This post talks about court leaders and strategic planning.  Some courts do formal strategic planning, and some do not.  Court leaders can prepare for the future and use strategic planning techniques even if they don’t apply larger scale organizational strategic planning actions. Indeed, strategic planning actions can serve to make the leader better prepared.

Strategic planning may carry the connotation of a massive undertaking, and many planning processes are expansive. The NACM CORE© competency on Strategic Planning indicates that leaders who play a role in establishing a strategic vision for the court do the following:[1]

  • Create a strategic orientation to guide the court in planning for and implementing the capabilities needed for the future.
  • Use a system-wide outlook to think in terms of the court system, not one particular aspect of it, consider the interdependencies and complexities of the system, and maintain a justice-planning network for continuous and effective working relationships.
  • Serve as a consensus builder and collaborator to develop and build group consensus, inspire trust, and support from justice system participants and establish a shared vision for the future.
  • Act as an innovator and risk taker to attempt new initiatives and test new ideas and theories.
  • Interact to communicate, educate, and advance the values and vision of the court.
  • Create a culture in the court that values critical thinking and planning, while institutionalizing a strategic planning process that is ongoing, regularly used, and monitored.
  • Ensure that leadership and management actions are adjusted as necessary with the court’s strategic vision and plan, while taking into account trends affecting society and the courts, and seeking successful execution and follow-through on strategic priorities.

Why might a court leader want to undertake some type of strategic planning process?  According to Peter Kiefer in his National Center for State Courts’ Institute for Court Management research paper titled “The Role of Strategic Planning and Strategic Management in the Courts,”[2] common reasons for doing strategic planning include:

  • Seeing the plan as a practical and persuasive tool in dealing with the funding body,
  • Using the plan to acknowledge and recount accomplishments and achievements,
  • Treating the plan as a means to set priorities, and project a forward-looking approach,
  • Leveraging plan content to support change and to defend operations (“the sword (helping to push for change) and the shield” (protecting from rogue ideas)),
  • Using the plan as a platform to obtain feedback from stakeholders and partners, and
  • Considering the plan as a communication tool and part of a communication strategy.

Of course, there are challenges in doing strategic planning.  They include the need to make the process a priority, having interest and support for the work, concern that court operations may be open to scrutiny, and comfort engaging partners and stakeholders as part of the process.[3]

Strategic planning techniques and related leadership actions can be accomplished, and are important for court leaders, even if the leader is not undertaking a formal process.  Here are some thoughts on court leaders acting as prepared planners by using strategic planning concepts.

  1. Know your court operations and be familiar with all aspects of them.
  2. Get access to and use court performance metrics and data to analyze operations, patterns, and trends.
  3. Communicate and collaborate with partners.
  4. Think strategically and lay out a plan for the future – even if it is only for next year.[4]
  5. Share planning concepts and targets with court staff at all levels so that they understand how their job duties contribute toward court work, outcomes, and strategies.
  6. Link court operations to established strategic directions and goals.
  7. Find ongoing ways to talk about the strategic direction and goals during discussions with judges, staff, system partners, and funding agencies.
  8. Manage and measure court operations according to the plan.

My own personal experiences about strategic planning include the following observations:

  • Court leaders have used short-term project planning if they are unable to accomplish comprehensive long range strategic planning.
  • Strategic planning in courts has involved significant communication and stakeholder discussions … and … commitment by the court to use the plan, and revisit, reaffirm, and refresh the plan on a regular basis.
  • When doing strategic plans, court leaders, inclusive of judges and administrators, have made the conscious decision to look beyond today’s current problems and identify court operations and performance targets to position the court for improved future operations.
  • The use of data and trend information is vital and important both as a preface to plan decisions and also as a means to objectively assess work toward plan targets.

In being a prepared leader and using strategic planning practices, what is important is to:

  • Demonstrate leadership actions through the process, and serve as an agent for change,
  • Look beyond today’s daily routine, crisis, and operational urgency, while creating a commitment to the future,
  • Demonstrate strategic thinking, with short-, intermediate-, and long-term objectives that incorporate planning actions with regular functions,
  • Involve and interact with system partners and stakeholders,
  • Consider trends and patterns and identify where the court “should be,” and
  • Be prepared for improvements to court processes and operations and measure them.

If we can use strategic thinking, strategic decision making, and strategic management, we are in fact using important traits of court leaders, being a: communicator, strategist, diagnostician, collaborator, visionary, and innovator.[5]  These will position the leader to plan ahead and be prepared, not only for the current operations, but for future excellence.


[1] See the NACM CORE© Competency on Strategic Planning at https://nacmcore.org/competency/strategic-planning/ .

[2] See the full research paper at https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/2158 .

[3] See the full research paper at https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/ctadmin/id/2158.

[4] Even if your court cannot undertake a formal strategic planning process, a written summary plan can be published in which information indicates project descriptions, goals and objectives for the work, actions to be taken, desired tangible outcomes, budget and fiscal costs for the projects, with information about project leaders, partners, and participating staff. Such a listing could be for one year and could be refreshed and updated each year.

[5] These court leader roles are borrowed from the NACM CORE© Competency on Leadership, available at https://nacmcore.org/competency/leadership/ .

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