Bottom Up Planning

The State Government Agency (a fictitious name to protect client confidentiality) is one of the largest state government agencies in the country, with more than 10,000 employees.


In early 2004, the Governor of California began an ambitious effort to transform the way state government operates, plans, and measures its performance. The Administration pressed state agencies to begin operating with some of the best practices of corporations: focus on the customer, collaborative planning, and performance measures aligned with strategic goals. In response, the client developed a strategic plan built on overarching customer-focused strategic goals and performance metrics.

Unfortunately, the new strategic plan was designed at the top and pushed down the organization. This style of planning and managing was typical for the agency, which some managers called a “paramilitary” organization. Mid-level managers felt the plan was overly complicated and didn’t address the most important priorities very well. There was a strong current of energy for involving more people in the planning process to allow employees to bring their perspectives to the table and create more buy-in.

Retreat Agenda & Outcomes

Survey Feedback

History Map

Context Map

SPOT Analysis

Conference Plan

Conference Brainstorm

Vision & 5 Bold Steps

Strategy Map & Scorecard

Example Frame


In 2005, the State Government Agency looked to Konrad Knell and The Grove to guide members at all levels of management through a collaborative planning process for the first time. We designed a custom process based on elements of Strategic Visioning and Strategy Mapping. We started with a survey of everyone in the middle levels of management to get their feedback and input. Konrad then facilitated a retreat with a group of senior managers to develop a vision, strategy, and performance measures. They also developed action guidelines as a framework that mid-level managers could use to create individual plans for their respective areas. Responsibility for planning was pushed further down into the organization. We put the plan up on the walls of a large hotel conference room, and all mid-level managers were invited to provide feedback and input on all elements of the plan.

In 2006, the client was ready to take their strategic planning process to the next level of collaboration — and make it more “bottom up”. This time we streamlined the process to focus on learnings over the past year, and held our first planning retreat with the mid-level managers. We took their output to a session with senior managers, and their output was cascaded up to top management. We again put the final plan up on the walls of a conference room for all levels of management to see and discuss.


Middle and senior levels of management relished the opportunity to be part of planning the agency’s future for the first time in their careers. Retreats and meetings were full of energy and excitement around the palpable change in culture and the new emphasis on collaborative, decentralized decision-making.

The wallcharts, plans, and performance measures created during this process are being used daily by managers at all levels of the organization. Their graphic vision and strategic plan documents are available at a section of their website as a communication service to the public.

Selected quotes from mid-level manager evaluation forms:

“Much better process used this year with better planning and discussion. It should lead to improved performance and ease in reporting requirements. Much better!!”

“I liked the overall process — allowing commanders to make changes then present the changes up the chain and everyone compromises on the final product. This process allows for input from everyone and encourages total buy-in!”

“The best plan I’ve seen in 20+ years with the department.”

“Finally, a simple collaborative plan that will work consistently throughout the state. Thank you!”