/injuries in a year
  • Percent of parolees not reconvicted within 5 years
Milestone An event that is not easily quantified other than recognizing its completion or not.
  • Create a training plan
  • Establish a baseline for future measures

While both types are acceptable, it is a best practice to have measures that include a target quantitative outcome. For example, a target quantitative outcome could be a 2% or greater reduction in transportation-related fatalities. In contrast, a milestone is a binary assessment of whether something happened and may be a necessary alternative to describe the progress of a particular effort. For example, completing and submitting a strategic plan on time is a milestone rather than an outcome. Performance measures with an associated target are generally more sophisticated and preferable to milestones which may serve an intermediate role prior to developing a quantitative performance measure.

6. Highlights and Opportunities

The purpose of the “Highlights and Opportunities” section of the OSBM Strategic Planning Template is to highlight what is working in your agency, share best practices, and learn about potential opportunities or collaborations your agency envisions.

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Strategic Planning Checklist

Your agency may deviate from the provided template, but please ensure all the following elements are included at a minimum:

  • Mission that states what you are doing and tied to statutory authority.
  • Vision that states what you seek to become.
  • Values that establish organizational principles.
  • Goals that clearly support the agency’s mission and align with the vision statement.
  • Objectives that are measurable, time-based statements of intent that should be derived from and directly linked to the corresponding goal.
  • Performance Measures or Milestones that clearly define the method and unit of measurement for evaluating progress towards your objectives.
  • Does not capture Strategies or Tasks, which may be documented in an agency’s annual Action Plan

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