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A large US agency rallies employees around a new strategic plan

In the process of developing a new strategic plan, a government agency unified a fragmented organization and reenergized its teams.

Challenge

Facing regulatory change and significant organizational challenges, the new head of a large US government agency sought to use a mandatory strategic-planning process as an opportunity to more broadly transform the agency.

To succeed, the new 5-year strategic plan needed to be implemented and supported at all levels of the organization, and agency leadership understood that the plan’s rollout would be crucial to shaping the mind-set and behavior of the entire workforce. However, it was clear that senior teams and frontline staff were not sufficiently engaged. The head of the agency turned to McKinsey for help.

Discovery

First, we set out to better understand the agency’s context. In close collaboration with the client, we analyzed the internal and external forces shaping the agency. We then conducted interviews with internal and external stakeholders to identify the agency’s strengths and gaps and to test its initial thinking on strategic imperatives.

Through top-team workshops, the client began setting its strategic direction, refining key themes, and aligning the organization on the design of the strategic plan. We helped the client structure the workshops in such a way that teams in the organization that typically did not interact had the opportunity to hear from one another. This approach ensured that staff expertise and knowledge drove the content of the strategy and that the collaborative development process engaged all personnel.

After the workshops, we supported agency leadership in developing and executing a cascading rollout plan. The plan included frequent communication from the head of the agency to frontline staff and incorporated forums for dialogues, multiple mass-media formats and methods, and targeted engagement with the employee groups most crucial to the plan’s success. Also, drawing on McKinsey’s extensive research on external stakeholder management, we recognized the need to keep citizens informed about the agency’s changing work and strategic direction. The client therefore incorporated external communications into the rollout plan. The detailed rollout plan helped ensure that roles and responsibilities were clear and that agency staff remained accountable and energized.

Impact

After the project, 80 percent of managers across the organization said they understood the plan and what it meant for them personally. Since the rollout, the number of managers reporting “a lot” of confidence in the organization has tripled. The head of the agency states that he now has a stronger team that helps him stay focused on the agency’s mission, measure the path to progress, and proactively address problems. The new strategic plan has also improved the agency’s ability to change course and adjust to new budget realities while still delivering core services.

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