13 November 2009 • 7:00 am

Embarrassing Public Radio Strategic Plan Leaked to Public

WBEZ - Chicago Public RadioI am a big fan of public radio, and my local station in Chicago, WBEZ. I don’t always agree with their programming decisions, but for over 25 years they have been my primary source for thoughtful and intelligent programming, both locally-produced and nationally syndicated. So it was with more than just professional interest yesterday that I read the following anonymous blog entry (emphasis and links added) on WBEZ’s Facebook page – I’m a stakeholder. (Michael Miner is a media critic who writes in the Chicago Reader, and ‘Torey’ is Torey Malatia, WBEZ’s President and general manager)

This week, Mike Miner wrote about WBEZ and the new “Chicago Public Media” strategic plan. It’s a plan that charts our direction for the next few years. Torey, staff and the board have been working on the plan since March 2008. It got leaked to the Chicago Reader and subsequently picked apart. So I thought I would ask Daniel Ash, our VP of Strategic Communications, to set the record straight.

Our strategic plan is a work in progress. Most staff and board members have participated in at least one meeting since March 2008. I’m one of the lucky ones, having participated in at least five discussions. In each meeting the discussion was wrapped around this question: How do we continue to accomplish our public service mission? The good news is that lunch was usually provided.

I did not plan to release this plan this way, but since it’s been posted without permission on another site I figure why not ask you directly what you think. Warning: when you put creative people in a room and ask them to imagine the future, you get BIG—sometimes wild—ideas. Hint: we’re still working on the practical translation of what we’re actually going to do over the next three years.

Here’s the deal: if Chicago Public Radio is not relevant to our audience—our community—we’re not doing the right thing. This document provides a broad framework for us to ask even more questions about what we’ll do and how we’ll do it. If you’ve got a moment, please read it and tell us what you think. This is just the beginning.

And without any more stalling, here’s the Strategic Plan 2010-2013.

evidence of professional malpractice

If you choose not to read the horror story that is their plan document, I’ll give you my quick take: if the consulting firm that produced it could be held liable for professional malpractice, the plan document and the process that created it would be strong evidence in support of a claim. If nothing else, you should look to this example as a reminder of what not to do in your organization’s strategic planning process.

The most obvious problem with the plan is its authorship. Despite the fact that it carries the logo of a legitimate consulting firm, the plan’s content is seen as coming only from the WBEZ’s president. According to Miner’s research (emphasis added):

The new plan claims that this mission was arrived at by “strategic consensus.” But my soundings of people within or close to the organization suggest that the plan is generally regarded as an expression of the will, vision, and rhetorical flourishes of its president, Torey Malatia. Though the plan is written in the third-person plural, there are occasional lapses into ‘I’ and ‘my.’

The role of a strategic planning consultant is to expertly guide the process, and protect the interests of the organization, not to simply echo the will of its leader. What value did the consulting firm add to this process?

There is strong evidence that the process that WBEZ used to get to this point is flawed. As noted in the blog post, WBEZ has been working for over 18 months on the plan so far, and participation in the process by even the director of strategic communication has been spotty: “Most staff and board members have participated in at least one meeting since March 2008. I’m one of the lucky ones, having participated in at least five discussions.” So exactly who has been part of the process?

With most staff and board members having participated in ‘at least’ one meeting, is there any continuity, or executive commitment to the process? Even the most challenged organization I’ve worked with is able to agree to an enterprise wide strategy map within the first two months of focused effort. The fifteen page document, produced at an average rate of less than one page per month, fails to identify and clarify the strategy in actionable terms. As stated in the blog post: “Hint: we’re still working on the practical translation of what we’re actually going to do over the next three years.”This is a candid admission of the failure of WBEZ’s planning process.

Leaking the self-described “work in progress” to the public was no less than an act of organizational insurrection. The innocent sounding invitation to “tell us what you think” is an open invitation to discredit both the content and the process that has been used. There is little evidence of an understanding of how stakeholders value WBEZ, and their judgement of this weak, amateurish effort will be swift and sure.

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