The Washington Business Alliance is hopeful it can help Jay Inslee, sworn in this week as Washington's 22nd governor, put in place a strategic-planning process for state government similar to what successful businesses employ. Perhaps aiding their cause is that neighboring Oregon is well down the road on that kind of approach to governing.
The attentions of a new governor are inevitably sought by an array of pressure groups and for a Democratic governor, those pressure groups are less likely to represent business interests.
But the Business Alliance, created by successful entrepreneurs David Giuliani and Howard Behar to bring "a reasoned, collaborative approach to public policy that transcends partisan politics," seems optimistic that Inslee will respond positively to the idea of strategic planning for Washington State.
WaBA gained visibility and respect during the recent gubernatorial campaign with its even-handed approach to the two candidates, including several "debates" that were more like interviews with Inslee and GOP candidate Rob McKenna. The organization takes no political positions and does no endorsements, since politics isn't what it's about.
Now WaBA wants Inslee to look no further for a good strategic-planning model than south across the Columbia River at what fellow Democratic chief executive John Kitzhaber has embraced, including creating the business-sounding role of chief operating officer.
While the WaBA's effort is to transcend partisanship, there's likely little doubt that it should be easier to convince Inslee to emulate a respected governor from his own party then if, for example, the model were New Jersey's Chris Christie. New Jersey was, in fact, one of four states where WaBA, in a 50-state assessment of where best practices were occurring, found efforts under way to institutionalize strategic planning.
The four were New Jersey, Indiana and Colorado, where Republican governors were in place, and Oregon, where Kitzhaber is a year into his second stint as state chief executive.
Strategic planning is the process by which an organization defines its strategy and makes decisions and allocates resources based on pursuing the preferred outcomes of that strategy, ideally over a long term.
It's a process that often eludes government because decisions at the local, state and national levels are usually driven by the most high-visibility needs and allocation of resources by the most influential special-interest groups.
.WaBA board member Norm Levy, who has guided corporate strategy for major Washington companies for nearly 30 years, said what the 50-state assessment turned up was that coordinated business involvement had helped establish best practices in several states.
Levy, who had been head of strategic planning for the former Seafirst Bank and who got involved with WaBA because both Behar and Giuliani were clients, said "the states where long-term goals with specific outcomes were being put in place had collaboration of all key stakeholders."
"The accountability that is necessary to carry out a strategic plan has to be at the top level," Levy said. "And that leads to a position like Oregon's COO because someone has to be responsible for oversight of all the agencies in state government and the critical issue is that all those need to be aligned across silos."
The framework for strategic planning in Oregon is called the Oregon Business Plan, conceived a decade ago as a forum for collaboration on improving Oregon's economy and championed by Oregon's two U.S. senators in the absence of support from Gov. Ted Kulongoski, the Democrat who replaced Kitzhaber in 2003.
Early on, the plan was unable to garner the support of Oregon's various business organizations. But that gradually came about as influential business leaders embraced it and it has endured, becoming an effective tool for cooperation and collaboration.
And Kitzhaber, re-elected in 2011 after sitting out for either years after his constitutionally limited two terms ended in 2003, has fully embraced the concept and its strategic-planning underpinning.
Kitzhaber is proposing an ambitious state strategic plan called the 10-Year Plan for Oregon, which will include his proposal for a 10-year budget to support identified goals.
Washington Business Alliance, some of whose members have been at work with Inslee's transition team, express confidence that the new governor may adopt the Oregon Business Plan approach to governing.
New Jersey's Christie, as one of the models for success that turned up in the Business Alliance's 50-state examination, began strategic planning by applying it to commercial land development, after the state had discovered it had been planning for large industrial complexes in which businesses had no interest.
The initiative was successful, and strategic planning spread to other functions. Christie then brought to bear the interesting hammer of requiring strategic planning within each branch of state, regional and local governments in order to obtain funding.