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The Power of Strategic Planning in Performance Management Enhancement

Sreyashi Chatterjee

  • by Sreyashi Chatterjee
  • August 22, 2023

Performance management and strategic planning are like two sides of a powerful coin in the business realm. Recent studies underscore the critical role of performance management. 

According to Deloitte , only 8% of companies report their performance management process drives high levels of value, while 58% say it is not an effective use of time. Gallup even found that companies who give continuous strength based feedback can reduce their turnover by almost 15%.

Performance management is the art of enhancing employee performance through structured approaches, while strategic planning involves charting the course for an organization’s long-term success. Together, they form a dynamic duo that has the potential to propel an organization to new heights. 

This blog delves into the intriguing relationship between performance management and strategic planning, unveiling the ways in which their integration can lead to remarkable outcomes. 

Let’s dive deep to discover how these two strategies combined together can optimize organizational performance and drive success.

Understanding Strategic Planning 

What is strategic planning.

Strategic planning serves as the foundational framework of organizational success, intricately mapping out the trajectory towards achieving long-term objectives. 

It transcends: 

  • Casual brainstorming
  • Assessing resources
  • Encompassing a systematic process that involves defining goals, and
  • Crafting strategies to attain desired outcomes

Think of this process as meticulously charting a course before embarking on a journey, ensuring a clear path to the intended destination.

At its core, strategic planning involves envisioning the future and outlining the necessary steps to reach it. 

This includes conducting a SWOT analysis to identify: 

  • Opportunities, and 

Hence, establishing priorities; and strategically allocating resources. These elements collectively form the basis of a robust strategic plan, guiding decision-making across all levels of the organization.

The interconnection between strategic planning and organizational goals is profound. 

  • Every strategic decision is aimed at propelling the organization toward its overarching objectives. 
  • A well-constructed strategic plan serves as a steadfast guiding principle, ensuring that every action resonates harmoniously with these higher aims. 
  • This reciprocal relationship sets the stage for the emergence of what we refer to as “strategic performance management.”

Strategic performance management encompasses the fusion of strategic planning and performance management. It acts as the bridge linking lofty strategic goals with the daily responsibilities of every member within the organization. This integration ensures that each effort, regardless of scale, contributes directly to the realization of the broader strategic vision. It transforms abstract aspirations into actionable endeavors, embedding strategic planning into every facet of the organization.

Key Benefits of Strategic Planning in Performance Management

Strategic planning in performance management introduces a dynamic shift that brings a multitude of benefits to organizations seeking enhanced efficiency and success. 

Let’s delve into these pivotal advantages:

1. Alignment of Objectives and Goals

Strategic planning acts as a navigational guide, ensuring that each team member’s actions resonate with the organization’s core objectives. It’s comparable to a cohesive collaboration where every individual contributes uniquely to the collective pursuit of success. 

Through precise alignment, teams advance cohesively towards a common vision, eradicating isolated approaches and cultivating a collaborative synergy that drives progress.

2. Clear Communication and Expectations

A meticulously crafted strategic plan assumes the role of a potent communicator, disseminating roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations throughout the organization. 

performance management and strategic planning linkages

It eradicates the confusion that often emanates from unclear directives, providing a comprehensive blueprint for employees to comprehend their roles within the broader framework. 

This clarity minimizes misunderstandings and empowers individuals to work cohesively and purposefully.

3. Resource Allocation and Utilization

Strategic planning surpasses mere goal definition; it optimizes resource utilization . It mirrors a resource optimization algorithm, ensuring that each financial, human, or technological investment is deployed with precision. 

Organizations can accomplish more with the same resources by eliminating redundancies and streamlining allocation, heightening productivity, and yielding superior outcomes.

4. Proactive Problem-Solving and Risk Mitigation

performance management and strategic planning linkages

In strategic planning, foresight is paramount. The process involves meticulously scrutinizing potential challenges and threats, enabling proactive problem-solving and risk mitigation strategies. 

Just as a seasoned captain navigates through unpredictable waters, strategic planning equips organizations to navigate uncertainties confidently. This anticipatory approach bolsters performance resilience, minimizing setbacks and maintaining steadfast progress toward success.

Strategic planning, when seamlessly integrated with performance management, transforms organizations into finely tuned engines of progress, enabling them to surge ahead with purpose, precision, and resilience.

How to Align Strategic Planning and Performance Management

Strategically aligning performance management with the overarching organizational goals requires a structured approach that ensures everyone is on the same page and contributes effectively. 

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps to achieve this alignment:

1. Shared Vision

To begin, create a shared understanding of the organization’s strategic goals. This involves transparently communicating the long-term vision and objectives across all levels of the organization. 

When employees comprehend the ‘big picture,’ they are more likely to be engaged and proactive in their efforts.

2. Clear Objectives

Translate high-level strategic aspirations into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound ( SMART ) objectives. 

This gives employees a tangible roadmap to follow, empowering them to understand exactly what they need to achieve and by when. 

Clear objectives foster a sense of purpose and direction.

3. Performance Metrics

Identify key performance metrics that directly reflect the progress towards strategic goals. 

Metrics could range from financial indicators to customer satisfaction ratings. The chosen metrics should align with the overall strategic vision, ensuring that every team’s efforts contribute to the larger mission.

4. Performance Targets

Set performance targets that are not only challenging but also attainable. These targets should push employees to excel while still being within reach. 

Well-defined targets provide a clear benchmark for success and keep employees motivated to push their boundaries.

5. Use Software

The alignment of strategic planning and performance management can be significantly enhanced through technology. 

Performance measurement software, such as Peoplebox’s 360-degree review system, is a powerful tool to streamline this alignment process. Such strategic planning tools provide a centralized platform for gathering, analyzing, and reporting performance data. 

With predictive modeling capabilities, these tools can anticipate trends and provide insights for strategic decision-making.

6. Individual Alignment

Ensure employee goals align with the broader organizational objectives. 

When employees see a direct link between their tasks and the large organizational strategy execution , they feel a stronger sense of purpose and ownership. This alignment also prevents silos and promotes a collective effort.

7. Regular Monitoring

Continuously monitor performance against the set objectives and metrics. 

Regular tracking allows for early detection of any deviations from the plan. When issues arise, swift corrective actions can be taken, minimizing potential detours from the strategic path.

8. Feedback and Recognition

performance management and strategic planning linkages

Provide timely feedback and recognition based on employees’ progress. 

Recognizing achievements reinforces the alignment between individual performance and strategic objectives. 

Constructive feedback helps employees course-correct if they deviate from the path, ensuring they remain on track.

9. Adaptation

Flexibility is key in the ever-evolving business landscape. 

Goals and strategies should be adaptive to changing market conditions, technological advancements, and internal shifts. 

Being open to adjustments ensures that the organization’s strategic alignment remains relevant and effective.

All in all, aligning strategic planning and performance management is a dynamic process that demands clear communication, data-driven decision-making, and adaptability. 

Challenges in Implementing Strategic Performance Management

Implementing strategic performance management is a dynamic endeavor that brings with it a set of challenges that organizations must navigate to maximize its benefits. 

Here are some critical challenges that organizations often encounter:

1. Lack of Clarity

Ambiguities and misunderstandings about strategic goals can stall progress. 

When employees aren’t on the same page about what needs to be achieved, it can lead to misaligned efforts and wasted resources. 

Effective communication of strategic objectives becomes paramount to avoid this hurdle.

2. Alignment Difficulties

Ensuring that individual employee goals seamlessly align with the broader organizational strategy can be an intricate puzzle to solve. This challenge is magnified in larger organizations with diverse teams pursuing varied objectives. 

A harmonious alignment demands meticulous planning and effective coordination.

3. Data Accuracy 

The accuracy and reliability of data used for performance measurement are crucial. Only accurate or updated data can lead to misguided decisions and misinformed performance evaluations. 

Organizations need robust data collection and management systems to ensure that the information being utilized is dependable.

4. Resource Constraints 

In terms of technology and training, adequate resources are essential for successfully implementing strategic performance management. 

However, resource limitations can slow down or even hinder the process, whether due to budget constraints or other factors. This challenge underscores the need for strategic resource allocation.

5. Short-Term vs. Long-Term Focus

Striking a balance between immediate results and long-term strategic goals is a tightrope walk. 

While immediate gains are important, an organization’s strategic vision requires patience and persistence. 

Juggling these two timelines without sacrificing one for the other requires thoughtful planning.

6. Performance Measurement Complexity 

Some strategic goals, like improved employee engagement or enhanced company culture, are intangible and hard to quantify. Measuring these complex aspects requires innovative methods and tools. 

Ensuring that the measurement framework captures the essence of these goals is a significant challenge.

In the face of these challenges, organizations need to be proactive in finding solutions. Clear communication, meticulous planning, investment in technology and training, and a flexible approach are key to overcoming these hurdles and reaping the rewards of strategic performance management. 

As the landscape of business continues to evolve, so do the challenges. Addressing them, head-on ensures that strategic performance management remains a potent tool in achieving organizational excellence.

Embracing Strategic Planning for Performance Excellence with Peoplebox

The power of strategic planning in enhancing performance is undeniable. By aligning goals, fostering clear communication, and effectively allocating resources, organizations can unlock their full potential and achieve sustainable success. Strategic performance management bridges the gap between visionary goals and practical execution, ensuring that every step is harmonized with the broader organizational strategy.

However, the journey of implementing strategic performance management has its challenges. From aligning individual goals to long-term strategies to navigating data accuracy and resource constraints, organizations must navigate complex terrain. The key lies in proactive problem-solving, a commitment to continuous improvement, and investing in the right tools.

Speaking of tools, Peoplebox emerges as an indispensable ally in this journey. With its suite of features designed to facilitate strategic planning and performance enhancement, Peoplebox empowers organizations to seamlessly align objectives, monitor progress, and adapt strategies as needed. From goal-setting to feedback and analytics, Peoplebox streamlines the entire process, enabling organizations to stay ahead of the curve.

By leveraging our tool, Peoplebox, organizations can harness the true power of strategic planning in enhancing performance. It’s time not just to set goals but to strategically pursue them, inching closer to a future of excellence and achievement.

To learn more about us, request a free demo today!

What is the role of strategic planning in performance management?

Strategic planning is pivotal in performance management by providing a structured framework to align organizational goals, define clear objectives, and allocate resources effectively. It serves as a roadmap that guides the entire workforce towards a common vision, facilitating efficient execution, measurement, and continuous performance improvement.

What is the relationship between planning and performance?

The relationship between planning and performance is symbiotic. Planning sets the direction and defines the goals an organization seeks to achieve. On the other hand, performance reflects how effectively those goals are being pursued and attained. Effective planning optimizes performance by ensuring that actions are coordinated, resources are allocated efficiently, and progress is systematically tracked against defined benchmarks.

How does strategic planning enhance organizational alignment?

Strategic planning enhances organizational alignment by fostering a shared understanding of all stakeholders’ goals, objectives, and priorities. It ensures that every individual’s efforts contribute to the overarching strategy, creating a cohesive and focused workforce that collectively strives toward the same direction.

What are the challenges of aligning individual goals with broader strategies?

Aligning individual goals with broader strategies can be challenging due to differences in interpretation, role-specific priorities, and evolving strategic objectives. Effective communication, continuous feedback, and a transparent goal-setting process are crucial to mitigate these challenges and ensure a harmonious alignment between individual and organizational goals.

How does technology contribute to effective strategic performance management ?

Technology is pivotal in strategic performance management by providing tools for goal-setting, performance tracking, data analysis, and real-time reporting. Performance management software like Peoplebox simplifies the process, allowing organizations to measure progress, identify gaps, and adapt strategies promptly, ultimately leading to informed decision-making and enhanced performance outcomes.

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Performance Management and Strategic Planning

Strategic planning and performance management are inextricably linked if we want both to work effectively. The relationships are actually quite simple. Organizational goals are created as part of the strategic planning process.

They get accomplished by being cascaded down from the organization as a whole, to the sub-units, and then to their sub-units, until eventually they are assigned, often as pieces of the whole, to individual employees. That’s done through the process of individual employee goal setting or objective setting during the performance planning phase of performance management.

There are huge advantages to this approach. First, it creates alignment between the goals of the organization and the goals of each employee. Second, it helps employees understand that their smaller goals contribute to something bigger than themselves. It provides meaning to the work.

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The Role of Strategic Planning in Performance Management

The Role of Strategic Planning in Performance Management

  • General , Performance Management
  • September 15, 2023

Have you ever thought about the magic behind successful companies? At the heart of it, they often weave “strategic planning” and “performance management” into their operations. Think of it as a journey : strategic planning in performance management decides the destination and the path, while performance management and strategic planning help to ensure we’re traveling in the right direction and at the desired speed. The blend of these concepts helps businesses achieve their dreams.

Dive with us on this journey to understand how strategic planning performance measurement and strategic performance management systems play pivotal roles in driving success.

What is Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a systematic process by which organizations define their future direction and make decisions on allocating their resources to pursue this strategy. Essentially, it’s about determining where an organization wants to go in the next few years and how it’s going to get there. It requires a vision of the future, an understanding of the present circumstances, and the steps required to bridge the gap between the two.

To understand this concept further, here are key components that underlie strategic planning

Strategic Planning

Vision and Mission

These serve as the north star for the entire organization. While the vision statement describes the future desired state of the organization, the mission statement explains its fundamental purpose, outlining why the organization exists.

Situational Analysis

This involves examining the internal and external factors affecting the organization. Tools like SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) are commonly used.

Goal Setting

Goal Setting is broad, long-term aims that define the desired outcome. They provide direction and help in the creation of a strategic vision.

These are specific, measurable, short-term achievements that help in accomplishing broader goals. They provide clarity on what needs to be achieved within a particular timeframe.

Strategies and Tactics

While strategies give a broad approach to achieving the set objectives, tactics are specific actions that need to be taken to implement those strategies.


This involves putting the strategic plan into action. It may entail resource allocation, organizing tasks, and ensuring that everyone in the organization is on board.

Monitoring and Review

No strategic plan is complete without a system to check its progress. Organizations need to continually review and adjust their strategies based on the feedback and results they get.

In essence, strategic planning acts as a roadmap for organizations, guiding them toward a desired future while navigating the complexities of the current environment. It’s a disciplined effort that produces decisions and actions leading to a successful future.

performance management and strategic planning linkages

Relation Between Strategic Planning and Performance Management

The interplay between Strategic Planning and Performance Management forms the backbone of organizational success. While strategic planning provides a roadmap, outlining an organization’s vision and defining its objectives, performance management ensures that this vision is translated into actionable steps and monitored for results. Together, they form a harmonious cycle where planning informs performance actions, and the feedback from performance subsequently refines the strategic direction.

This symbiotic relationship ensures that an organization remains agile, aligned, and purpose-driven in an ever-evolving business landscape.

What Role Does Strategic Planning Play In Performance Management

Strategic planning in performance management sets the direction and benchmarks for organizational success. It begins by laying out a clear vision and goals, which performance management uses as a yardstick to measure progress. This planning aligns individual roles with overarching organizational objectives, ensuring cohesive efforts across the board. The allocation of resources, crucial in achieving set objectives, is guided by the strategic plan. As performance is continuously monitored, feedback refines the ongoing strategic endeavors. This interplay ensures that the organization remains focused on its goals, fosters accountability, and makes informed adjustments as it navigates its path to success.

Key Benefits of Strategic Planning in Performance Management

Key Benefits of Strategic Planning in Performance Management

The integration of strategic planning with performance management offers numerous benefits to organizations. Here are the key advantages:

Clear Direction

Strategic planning acts as the organization’s compass. Establishing a distinct vision and set of objectives ensures that all endeavors, whether big or small, steer towards a common goal. This clarity eliminates ambiguity and provides purpose to every task, project, or initiative.

Improved Alignment

In large organizations, it’s easy for departments or teams to work in silos, potentially pulling in different directions. Strategic planning bridges this gap. It ensures that individual tasks and departmental goals resonate with the company’s larger mission, fostering synergy and a united effort.

Enhanced Decision-making

The presence of a strategic framework aids decision-makers. Instead of relying on gut feelings or short-term gains, they have a reference point that aligns decisions with the long-term vision. This consistency in decision-making ensures that the organization stays on its intended path and avoids costly detours.

Resource Optimization

Resources, be it time, money, or manpower, are often limited. Strategic planning ensures that these resources are directed where they’re needed most, preventing wastage and ensuring that priority areas receive the attention they deserve.

Increased Accountability

With clear objectives and metrics derived from strategic planning, every team member can see how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture. This transparency fosters a culture where individuals take ownership of their roles, leading to enhanced responsibility and a drive to meet or exceed set benchmarks.

Challenges in Implementing Strategic Performance Management

Numerous challenges can arise, potentially diverting the course of action and affecting the desired outcomes. 

Here are 10 primary challenges faced when implementing strategic performance management:

  • Aligning individual performance with organizational goals.
  • Overcoming resistance to change within the organization.
  • Ensuring clarity and understanding of the strategic vision across all levels.
  • Maintaining flexibility while adhering to a set strategy.
  • Gathering accurate and relevant data for performance measurement.
  • Addressing gaps between current capabilities and strategic requirements.
  • Managing complexities of integrating various performance management tools.
  • Avoiding overemphasis on short-term results at the expense of long-term strategy.
  • Ensuring continuous communication and feedback loops.
  • Adapting to external factors and rapidly changing market conditions.

Performance Excellence Through Strategic Planning with Datalligence

At the crossroads of strategic planning and performance excellence lies Datalligence —a tool designed to elevate organizational success. Datalligence isn’t just another management tool. It provides:

  • Real-time performance tracking, ensuring immediate alignment with strategic goals.
  • It promotes collaborative goal setting, engaging teams in shared organizational visions.
  • With built-in feedback mechanisms, it facilitates timely communication and performance enhancement.
  • Its analytics feature provides data-driven insights for informed decision-making.
  • Seamless integration with other enterprise tools offers a holistic approach to performance management.

Together, these features make Datalligence an invaluable ally in translating strategic planning into measurable and commendable performance outcomes.

Strategic planning and performance management are twin pillars holding up the edifice of organizational success. While the former charts the path, the latter ensures we walk it effectively. For organizations aiming to optimize this interplay, guidance from seasoned experts can be invaluable. If you’re looking to elevate your strategy and performance dynamics, our team of experts and coaches is ready to assist. Connect with us and take confident strides toward your organization’s future.

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Relationship between Performance Management and Strategic planning

Performance Management and Strategic planning

  • Business plan
  • Operational plan
  • Functional plan

The objectives of business plans are divided into operational objectives and these objectives are further divided into the functional objectives often as part of the total picture, to every employee. This is carried over through the procedure of goal setting for the individual employees during the phase of performance planning of performance management.

There are tremendous returns to this approach. First, it aligns the goals of the organization and the goals of the individual employees. Second, it helps employees to realize that their smaller goals ultimately contribute to the achievement of organizational goals. It gives great meaning to the work of every employee.

For Citing this article use:

  • Dondiram, P. R. (2018) ‘A study of impact of performance Management practices on the Financial Performance of selected Co op Banks in Sangli District’

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Performance Management and Strategic Planning


Today, no organization can deny the importance of performance management. Strategic planning is closely connected to it. Together, they form a framework that leads to good employee performance and effective achievement of business objectives.

However, not all businesses understand the relationship between performance management and strategic planning. This paper will explore the significance of the process of linking performance management to the strategic plan.

Over the last few years, a substantial volume of scholarly information about performance management has emerged from a number of studies undertaken to examine the topic from various perspectives, including its importance as well as the right procedures to implement it in an organization (Rausch & Sheta 2013). One of the most important issues, in this case, is the relationship between performance management and strategic planning (Daniels 2004). While some scholars have shown that the is a direct link between the two aspects of an organization, the information between the two is not well-developed due to the limited number of studies carried out to identify, define and characterize the relationship (Rausch & set-to 2013).

Thus, the purpose of this paper is to attempt to identify a link between performance management and strategic planning in my organization. In particular, the paper will also attempt to identify the issues that tend to affect the link between the two in my organization. To develop this understanding, the paper attempts to address the following questions:

What are the performance management processes that take place in the organization?

What is the extent to which there is a link between performance management and strategic planning in the organization, what should be done to improve the performance management process and improve the link between performance management and strategic planning in the organization, what benefits will be achieved when these actions are taken, review of literature, definitions.

Performance management is a continuous, systematic approach for improving organizational performance through evidence-based processes of making decisions as well as a continuous focus on performance and accountability (Rausch & Sheta 2013). It is expected that the integration of performance management into all the aspects of an organizational level of management, as well as the processes of policy-making, result in the transformation of the practices of the organization to achieve a result-oriented focus (Rausch & Sheta 2013).

It involves thinking through a number of performance aspects, planning, identifying critical facets and dimensions of performance, and developing and enhancing organizational performance and its competencies (Daniels 2004). Every manager, organizational leaders, and shareholder expect an organization to perform to the best possible level and create value within the set framework (Rao 2010). In this context, results or the outputs of an organization define the most acceptable, measurable, and visible dimensions of performance (Daniels 2004). Thus, dimensional performance describes the results or consequences of the inputs in a summarized, final, or semi-final format (Daniels 2004).

Thus, it is arguable that performance management is a description of the standards of organizational performance in terms of the outputs of the inputs. A number of interventions are used in order to ensure that each individual in the organization delivers the maximum input within the conditions or under the given circumstances (Rausch & Sheta 2013). The ultimate objective is to maximize the outputs using the provided inputs. On the other hand, strategic planning is a business and economic term used to describe a number of actions meant to serve a wide range of purposes (Rausch & Sheta 2013).

For instance, it defines the identity of an organizational preparation for the future, analysis of the environment, provision of focus, creation of value for cooperation, and the generation of new options (Daniels 2004). It acts as a guide for the routine activities for all the members of an organization. In general, strategic planning’s main goal is to allocate the appropriate resources with the aim of providing the organization with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage (Daniels 2004). The ultimate objective of strategic planning is to ensure that the organization obtains a blueprint that explains how resources are to be allocated in order to achieve the set goals (Rausch & Sheta 2013).

The link between performance management and strategic planning

According to Hofer and Shendel (2008), it is conceptualized that organizations that tend to embrace and apply effective strategic planning often achieve improved performance compared to those that fail to consider strategic planning in their organizational management levels. According to Miller and Cardinal (2010), the process of carrying out a number of steps associated with the strategic planning process tends to facilitate how the effectiveness of the organizational effectiveness is realized.

In a study by Thune and House (2000), formal planners tend to perform better than informal planners on all measures because the strategic planning involved tends to be associated with performance management. In addition, Miller and Cadinal (2010) developed a study with more than 25 previously published studies and realized that strategic planning has a positive influence on the performance of an organization. These studies are supported by additional research by Caeldries and VanDierdonck (2008), which shows that the relationship between strategy and performance is positive.

According to Pealtie (2003), introducing formalized strategic planning in an organization improves the performance of an organization through developing and implementing better and effective organizational strategies. A strategic plan is liked to a map in a car race, which guides the driver and avoids crashing, coalition, or veering off the track (Rao 2010). As such, a strategic plan plays the role of guiding the performance management in order to realize the organizational goals and objectives and fulfill the corporate missions (Bhosle 2012).

Organizational analysis of strategic planning and performance management: Case Study of my organization

My organization is a business firm involved in developing and marketing software products for various purposes, including those software categories that support academic, financial, and communication systems. It is a relatively small organization with less than 200 employees centralized within a single office with a general manager, one assistant, and four department managers responsible for managing the four departments within the organization- innovation, production, financial, and marketing sections.

Despite its small size, the organization has developed a comprehensive code of practice in order to support and implement performance management. A number of practices are involved. For instance, the management has set clear performance expectations, which are communicated to every employee at all levels. In fact, every department has set up a comprehensive set of expectations for each employee as well as for the general performance of the department. For instance, the innovation department is expected to provide at least 12 methods of developing new software versions every year to ensure that they are in line with the dynamic needs and demands of the market and clients. In addition, the company has developed a clear method of linking compensation to performance and delivering regular job feedbacks (Cokins 2009).

For example, the company has a strategy of rewarding employees with exceptional performance based on an annual measurement of performance. Moreover, the organization has developed a comprehensive way of identifying organizational careers for all employees (Cokins 2009). To build employee skills and capabilities in technology and management, the organization focuses on young brains in order to nurture them and provide them with skills through practice and education (Rao 2010). Then, they are given an opportunity to work in various sections of the four departments. In addition, this allows employees to obtain appropriate opportunities for learning and development.

An in-depth analysis of the performance management practices in my organization reveals that the management has integrated these practices within the strategic plan outline that has been set and used to ensure that the organization achieves its goals and objectives every fiscal year. The main objective of the organization is to remain as the best performing technological institute in researching, developing, and marketing new, comprehensive and user-friendly software products with a high capacity to meet and satisfy the highly dynamic market needs (Cokins 2009).

The organization’s primary reason for developing a clear performance management set of processes is develop a tight link between the strategy and the actions taken within the organization. The link between the two aspects is defined by an effective method of goal setting, which includes timelines and combined with a method of tracking progress as well as identifying obstacles. It is also defined by the need to define success and the bottom line outcomes of the strategy (Cokins 2009).

Identification of the issues affecting the process of linking performance management to the strategic plan

Despite the establishment of a clear link between performance management and strategic planning in my organization, it is worth noting that a number of issues affect the strength of the link and, thus, the realization of the objectives. Two major issues are the aspects of low levels of employee engagement in some departments and inconsistent criteria for evaluation and rewarding (Cokins 2009). In particular, low levels of employee engagement have been reported in some cases, with some low-ranking employees in the marketing and innovation departments arguing that their opinions and experience in their fields have been ignored during decision-making, yet they are the ones who face the challenges in their fields.

For instance, last year, there were more than two cases of young employees in the innovation department arguing that the information they provided to the department office in regards to the development of new software had been ignored, resulting in the development of unsatisfactory products. Similarly, some employees have argued that there are some inconsistencies in the process of evaluating and rewarding, which leads to mistrust, higher attrition, as well as cases of low productivity.

Therefore, it appears that the processes of developing evaluation and rewarding criteria, as well as involving all employees in decision-making, are faced with some problems, which means that the strategic plan is affected by errors in performance management. As such, there is evidence that additional efforts are required to fill these gaps within the organization management. This phenomenon has affected and reduced the strength of the link between performance management and the strategic plan in the organization.

To improve the link between performance management and strategic planning in my organization, it is necessary to find better practices or improve the existing ones to solve the two issues raised above.

First, it is recommended that the decision-making process, especially in terms of employee involvement, be revised. For example, the organization should provide a routine process of holding forums in each department to bring together all the employees and their leaders to a common table and hold discussions regarding the challenges and opportunities of each department (Cokins 2009).

In addition, the weaknesses and strengths of the processes used to develop products, the existence of new information or knowledge in the field, and any other information pertinent to the processes should be communicated. All the employees should be expected to list some issues and opportunities observed at their workplaces and present them in the forums. In addition, the managers should express their opinions during the forums and create an opportunity for discussion (Cokins 2009). The results of the discussions should be used in decision-making processes, which will contribute to strategic planning.

Secondly, these forums should also focus on the weaknesses of the existing rewarding and evaluation criteria in order to take the employees’ opinions and develop better, effective, and acceptable methods for recognizing and rewarding based on performance (Cokins 2009).

The overall benefit of taking the above suggestions in improving the strategic plan through enhancement of the existing procedures for performance management is to ensure that the link between the strategic planning and managing performance is strong, reliable, and consistent with the existing knowledge (Rao 2010).

First, taking employees’ opinion in decision-making is set to improve employee performance and confidence in their work. In particular, employees will feel that they are an important part of the organization (Cokins 2009). They will achieve the capacity to use the freedom they have to invent new ideas and communicate them to the management through the routine forums. In this way, they will feel that they have contributed to the development of the company’s success as well as contributing to the development of society. In addition, it will encourage them to invent new ideas and expect them to be recognized, which will eventually improve the organization’s competitive position as well as the overall performance.

Secondly, the employees will work extra hard to contribute to the organization as well as personal development because they are aware that their opinions and efforts will be recognized and rewarded at the end of a given period (Cokins 2009). They will work as a team within their departments and improve the performance of each department because they know that the collective performance is rewarded according to the existing criteria, which they will have contributed to its development.

The above case study of my organization reflects the scholarly findings in management research, which suggests that organizations that focus on developing and using performance management as part of their strategic plan tend to have better outputs and overall performance, which gives them a competitive advantage in the market. In fact, this phenomenon is a clear indication that there is a clear and strong link or relationship between performance management and strategic plan (Rao 2010).

Bhosle, SK, 2012, “Performance management and strategic planning: where is the link?”, Zenith International Journal of Business economics & Management Research , vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 133-142.

Caeldries, F & Van Dierdonck, R, 2008, “How Belgian Business Firms Make Strategic Planning Work”, Long Range Planning , vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 41-51.

Cokins, G, 2009, Performance Management – Integrating Strategy Execution, Methodologies, Risk, and Analytics , John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York.

Daniels, A, 2004, Performance Management: Changing Behavior that Drives Organizational Effectiveness , Cengage, New York.

Hofer, CW & Schendel, D, 1978, 2008, Strategy Formulation: Analytical Concepts , West Publishing Company, London.

Miller, CC & Cardinal LB, 2010, “Strategic Planning and Firm Performance: A synthesis of More than Two Decades of Research”, Academy of Management Journal , vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 1649-65.

Pealtie, K, 2003, “Strategic Planning: Its Role in Organizational Politics”, Long Range Planning , vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 10-17

Rao, TV, 2010, Performance Management and appraisal systems , SAGE Publications Inc, New York.

Rausch, P & Sheta, A, (2013), Business Intelligence and Performance Management: Theory, Systems, and Industrial Applications , Springer Verlag, London, U.K.

Thune, SS & House, RJ, 2000, “Where Long-range Planning Pays Off”, Business Horizons, vol. 21, no 3, pp 81-87.

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Strategy Performance Management and its Importance


Category: OKR University .


There is a big difference between reality and expectation and fixing it is integral to improving an organization’s performance. Strategy performance management helps fix this problem. An organization needs a clear strategy to succeed. However, all aspects of the organization must align with this strategy to achieve successful operations. Execution of a good plan is core to its success. Strategic performance management integrates employee efforts, behaviors, and continuous feedback to ensure seamless execution.

Strategic performance management means an organization aligns its overall organizational strategy with employees. Performance expectations, Information exchange and leadership, are aligned to guarantee that everybody works toward the same goal.

What Is Strategic Performance Management?

Does your organization have a concise business strategy? If so, every employee should be able to contribute to achieving the strategy. The employees should also be in a position to outline steps they are taking to achieve organizational goals. The strategic performance management method aims to improve performance measurement and monitoring to achieve overall objectives.

The approach enables the organization to meet its goals and objectives. To ensure your employees adopt and push your goals, your plan must have guidelines and expectations that are:

  • Appropriate

To ensure that every employee collaborates toward the same objective, strategic performance management aligns employees with the organization’s overall strategy by establishing a clear command structure and communication. Research is integral in strategic performance management. Using its findings helps a company craft better goals and realistic objectives that help it meet its objectives.

The Role of Performance Management System

In this strategic performance management framework, the role of a well-structured performance management system is of paramount importance. A performance management system is a comprehensive framework designed to ensure that an organization’s objectives are met efficiently and effectively. This system encompasses various processes, tools, and methodologies, all aimed at aligning individual and team performance with the organization’s strategic goals

I’m here to build something for the long-term. Anything else is a distraction. Mark Zuckerberg

In a nutshell, a strategic performance management process must:

  • Communicate the organization’s vision and cascade the goals in an explicit, frequent, and transparent manner
  • Establish work performance expectations, and make a strategy on how to realize them
  • Through performance appraisals (feedback and check-ins), monitor employees’ performance
  • In measuring performance, focus on other factors, not just Key Performance Indicators such as efforts, processes, behavior, abilities, and skills.
  • Ensure that you provide feedback continuously and constructively. The feedback should be fair, accurate, and actionable.
  • For optimal performance, continuously develop employees’ capacity
  • Coach and design action plans to manage issues related to performance
  • Must provide recognition and reward your employee efforts accordingly

Organizations can use the OKR methodology integrated with performance management to increase employee engagement in achieving Organizational strategy. Book a free demo with our team to learn more about how OKR software can optimize your organization’s performance!

Importance of Strategic Performance Management?

Interdependency among employees results as a benefit from strategic performance management. An organization without a proper strategy alignment will suffer from disorganization, conflicting differences and time, and resource wastage. Linking employee goals with company objectives results in a blow-up of efficiency and effective teamwork.

The likelihood that these symptoms will manifest almost entirely decreases when a business seeks to link individual employee goals with organizational goals. With the new system in place, the company notices an improvement in efficiency and productive collaboration, as well as timely project and task accomplishment.

Additionally, other benefits that will accrue from the process include the following:

  • Greater employee satisfaction: employees run your organization. Employees’ personal development throughout the organization increases the effectiveness of your strategy.
  • Exponential improvement of the organization: Departmental managers should be aware of all needs of their department. To effectively help their teams deliver on the company mandate, they must understand the initiatives, goals, and values they aim to achieve.
  • It will result in better communication: Proper communication of the company strategy is key to delivering intended results. It helps employees reconsider their previous assumptions. As a result, employees become better problem solvers, critical thinkers, and decision-makers.
  • Results in the creation of a culture of excellence: Through strategic performance management:
  • The organization creates a strategy, after which
  • Departments design precise tasks for its implementation.
  • Employees align their actions and their processes toward its implementation

As a result, employees have a voice, and the management team’s work with all departments is more effective.


Annual Reviews Vs Strategic Performance Management

An annual review assesses a person’s performance and value to the company. Businesses use yearly assessments to determine the best performers, evaluate their progress, and reward them. Strategic performance management is a tool for corporate management. It enables managers to examine and evaluate the work of their personnel. It aids in fostering a culture where employees can give their all and deliver the best possible work quickly and skillfully.

It allows for contextualizing individuals within the larger workplace structure while emphasizing accountability and transparency. According to Simply Learn, it helps people understand expectations more clearly. Annual reviews and strategic performance management are distinct terminologies. The use of both strategies in an organization is advantageous to any organization.

Strategic Performance Management

Strategic Performance Management is the ongoing, systematic and objective assessment of results achieved by an organization in order to improve them.

Steps to Implement Strategic Performance Management

Technology is critical in strategic performance management, according to Clear Point Strategy. It allows you to quantify, monitor, and visualize your strategic goals.

To effectively manage your strategy, you have to:

  • Analyze your business goals
  • Perform data analysis and examine the results to gauge your performance
  • Identify your weaknesses and the areas in need of improvement
  • Implement the strategy while tracking it to ensure that it is performing according to expectations

Consider using the balanced scorecard to analyze your goals. It is a trusted system in strategic planning and management.

Five Things to Keep in Mind

According to Spring HR, to ensure that your strategic performance management is successful, keep in mind these five things:

1. Communicate the organization’s goals and performance objectives

Employees cannot gauge their performance without properly outlining company goals and performance objectives. It is impossible to tell if they succeed or fail in their targets.

2. Offer performance feedback regularly

Real-time feedback, the use of goal-tracking software, and regular one-on-one meetings can help you monitor progress. The use of more than one of these strategies builds employee confidence by assuring them that they are on the right track.

A solid performance management strategy must include effective performance feedback. It helps to develop desirable behavior and reaffirm sturdy skills and abilities. It also offers a chance to show employees the way toward a defined course for growth and development. Consistent feedback is the right approach to reassure your staff and validate their initiatives.

3. Make use of performance management software

Due to a fast-evolving technological world, previously used performance management systems are obsolete. To foster employee development in a dynamic world, source software that is:

  • Employee-friendly,
  • It makes use of a simple and intuitive dashboard interface
  • Has room for prompt and actionable reporting

4. Utilize a 360 Degree review system

The 360 Degree review system, also called a multi-rater system, is a more modern approach to getting feedback on performance. The system seeks to include peers, customers, direct reports, and colleagues. Compared to a single perspective from a manager, this system allows for a more encompassing feedback mechanism.

Once the system presents summary results, the system can encourage employees to self-reflect. To ensure constructive feedback, confidentiality, and respect, the organization should incorporate the HR department to offer oversight.

5. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to review outcomes and results

Setting time aside to check in with your team to monitor progress on goal achievement is essential. The frequency of these meetings varies depending on the organization. Mandatory attendance at these meetings ensures that the feedback is accurate and up to date.

Examples and FAQs

Peer-to-peer feedback is a critical component of Facebook’s strategic performance management strategy. Semi-annual assessments use this feedback to assess how well teams are performing. Additionally, Facebook has internal software that offers real-time feedback to ensure the resolution of problems before they escalate.

Any human resources department’s core function is to regulate performance management. Businesses should concentrate on producing successful overall performance with the assistance of those who helped get them there. You can establish a productive workplace by using employees’ skill sets, acknowledging their accomplishments, supporting them when they struggle and recognizing them as valuable players. The OKR framework integrated with performance management can help organizations in their journey to improve strategy performance management. Contact us today for a free demo to learn how OKR software transforms your business and enables you to achieve optimum performance to bridge the strategy execution gap.

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The Role of Strategic Planning in Performance Management, Part 1

  • September 4, 2011
  • Posted by: andreag
  • Category: Growthlines High Performance Performance Management Purpose-Vision-Culture Strategic Planning

performance management and strategic planning linkages

How do you successfully tackle performance management, and what role does strategic planning play? This post is the first of two on how to make strategic planning align with performance management. The focus in this post is on the big picture while the next  targets accountability.

Linking strategic planning and performance management

Performance Management is most often defined in the context of Human Resources. I have broadened that definition to incorporate more of the organizational outcomes as a whole. The performance of individuals clearly impacts organizational performance and vice versa. Incorporating both perspectives within the framework of strategic planning provides the best opportunity for success. For targeted information on a performance management tool specifically designed to support HR and personnel management, view our post on Dann’s 7 Questions .

So, my broader definition of performance management is making continual progress in positively impacting the key indicators of your business. Your strategic plan provides the basis for what your key indicators are.  What is your vision? Mission? Goals? Key projects? Improving performance on key indicators requires outlining how the strategic work will be held on an executive level, board level and front-line staff level.

Your strategic plan and the planning process are the tools to deliver what is needed for performance management. They define the changes needed to positively impact your key indicators and answers why the changes are important. Without a clear strategy, units of the organization will define their own agenda, there will be uncoordinated, unfocused efforts to improve, and the impact on performance will be dramatically diluted. In short, your strategic plan defines both how and why you will achieve your performance management goals. Here’s how it works.

Strategic planning components drive improved performance

Improved performance consists of innovation, a better growth strategy, and/or improved execution. Your strategic plan should define the best combination of these for sustained improved performance, i.e., the plan targets growth strategies, innovation and/or improved execution. This is done through two assessments, the strategic and the internal.

The strategic assessment defines priority opportunities and threats to innovation/growth of the business. The outcome is the list of priority, executable strategies for growth. The internal assessment defines priority opportunities to improve performance through better quality, better consistency, lower cost, better fulfillment, better systems, better morale, better leadership etc. Put together, you have your strategic or change agenda that spurs improved performance, in short, you have the change agenda for performance management.

An effective assessment process should yield four to six projects that are a mix of both internally and strategically focused work. Much more than this and you will begin to see diminishing returns. This is because 80+% of leadership’s time needs to be devoted to managing what you are doing now. The resources available for defining and managing the change agenda are scarce and very precious.

Using the strategic plan for performance management

performance management and strategic planning linkages

Once you have defined the change agenda, you must manage the journey to get there. Two key tools help in that task, metrics and accountability.

First, to the extent possible, each project on your strategic plan should include a metric or measure that tells whether the strategy you have chosen is working (e.g. did the implementation of the new marketing campaign increase sales opportunities?, did the new web-site increase traffic?). It is not enough to simply measure if you are implementing the projects in your strategic plan, you need to measure whether or not the projects are working. Get off what isn’t working and pour the resources into what is. Learn more on building successful strategic planning metrics here .

We will delve into the second key to managing the journey, accountability, in our next newsletter . In the meantime, know that without implementing a process to keep team members accountable for their commitments on the strategic plan, their focus will be on the urgent tasks at hand.

Both accountability and metrics require regularly sitting down as a team and assessing progress. What do the metrics tell you? Where is performance sluggish? Are you on the wrong road or do you just need to make some adjustments to the plan? Putting a strategic plan in place that is regularly discussed and monitored is vital to successful performance management.

The other components of performance management

Your strategic plan is but one tool in performance management, though certainly a vital one. It sets the performance agenda, can manage that agenda and can measure whether strategies are, in fact, improving performance.

good strategy is important

The additional tools for performance management include the following:

  • Balanced Scorecard or what we call Instrument Panel to measure overall performance metrics. Uniquely designed for each organization, this monitors your value-proposition, factors that distinguish you from the competition, key success measures and key systems that drive success.
  • Process Improvement which drills down into the specific systems that drive performance and works to de-bug them.
  • A strong organizational structure to assure the organization supports an efficient workflow.
  • Production statistics for organizational units in the structure as well as each employee.
  • Incentives and rewards for improved performance both for the individual and organization-wide.

How to move forward

So what do you do next? Start by evaluating your current planning system and strategic plan that are in place. Do you have a strategic agenda that targets growth and innovation, as well as internal systems and structures? Are you measuring the impact of the work you are doing to know that it is having the desired effect? Do you have any of the other components of performance management listed above in place?

If you want help with the answers to any of these questions, we would be happy to be a resource for you. For assistance with the analysis or on how to get started on building a better strategic plan, give us a call, (907) 276-4414 or e-mail us.

performance management and strategic planning linkages

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Performance management involves thinking through various facets of performance, identifying critical dimensions of performance, planning, reviewing, and developing and enhancing performance and related competencies. It is simple, commonsensical and enjoyable. Performance is what is expected to be delivered by an individual or a set of individuals within a time frame. What is expected to be delivered could be stated in terms of results or effort, tasks and quality, with specification of conditions under which it is to be delivered. The most acceptable and visible as well as measurable dimension of performance is result or the output. It describes the consequence of inputs in a summary form or a final or semifinal product form or service form. It describes the standard. It is easily measurable. Performance management attempts to ensure using various interventions so that the individual delivers maximum output under the circumstances given to him. The output may include changing the circumstances or turning every circumstance to one's own advantage in order to deliver maximum output. Maximum output is a relative term. Strategic planning serves several purposes, including defining an organization's identify preparing for the future, analyzing the environment, providing focus, creating a culture of cooperation, generating new options, and serving as a guide for the daily activities of all organizational members. The main goal of strategic planning is to allocate resources in a way that provides organizations with a competitive advantage. Overall, a strategic plan serves as a blueprint that defines how the organization will allocate its resources in pursuit of its goals. The objective of this paper is to discuss the subject matter of performance management and strategic planning and find the link between them and draw the conclusions.

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Integrating strategic planning and performance management in universities: a multiple case-study analysis

  • Open access
  • Published: 13 March 2022
  • volume  26 ,  pages 417–448 ( 2022 )

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  • Lucia Biondi   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3284-5919 1 &
  • Salvatore Russo 2  

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Over time, public universities have been involved in a process of modernisation based on a new concept of governance and managerial methods for increasing efficiency and effectiveness, as well as transparency and accountability. This paper aims to investigate the link between strategic planning systems and performance management systems in Italian universities by answering the following research question: to what extent do strategic planning tools contribute to performance management systems and, vice versa, to what extent can performance management systems help in the reshaping of universities’ strategies? To this end, we adopt a qualitative approach by conducting a multiple case-study analysis in the Italian context. Data are gathered through documentary analysis and interviews as primary research methods. Since scholars have mainly focused their attention on strategic planning or performance management in universities in isolation, the originality of this research lies in the attempt to connect these two important research fields, whose mutual interdependences are still to a certain extent unexplored. The implications of this study concern recommendations and suggestions for universities’ governance bodies to support their decision-making processes in the definition of their long-term objectives and performance management systems.

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

1 Introduction

Over the last 20 years, in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, a series of systemic changes has occurred in the university sector. These have strongly promoted the adoption of new governance models and consequent strategic choices. The determinants include: the instances of change triggered by reforms in the governance of the main public sector organisations; and the need to make higher education organisations more effective and efficient. This has required systemic structural interventions both in organisational models and internal decision-making mechanisms.

The wider process of modernisation has been inspired by the reforms following the pervasive wave of New Public Management (NPM) (Hood, 1991 ; Lapsley, 2009 ; Pollitt, 2007 ) and in subsequent movements such as New Public Governance (Osborne, 2006 ). From this perspective, there has been increasing focus on the need to strengthen the governance of public organisations by providing them with strategic tools able to support decision-making processes and, at the same time, the need to appropriately monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the services offered, ensuring transparency in administrative actions and accountability (Broadbent & Laughlin, 2009 ; Jansen, 2008 ).

The reforms of university governance in Italy culminating in Law 240/2010 (the so-called “Gelmini reform”), which is characterised by a centralised and top-down structure and by considerable uncertainties regarding certain central nodes of the new governance envisaged for universities, are set in this context. In this sense, the analyses carried out attempt to distinguish between the systemic governance orientation, which concerns the contextualisation of universities in their affiliation to the public sector, and specific university governance, which is more focused on examining the tools available for internal decision-making and organisational mechanisms.

The reform of universities has increasingly encouraged the definition, from a multi-year perspective, of development guidelines, pushing for the implementation of a planning process and, at the same time, introducing a performance management cycle, similar to other public administrations. In fact, the regulations for university planning have concerned the adoption of a Three-Year Planning Document (TYPD), which can be revised annually, consistent with the ministerial guidelines that divide the specific objectives to be reached and the possible lines of action, alongside the related operational indicators. As documents with a strong strategic value, they assume therefore a central role in achieving the main objectives related to a university’s mission.

Seizing the opportunity related to regulatory changes, the most proactive universities have attempted to develop a real Strategic University Plan (SUP) with the same time horizon. This choice is part of a managerial dynamism that several universities have chosen to adopt by reconfiguring the tools and boundaries of strategic governance. In this way, they have been able to demonstrate the degree of the spread of “managerialism” within their complex organisational structures, which are required to support innovation but are often subject to constraints and rules that limit their action.

Simultaneously, the performance management cycle is being affected by another important three-year planning document, the Performance Plan (PP), which is a tool that should define the objectives, indicators, and targets of universities’ activities. The PP establishes the main elements for the annual measurement, assessment, and reporting of performance, which, at the end of the year, should be expressed in the Performance Report (PR).

In this context, this paper investigates the link between the two dimensions (strategic planning and performance management) within universities by answering the following research question: to what extent do strategic planning tools contribute to performance management systems and, vice versa, to what extent can performance management systems help in the reshaping of universities’ strategies?

The remainder of this paper is organised as follows. Sections 2 and 3 provide a review of the relevant literature regarding the topics of strategic planning and performance management, respectively, both starting from public sector organisations in general and then focusing on universities in particular. Section 4 details the research methodology adopted. Section 5 presents the results of the analysis conducted for the three case studies. Finally, Section 6 discusses the results and presents the conclusions.

2 Strategic planning in public sector organisations and universities

The use of a strategy in public sector organisations, while the focus of significant debate in the literature, has met with broad consensus regarding its implications for performance. In particular, this has happened at a time when the functioning of public organisations has attracted the attention of results-oriented management. Recent studies in this field confirm that “managerial autonomy” and “result control” have independent and positive effects on an innovation-oriented culture in public sector organisations (Wynen et al., 2014 ).

In order to establish trajectories and make objectives measurable, strategic guidance and co-ordination instruments are needed. According to Boyne and Walker ( 2010 , p. 186), “strategy is believed to set a direction for collective effort, help focus that effort toward desired goals, and promote consistency in managerial actions over time and across parts of the organisation”. Indeed, the focus has been on using strategic planning as a precursor to the implementation of a more pervasive, process-oriented approach, such as strategic management. Although strategic management is often discussed as an extension of strategic planning, and the two terms often are confused and used interchangeably, they are by no means synonymous (Poister & Streib, 1999 ).

Strategic planning has been defined as a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide an organisation (Bryson, 1988 ). It blends futuristic thinking, objective analysis, and the subjective evaluation of goals and priorities to chart future courses of action that will ensure the long-run vitality and effectiveness of the organisation. According to Bryson and Edwards ( 2017 , p. 320), “strategic planning consists of a set or family of concepts, procedures, tools, and practices meant to help decision makers and other stakeholders address what is truly important for their organisations and/or places”. The underlying assumption that drives public organisations to use strategic planning is often considered to be that it guarantees a result-oriented approach and better performance.

However, the relationship between strategic planning and strategic management needs to be further investigated and understood. In its broader vision, the system considers strategic planning as the first step in a model oriented towards the measurement and evaluation of results. In particular, in public sector organisations, the use of strategic plans is a way of reducing the political-institutional meaning of choices through strategic guidelines and objectives. In this sense, the strategic plan enables the application of performance management.

Strategic planning is normally considered the main element, but not the essence, of strategic management, which instead uses several phases considered outside of the realm of planning (in the strictest sense of the term) that are related instead to resource management, the implementation of activities and processes, and control and evaluation (Bryson, 2011 ; Poister & Streib, 1999 ). Strategic planning should be understood as a set of concepts, processes, and tools to determine “what an organisation is”, “what an organisation does”, and “why it does it” (Bryson, 2004 ).

From this perspective, strategic planning has been widely used in strategic management applied to the public sector (Barzelay & Jacobsen, 2009 ; Bryson, 2011 ; Poister & Streib, 2005 ). In addition, strategic management tools, such as the balanced scorecard (Kaplan & Norton, 1996 ) and strategic mapping (Kaplan & Norton, 2000 ), have proven to be particularly useful in the public sector because they are able to make the public value more perceptible for the various stakeholders (Talbot, 2011 ).

Since its conceptualisation in the 1960s (Bolland, 2020 ), strategic management has become a diversified field that ranges from the analysis of strategy in businesses to that of strategies in non-profit organisations and the public sector. Its adoption was partly a response to environmental turbulence in the 1970s, which made the traditional planning approach antiquated, and partly a reaction to the non-functioning of some management models, such as the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS), with strong demands in terms of information processing and management capacity (Johnsen, 2015 ). Since the 1980s, therefore, public sector organisations have also begun to make more consistent use of strategic management concepts and techniques and it is now common in the public sector in many countries and at different levels of government (Boyne & Walker, 2004 ; Bryson et al., 2007 ; Poister & Streib, 1999 ).

According to Poister and Streib ( 1999 , p. 308), “effective public administration in the age of results-oriented management requires public agencies to develop a capacity for strategic management, the central management process that integrates all major activities and functions and directs them toward advancing an organisation’s strategic agenda”.

While it is assumed that organisations in general will attract the attention of different stakeholders, it is important to consider how public sector organisations are by their very nature more prone to political processes than other organisations, thus needing to use tools such as stakeholder analysis to analyse actors, interests, and power relations, as well as to find ways other than business to motivate employees (Wright & Pandey, 2011 ) and associates. This is appropriate when the use of documents with a strong strategic purpose becomes part of the set of tools available to public organisations, comprising elements, structures, and methods borrowed from those used in for-profit organisations.

As far as universities are concerned, starting from the 1990s, studies such as that of Conway et al. ( 1994 ) have emphasised the importance of the role of users in defining strategic plans and, in particular, of students in outlining the mission of tertiary education organisations, as well as from a competitive point of view in relation to the surrounding environment; more generally, some contributions have highlighted how to shape a process of mid- to long-term planning in universities (and why this is necessary) (Holdaway & Meekison, 1990 ; Lerner, 1999 ; Rowley, 1997 ). More recently, some studies on the theme have focused on specific territorial contexts, confirming the close link between strategy and the reference environment (Howes, 2018 ; Kenno et al., 2020 ; Luhanga et al., 2018 ; Moreno-Carmona et al., 2020 ; Mueller, 2015 ). With reference to the relationship between the strategic dimension and performance, strategic management is certainly at a higher level and can be interpreted as a performance management process at the strategic level (Poister, 2010 ). The role of strategic management focuses on the actions to be taken to position the organisation so that it can move into the future, while performance management is largely concerned with the management of current programs and current operations. Performance management in public organisations, specifically in universities, will be discussed in the following section.

Traditionally, because of the specific nature of their activities, universities have been considered different institutions from businesses and other public sector organisations. For this reason, studies on universities have, for a long time, not focused on how they operate, how they are managed, or how they conduct their decision-making processes. In these organisations, inputs, outputs, and outcomes are often not clearly established and consequently the measurement system appears severely limited. In the late 1990s, a pioneering study aimed at detecting the presence of strategic planning in European universities found that just over half of the universities surveyed had strategic plans in the form of written documents designed to prioritise objectives; in most cases, however, the strategic plans had an incentivising rather than a prescriptive function (Thys-Clément & Wilkin, 1998 ).

Although the literature on university strategies is not still well developed, some studies have shown that the mere focus on strategic planning in practice may not be particularly relevant. Such practice would be resolved in verifying that the goals achieved fit the objectives. It would, therefore, have a formal or neutral role. Other studies have proposed strategic planning as an indispensable tool for improving performance in these organisations, with particular reference to colleges and universities (Cowburn, 2005 ; Dooris et al., 2004 ; Fathi & Wilson, 2009 ; Ofori & Atiogbe, 2012 ).

In addition, applied proposals to implement performance measurement systems appear to be applicable and capable of measuring the achievement of results in these organisations (Johnes, 1996 ; Johnes & Taylor, 1990 ). The higher education literature identifies several limitations in higher education performance: the lack of data availability; the presence of too many indicators that are not particularly useful in representing performance; and confusion between input, processes, and outcomes (Layzell, 1999 ).

Because of their specific nature, universities would require as a priority “models and systems of strategic awareness, management and progress that recognize the issues, contexts and processes that actually shape their strategic change” (Buckland, 2009 , p. 533).

3 Strategic implications for performance management in public sector organisations and universities

Strategic planning and performance management are closely interconnected. In fact, if on the one hand it is difficult to achieve good results without an adequate strategic planning process, on the other hand it would make no sense to define mid- or long-term objectives, and the corresponding operational actions, without then verifying if, how, and to what extent they have actually been met and what results they have produced (Bryson, 2003 , 2004 ).

Despite this indisputable link, research in public management has mainly focused on performance rather than on strategy (Cepiku, 2018 ). This is probably due in part to the reforms that, over the last 30 years, have introduced this concept (of Anglo-Saxon origin) into the public sector by increasingly formalising its reporting (Bouckaert & Halligan, 2008 ).

Performance measurement (and management) systems are normally aimed at identifying performance targets, enabling the assessment of individuals, and informing managers when to take action to prevent deterioration in performance or when it becomes apparent that targets have not been met (Neely et al., 1994 ). The result is the need for organisations to allow the performance measurement system to support the achievement of objectives and the efficiency and effectiveness of the strategic process.

Several contributions have focused on performance management in the public sector in general (Arnaboldi et al., 2015 ; Broadbent & Laughlin, 2009 ; Cepiku et al., 2017 ; Dal Mas et al., 2019 ; de Bruijn, 2002 ; Jansen, 2008 ; Kearney & Berman, 2018 ; Lee Rhodes et al., 2012 ; Van Dooren et al., 2010 ; Van Dooren & Van de Walle, 2016 ). Others, however, have dealt with the topic of performance in specific public organisations. To name just a few, Smith ( 2005 ) analysed the topic in the healthcare sector, Mussari et al. ( 2005 ) discussed the performance of local public companies, Grossi and Mussari ( 2008 ) attempted to identify the possible different dimensions of local governments’ performance, Cohen et al. ( 2019 ) focused on the relations between local government administrative systems and their accounting and performance management information, highlighting the existence of a mismatch between the two, Bracci et al. ( 2017 ) examined the implementation of a performance measurement system in two public entities, Papi et al. ( 2018 ) elaborated and tested a model for measuring public value in a municipality, and Xavier and Bianchi ( 2020 ) investigated how performance management systems can support governments in crime control.

These studies have sometimes highlighted the important difference between performance measurement and performance management systems (Arnaboldi et al., 2015 ; Broadbent & Laughlin, 2009 ). In fact, the effort to translate results into numbers should not be a mere bureaucratic exercise but should result in the opportunity to use these data to improve the provision of services to the public (Jansen, 2008 ; Van Dooren & Van de Walle, 2016 ).

On this point, Bouckaert and Halligan ( 2006 ) specified that a complete performance management system should follow a logical sequence with three main steps: (i) measuring; (ii) integrating; and (iii) using. Merely measuring, which means collecting and processing performance data into information, is insufficient if such information is not incorporated within a broader system of documents, procedures, and discourses and subsequently used to improve decision-making, strategies, results, and accountability.

Incorporation, which is what this paper investigates, deals with including performance information in the policy, financial, and contract cycles (Van Dooren et al., 2010 ). Specifically, the policy cycle starts from the strategic plan (which defines major objectives and targets for resources, activities, outputs, and outcome), continues with the implementation, then the monitoring, followed by the evaluation (the reports from which incorporate performance information), and this feeds into the next strategic plan. The financial cycle includes budgeting and is ideally embedded in the policy cycle.

Regarding performance in higher education, this theme has attracted the attention of many scholars who have investigated the peculiarities of performance measurement tools in universities (Balabonienė & Veþerskienė, 2014 ) or how they are applied in some territorial contexts. For example, Higgins ( 1989 ) explored the case of British universities, Modell ( 2003 ) dealt with the subject in Swedish tertiary education, Guthrie and Neumann ( 2007 ) outlined the establishment and mechanisms of a performance-driven Australian university system, Ter Bogt and Scapens ( 2012 ) focused on the case of the universities of Groningen in the Netherlands and Manchester in the UK, Kallio et al. ( 2017 ) emphasised the problems of measuring quality aspects in academic work in the Finnish case, and Dobija et al. ( 2019 ) provided experiences from Polish universities. These contributions highlight that different types of performance management are used in universities and that its scope varies among different actors, depending on diverse external and internal factors. Moreover, measuring performance is difficult in knowledge-intensive organisations, where quantitative indicators may fail in catch the complexity of such institutions. Often, performance management is adopted by a university simply to comply with regulations or gain external legitimation, rather than to make a real change in the use of resources to the enhance efficiency and effectiveness of their activities.

Aversano et al. ( 2017 ) examined the evolution of performance management systems in the university context. Their study confirmed that, beyond the desired intentions, the focus is still strongly on the production of the data rather than its use to provide a holistic view of university performance that can guide strategies, programs, and activities.

Moreover, as pointed out by several authors (Bower & Gilbert, 2005 ; de Bruijn, 2002 ; Francesconi & Guarini, 2018 ; Goh et al., 2015 ; Van Thiel & Leeuw, 2002 ), one of the distinctive characteristics of strategic planning and performance management in public organisations, including universities, is connected to the issues encompassing resource allocation and budgeting practices. In fact, assigning adequate resources through the budgeting process is crucial in order to translate strategic objectives into operational objectives. Further, a feedback loop exists as, especially in recent years, the results achieved (as measured via performance management) are increasingly used by the governance body in decision-making related to budgeting.

Recently, Deidda Gagliardo and Paoloni ( 2020 ) took a snapshot of the state of the art of performance management in national universities, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses as well as predicting future challenges.

Examining the Italian context, the Italian experience has been marked by a reform in 2009 (Decree no. 150/2009), which highlighted the inadequacy of existing planning and control systems, as well as the absence or insufficiency of mechanisms for measuring and managing performance in public sector organisations. Nevertheless, to date, there remains no empirical evidence of the concrete usefulness of the tools introduced and their effective capacity to produce improvements in terms of effectiveness and efficiency in public administrations (Arnaboldi et al., 2015 ).

As illustrated, academic literature on the two research topics (strategic planning and performance management in universities) taken in isolation is quite extensive. However, the review of the literature highlights how few contributions directly link the two streams of research, looking for their interconnections (Biondi & Cosenz, 2017 ; Campedelli & Cantele, 2010 ; Cosenz, 2011 ; Francesconi and Guarini, 2018 ). In particular, the study conducted by Bronzetti et al. ( 2011 ), examining the planning methods of Italian public universities and analysing the related strategic plans under the dual dimension of process and content, identified as a future study trajectory the need to investigate the use of this document for decision-making purposes also in relation to the PP. The current paper attempts to join the debate by answering this call.

4 Methodology

In order to address our research question, this paper adopts the case study as a qualitative approach. Case study research is described as a method with which: “[…] the investigator explores a real-life, contemporary bounded system (a case) or multiple bound systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information, and reports a case description and case themes. The unit of analysis in the case study might be multiple cases (a multisite study) or a single case (a within-site case study).” (Creswell, 2013 , p. 97).

Our analysis is carried out through a comparative study of the strategic planning tools and their degree of influence on the performance management systems of three Italian state universities, identified as case studies.

We applied a multiple case studies methodology with an exploratory purpose to understand “how” and “why” certain phenomena occur in a specific economic-social context (Stake, 2005 ; Yin, 2003 ).

Our decision was also motivated by interest in analysing both the single universities in detail and comparatively, in order to investigate similarities, differences, and patterns across the cases (Gustafsson, 2017 ). In this sense, the analysis is also comparative (Yin, 1993 ).

The choice of cases was driven by selecting universities that have been early adopters of these planning tools, thus being pioneers in the Italian context. This made it possible to carry out a longitudinal study for at least two complete planning cycles, highlighting their development characteristics from a temporally consistent perspective (Pauwels & Matthyssens, 2004 ). Although each university examined belongs to a different complexity group according to a recent classification (Rostan, 2015 ), the choice of strategic planning was unrelated to this dimension.

The study was based on the same level of observation, focusing on how the three universities proceeded with the introduction of the strategic planning system over time and which framework they have been using to link it to the performance management system. For all three universities, the analysis took as reference at least two programming cycles, albeit with a different time horizon.

The analysis is supported by the different context and dimensional variables of the three universities (see Table  1 ). These universities are differentiated by year of foundation (one founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, the other two more than a century after), by being located in different geographical areas (North, Central, and South Italy) and therefore having different direct competitors, as well as by size, in terms of student population, departmental articulation, active study courses, tenured teaching staff, and technical-administrative staff.

The research design is structured into different phases. Initially, we created an interpretative framework that could homogeneously highlight the areas under investigation. Hence, the variables that could better highlight the elements characterising the three universities were identified. Subsequently, the three case studies were reconstructed and illustrated. To this end, data were collected through a triangulation of sources. First, we carried out a documentary review of secondary sources, namely institutional documents (Corbetta, 2003 ) pertaining to strategic planning and the performance management cycle of the three universities. Specifically, we reviewed:

three-year planning documents;

strategic plans;

three-year and annual budgets;

reports on periodic monitoring;

performance plan and/or integrated plans;

performance reports;

minutes of the meetings of the academic bodies; and

quality manuals.

These documents are publicly available from the institutional websites of the universities.

Subsequently, evidence was complemented using primary sources, namely semi-structured interviews (Longhurst, 2003 ; Qu & Dumay, 2011 ). The interviews were with academic administrative managers involved in the strategic planning and performance management processes, and who actively participated in the drafting of these documents in each of the universities investigated. The interview protocol was based on open questions agreed by the authors, aimed at investigating “how” and “why” these processes have been developed over time. The answers helped the authors to understand the content of the documents and the dynamics underlying their elaboration.

Evidence gathered from the three case studies is presented according to the following structure, aimed at facilitating the comparison and highlighting the peculiarities among them:

the development of strategic planning process;

articulation and content; and

linking strategic planning with the performance management cycle.

5.1 The development of the strategic planning in the three cases

The three case studies may be considered as early adopters of a structured strategic planning process, in line with the relevant regulation (Law no. 240/2010). However, they have different starting dates. The first SUP of University A was issued in 2012 (although the process began in 2010), while University B’s first SUP was issued in 2013. University C can be considered not just a pioneer but a precursor of what the regulation would require, in that it started the formalisation of its planning process even before the reform came into force, in 2009.

University A’s SUP was entitled “Towards 2018” to symbolise the far-sightedness of a vision aiming for strong innovation. In the preface, according to the Rector’s assertion, the document represents a challenge to enable the university to “ compete and collaborate, with the most prestigious universities to fulfil all three of its institutional missions: research, teaching, and innovation ” (SUP 2012–2014, p. 1).

Since its inception, the SUP has been considered a document to support the Rector in his mandate by involving the top management of the organisational structures considered crucial for the university regarding its preparation (from the central structure to the individual departments, schools, and research centres). A special team was created to work on this, comprising an internal expert in corporate strategy and various collaborators. This team was also supported by the “Planning and Evaluation” Office, an organisational unit of the “Strategic Planning and Programming” area. The SUP of University A is, therefore, the result of meetings, discussions, and comparisons with the main competitors, which creates a shared strategic view of the governance of that university. Creating such “shared strategic ambition” is fundamental to mapping the strategic paths to be adopted and makes it possible to consider the plan as an actual guiding document for the university, shared by all the organisational units.

Hence, the strategic planning process of University A passes through several stages. As mentioned above, the first stage involves mapping the strategic ambition of the main subjects in charge of the university’s governance (phase 1) to verify their degree of alignment (phase 2). These two “interlocutory” phases are followed by an “objective” analysis of the internal and external environment (phase 3) to verify, in the case of conflicting subjective perceptions regarding a topic or objective, which is the correct one, but also in case of agreement, to test the validity of the concordant “subjective” perceptions. In the opinion of those who have experienced it first-hand, this is a critical “dialogical” stage in which different actors participate and discuss to reach a joint agreement. This makes it possible to reach a greater degree of alignment (phase 4) on which University A’s strategic goals should be based, which are then submitted for the attention of stakeholders before creating the final draft of the plan (phase 5). Moreover, University A has also used external consultants for specific aspects of the plan for which there was no in-house expertise.

Regarding University B’s strategic planning process, this happens in a somewhat different way. In fact, the starting point of the process is not the SUP but the TYPD. The TYPD is issued by the Rector considering the programmatic indications coming from the relevant Ministries, the proposals of the Academic Senate (SA), and the indications of the Evaluation Board. The TYPD is part of a multi-year planning process that aims to achieve the university’s effective strategic governance and management. The TYPD is an act of political direction since, drawing inspiration from the university mission, it illustrates the reference values of the government action and, from them, at the strategic level, the general objectives to be pursued regarding the typical institutional functions (research, teaching, third mission), as well as the transversal and support functions (personnel, construction, communication). The planning process then continues with the drafting of a SUP. This document defines in a more concrete and detailed way what is reported in the TYPD. In the preparation of such a document, the Rector is assisted by the Vice-Rectors (covering the areas of: teaching; research; university networks; schools, societies and institutions; relations with the labour market; innovation and technology transfer; infrastructural and workplace safety policies; and relations with university governing bodies and regulatory matters). From the analysis of the last TYPD and SUP, a link emerges between these two strategic planning documents and the document that formalises the performance cycle [called the Integrated Plan (IP), which will be discussed later]. In fact, it has been established that the SUP will undergo a periodic review, and that the TYPD itself may undergo revisions, on an annual basis, concerning the preparation of the IP.

However, the planning process seems less structured and participatory than in University A. As required by the regulations, and as confirmed in the words of one of the managers interviewed: “ The political office is responsible for political guidance, while the administration is responsible for administrative management and assists the political office. On the one hand, the SUP and TYPD are both policy documents and are, therefore, within the sphere of competence of the governing bodies. They are drawn up by the Rector and Vice-Rectors, and then approved by the Board of Directors. On the other hand, the Integrated Plan is an administrative document .”

Nevertheless, it is likely that the Vice-Rectors informally consult the General Director (GD) also regarding the definition of strategic programming documents.

Another difference from University A is that, in University B, the entire process is carried out internally, without involving external consultants. Moreover, we did not find any evidence regarding periodic monitoring of the SUP at University A. In contrast, University B draws up an intermediate monitoring document to check to what extent the objectives have been achieved and, if necessary, to modify decisions and actions. This check takes place one and a half years after the approval of the SUP. A final report is then issued at the end of the three years. While the strategic planning process is top-down (since once the SUP is approved, the departments have to draw up their own strategic plans), drafting the report on the implementation of the SUP is a bottom-up process. Each structure, starting from its strategic plan, verifies in itinere the achievement of the objectives for teaching, research, and the third mission, respectively. These reports are then consolidated and summarised at the central level by the relevant Vice-Rectors.

Moving on to the strategic planning process of University C, as highlighted, this is the university that started the formalisation of its planning process earliest, in 2009. The first SUP had a time horizon of five years and included the triennial strategic guidelines (2010–2012). This is a peculiarity in comparison with the other cases, in that the TYPD is not a separate document but embedded in the strategic plan itself.

As declared in the document, the process to issue the SUP involves much participation and different actors are engaged (like University A). In fact, the aim is to gain consensus among all the university’s stakeholders (students, academics, administrative staff), support the governance, and facilitate decision-making processes and activities, based on participation and shared ideas (SUP 2010–2014, p. 4). This first document was drawn up by a Commission made up of delegates and experts, with an advisory and consultative function of the Rector, with a specific mandate to support the preliminary stage of the university’s strategic planning documents. The document was then presented to the university’s governing bodies, ultimately incorporating the requests that emerged from its public presentations. As stated by an interviewee: “ The whole academic organisation is involved in providing the data; departments have also to adapt their strategic plan to the university’s plan ”.

This path of elaboration, redefinition, and involvement, although taking more time than expected, enhances legitimation, and strengthens consensus regarding its strategic vision by defining quite detailed and shared lines of action. For University C also, the entire process was carried out without involving external consultants.

The drawing up of this document started from the analysis of the university’s current situation, measured through the principal indicators adopted for the assessment of the university system. At the same time, the SUP considered the need for financial sustainability and enhanced efficiency and effectiveness of the university’s activity. Coherently, the delegate of the Rector for strategic planning pointed out that the main objective of University C for the next five years was enhancing the quality of performance by reducing costs and increasing revenues.

In the preface of the document, written by the Rector, we learn that the SUP will also assist in providing the main variables to be used in the next triennial strategic guidelines. In fact, the Ministry assesses and finances higher education entities based on their performance indicators and their improvement according to the objectives. This is an interesting point, which highlights a strong link between the SUP and the triennial strategic guidelines: the strategic plan initially includes the previous triennial strategic guidelines, and at the same time, conversely, is the basis for extracting information to create subsequent guidelines. Moreover, as we will see better later, the SUP also refers to the IP.

Unlike University B, the achievement of objectives is not periodically evaluated, or at least it is not formalised in any way.

5.2 Articulation and content of the documents in the three cases

The three case studies show the SUPs’ different approaches and content. These differences depend on the meaning that each university has given to the SUP, what the motivation is, and what the relationship is with the TYPD. The relationship with the latter is, in fact, a conditioning factor for the entire content of the SUP.

In University A, as already mentioned, the process of formulating the SUP began with several meetings and discussions to map and compare the subjective perceptions of the main subjects in charge of strategic governance (Rector, Vice-Rectors, Faculty Chairs, chairman of the Board of Departmental Directors, GD). To formulate a document involving the strategic nodes of the university’s future, several critical variables were considered regarding the definition of a common strategic ambition: internal structure; external structure and specific context (sector, competitors, potential entrants, complementary companies, customers, suppliers, financing bodies, communities, etc.); mission and vision; internal and external objectives; and strategies and three-year actions. As highlighted in the methodological attachment to the SUP 2012–2014 (p. 3), this document, which precedes all forms of planning and programming for the whole organisation, has been designed in such a way that it can be linked to the strategic guidelines identified, the TYPD, and the PP.

People involved were asked to describe in narrative terms their perception of University A’s strategic ambition, based on which a strategic map was created, leading ultimately to the issuing of the final SUP. The final version was based on the identification of ten objectives to be achieved through specific strategies: strategic reorganisation of research and educational activities; improving University A’s local, national, and international visibility; integration with other close universities and higher education institutions; integration with the territory; improving University A’s student services and attractiveness; enhancing the teaching staff’s potential; enhancing the technical and administrative staff’s potential; reorganising the internal structure; providing new and better spaces; and assuming a transversal sustainability orientation.

As well as focusing on the three macro areas (teaching, research, and third mission), this document also examines each objective in relation to strategies achievable through specific actions (measured via indicators).

The second strategic planning experience was developed under different conditions and initially appeared to have fewer expectations. Moreover, governance conditions had changed [turnover of the Rector and Board of Directors (BoD)] and the change in the SUP’s style appeared to be an element in distancing itself from the previous approach, while maintaining a common basis.

This emerges clearly from examining the document and the responses gathered from those who collaborated in drafting both SUPs.

The second SUP was also developed through a co-owned process that involved the entire academic community and took place in two phases. This is a completely different document, less voluminous in its content and without any methodological details, although the approach has changed.

The first phase was dedicated to identifying the university’s objectives by sharing strategic guidelines and defining the actions to be pursued in 2016–2020. The Vice-Rectors were primarily involved and, in collaboration with the reference structures, helped identify the primary objectives and strategies by dedicating ample space for all the university’s components to collaborate. The second phase was aimed at systematising the collected material, clearly defining the vision, mission, objectives, strategies, actions, and monitoring indicators, and subsequently preparing the final document.

In this sense, the interviews show that the strategic planning in these different periods was emblematically the reflection of the two different styles of governance. In the first SUP, the university wanted to demonstrate strong choices and changes, justified by work carried out with a scientific method but that also ended up creating important breaking points within the organisation. The second SUP focused more on the concept of inclusion, utilised a different leadership approach, focused on objectives other than transversal, and focused on the central administrative apparatus’s functioning. The structure of the document was based on the identification of five macro-objectives: promoting impactful research; creating a transformative study experience; acquiring an international dimension; acting as a catalyst for innovation; and guaranteeing a sustainable academic future. Subsequently, each macro-objective was broken down into objectives for which strategies and actions were identified, confirming the structure followed in the first SUP.

In University B, the SUP is divided into three separate sub-documents in more detail: a Strategic Research Plan (SUP-R); a Strategic Teaching Plan (SUP-D); and a SUP for the Third Mission (SUP-TM). These plans were prepared by the Vice-Rectors; in particular, as far as the third mission is concerned, University B has decided to establish three Vice-Rectorates who together promote and monitor: innovation and technology transfer activities; relations with schools, companies, and institutions (so-called public engagement); and relations with the world of work. As stated by an interviewee: “ The idea behind the choice of the strategic plan, articulated by areas, is to favour comprehensiveness, taking care of each area of detail. The strategic plan must be firmly linked to the lines of academic innovation; it also requires to be based on a broad consensus implemented through an increasingly participatory and inclusive procedure, involving the collegiate governing bodies, departments and schools. ”

Unlike the other two cases, which are more deeply rooted in time, the first SUP relates to the period 2015–2017, while the following SUP refers to the 2018–2020 three-year period. Analysing the two documents from a longitudinal perspective, they are identical regarding the division into the three macro-areas with which the university is concerned (this division was agreed at a central level in adherence with the three institutional activities). However, there are small changes in structure and content, partly due to natural refinements in preparing the document, and partly resulting from a change in governance (Rector and Vice-Rectors). As far as the SUP-R is concerned, its structure mirrors the two programming cycles, defining the general strategic objectives starting from the TYPD, which in turn are then translated into specific strategic objectives for which indicators are identified and actions to support them are suggested. The SUP-D, in its first formulation, after explaining the mission and vision for teaching, indicated objectives, actions, and monitoring/success factors. The second version, however, begins with the formulation of the overall strategy for the university’s didactics, moving to an “as is” analysis based on data derived from the university’s Indicators Sheet (made available by ANVUR, the Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of the University and Research Systems) to identify strengths and weaknesses, subsequently identifying four general “strategic objectives” (called “general lines”), each with (specific) “objectives” and “actions”. The SUP-TM has undergone major changes in the transition from one three-year period to another. In its first formulation, the SUP-TM 2018–2020 was a descriptive report of the initiatives conducted by the university (e.g. activities related to lifelong learning, the Palladium theatre, the Job SOUL platform, summer schools, and social reporting); the SUP-TM 2018–2020 is much more structured, articulating the three established Vice-Rectorates’ third mission areas and indicating for each of them the general strategic objectives (called “lines of intervention”), outlined in actions and a proposal of indicators for evaluating their achievement.

There is no direct evidence of how the Vice-Rectorates proceeded operationally in elaborating the individual plans, although in his policy document the Rector encouraged a “participative” process and, from the minutes of approval of the last SUP by the SA and the BoD, it can be seen that: “ the document is the result of collective work, which has been widely participated and shared ”.

It is only in the SUP-TM 2018–2020 that it is clearly stated that, in order to draw up the document, “ it was considered appropriate to schedule meetings with the individual Departments with the intention of carrying out a complete survey of the experiences and good practices in progress, as well as to submit the main strategic lines represented here, in order to gather possible stimuli and suggestions for improvement from the departmental realities that have so far largely contributed to the development of the Third Mission ” (SUP-TM 2018–2020, p. 40). The data appear to be important as they show how the content of the document is the expression of sharing and participation with the individual departments representing the main driving force of the university, despite their autonomy.

The administrative bodies also participated, as it emerged that the Vice-Rectors, despite having prepared their respective plans without consulting the offices, informally consulted the GD and various structures. This is evident both from the interviews and the minutes mentioned above, where it is stated that the Rector, in addition to thanking the Directors, also thanked the GD as well as the BoD “ for having contributed effectively, each for the aspects within his or her competence, to the drafting of the Plan ”.

In University C, regarding the first document issued in in 2009, by integrating the strategies outlined in the triennial strategic guidelines, the Rector declared: “ The document outlines the roadmap of the university’s actions in the main areas, namely education, student services, research and knowledge transfer, internationalisation, human resources, organisational structure and building plan ”.

The initial aim was to address areas considered of absolute strategic importance, i.e. the three macro-areas (teaching, research, and the third mission), focusing on describing the university, context analysis, and identifying objectives and related targets and indicators. This immediately clarified the meaning to be given to the instrument. Transversal to the whole document, in contrast to the other two cases considered, is the financial dimension and the link between objectives and the forecast of financial flows in and out. As claimed by an interviewee: “ The key point for the university is the improvement of all the university’s performances in relation to parameters of the ordinary financing fund, parameters of the three-year plan, but also to all those parameters that can bring the university back to a better position in national and international rankings ”.

The SUP is articulated in different sections. It begins by describing the university (number of students, professors and lecturers, administrative staff, etc.) and then illustrates its situation “as is” through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. The SWOT analysis represents the starting point for the elaboration of the SUP. The SWOT analysis, used as a method to define strategy, focuses primarily on the following points: training, student services, and internationalisation; research and knowledge transfer; and human resources.

Consequently, the document then highlights seven “strategic lines” of interventions: teaching; students services; research and knowledge transfer; internationalisation; human resources; organisational structure; and building plans. For each strategic line, different indicators are derived from the current legislative regulations. Finally, a summary table synthesises objectives, actors, starting year, and human and financial resources allocated for each strategic line.

In the conclusions, the Commission states that the plan is intentionally concise, and it is not further expanded on or detailed in order to allow the governing bodies to define methodologies and responsibilities for implementation. It is also stated that an essential condition for initiating, sustaining, and continuing the process is a control both for the implementation and monitoring of the plan.

The second SUP shortens its time horizon to three years (2014–2016). The document appears less readable, has no summary, is full of tables, and has few descriptions. It includes again a SWOT analysis and subsequently describes the strategic lines, which are almost the same as in the previous SUP. However, unlike the previous SUP, it does not contain a summary table with the objectives, actors, timing, and resources for each strategic line. Moreover, no final considerations or conclusions are displayed; there is only an initial page, written by the delegate for strategic planning, quickly commenting on “how” what they planned in the SUP 2009–2013 had been achieved, and stating that the university had to manage the shortfall, which was worse than expected. Overall, it considers that the general objective of “ enhancing the quality of performance by reducing costs and increasing revenues ” was achieved.

This document appears to be less focused than the first plan and was probably less participatory.

The SUP 2016–2018 starts with the macro-objectives for the following three years: enhancing the quality of teaching, research, and internationalisation; increasing commitment toward the third mission; and pursuing and implementing the university’s quality assurance system. Again, it opens with an analysis of the context, subsequently identifying the strategic lines: didactics; student services; research; internationalisation; third mission; and staff required. For each there are now clearly highlighted objectives, related actions, and coherent indicators. The document also appears to be more understandable thanks to summary tables for each strategic line.

The current SUP (2019–2021) is the shortest in length (35 pages). It appears as an extract from the minutes of the BoD. Both the format and the content are similar to the previous SUP. The only significant difference relates to the strategic lines, with the inclusion in the summary tables of a column highlighting the target.

From the documentary analysis of University C and the interviews, it emerges that there is no real TYPD among the planning documents. The triennial strategic guidelines are somehow included in the SUP. This entails that it is not easy to understand the relation between the two, i.e. whether the strategic planning documents’ strategic objectives are derived from the triennial strategic guidelines or vice-versa.

In all three cases, the SUPs were created in response to the needs arising from governance reforms and different decision-making and management tools at their disposal. In University A, the SUP’s adoption is more than a methodological and recognition exercise, as evidenced by the document that preceded the first concrete plan. The document also makes explicit the decision to promote integration between the TYPD and the PP, as opposed to between the SUP and the PP. This is largely different in Universities B and C, in which this relationship is more linear and the choice of the SUP, in addition to choosing explicit values, objectives, and expected results, becomes a choice of thematic areas on which to work pragmatically.

In University A, as the former Rector states in the prologue to the formulation document, “ the university has gone beyond the regulatory wanted to formulate a Strategic Plan to clearly define the values in which it believes, its mission values in which it believes, the mission it has set itself and, above all, its vision and related objectives, the strategies to achieve them and the necessary actions the necessary actions ”. In University B, although the methodological value of the preamble to the SUP explains the articulation of the components, the document immediately focuses on the three main areas (teaching, research, and third mission). In University C, the drafting methods, while providing an explicit methodological basis, identify various strategic lines, similar to University A.

5.3 Linking strategic planning with performance management in the three cases

From the analysis of the data gathered through the documentary analysis and the interviews, it is possible to attempt to identify a link between strategic planning and performance management systems in the three cases analysed, as well as with the allocation of financial resources.

In University A, as already mentioned, there is a kind of logical inversion between the two strategic planning documents, since the TYPD is a tool for implementing the SUP, through three-year actions. The opposite happens in University B, where the SUP is characterised as a document implementing the three-year strategic guidelines. Something different again happens in University C, where the SUP initially includes the previous triennial strategic guidelines, and at the same time, conversely, is the starting point to for defining subsequent ones.

In University A, the main document of the performance management cycle, the PP, refers to the TYPD. As the methodological document attached to the SUP indicates, “ TYPD and PP can be consolidated into a single document that, while distinguishing the specific areas of intervention, leaves no doubt about their common starting point: the strategic ambition of the University ” (Methodological attachment to the SUP 2012–2014, p. 3). The PP 2014–2016, therefore, explicitly refers to a cascading system between the SUP, the TYPD, and the PP, confirming, on the one hand, the regulatory obligation and, on the other hand, the need to link the planning of activities to the degree of response from the organisation in its various components. The TYPD represents, in terms of continuity and the cascading of objectives, the link between the strategic objectives defined by the SUP and the operational objectives of the individual organisational structures of the university identified by the PP. In other words, the PP is the tool for implementing the TYPD. The PP, structured on an annual horizon (despite having a three-year duration), constitutes the reference for measuring results and assessing organisational and individual performance.

Unlike the strategic planning documents, the PP is prepared by the administrative staff. In University A, the individual organisational structures are required to propose operational objectives indicating: (1) the reference strategy identified within the SUP; (2) the perspective within which the identified operational objective is placed, concerning the eight perspectives identified by the TYPD; (3) the process overseen by the structure to which the objective refers; (4) a brief description of the objective and expected results; (5) the proposed indicator and its valuation with respect to the expected value; and (6) the financial resources allocated to the pursuit of each operational objective. Subsequently, the objectives of the PP are linked to the individual perspectives of the TYPD, such as the internal structure, teaching, integration with the territory, internationalisation, personnel, research, sustainability, and students.

Focusing on the development of the performance management system and the link with the strategic planning system over time, the document’s structure has been kept almost unchanged. However, after 2015, the idea of a document with a solid operational connotation, respecting the three phases of the performance cycle, became more generally accepted. At the same time, an increasing need was perceived to develop, in a systemic way, the planning of administrative activities in terms of performance, transparency, and anti-corruption. In this context, since 2016, the new guidelines have introduced the IP. As declared by an interviewee: “The intention has always been to keep the Strategic Plan separate from the performance management instruments, so that the Integrated Plan would draw on the objectives set by the Strategic Plan, but could also have a life on its own. We are aware that sometimes in other public sector administrations the Strategic Plan coincides with the Integrated Plan.”

The performance objectives identified in the IP, which are operational, are strictly linked to the strategic objectives contained in the SUP. The process for their definition follows two stages. In the first phase, the structures propose transversal objectives, shared by two or more organisational units; in the second phase, the structure objectives are proposed (individual, i.e. associated with a single organisational unit). The performance goals are divided into organisational performance goals and individual performance goals. The process of evaluating organisational performance is hierarchical and starts from the evaluation of the university’s performance based on the evaluation of those indicators related to economic and financial sustainability, scientific productivity, and internationalisation. The organisational performance of the departments, schools, and research centres is measured considering indicators related to research, teaching, internationalisation, and management efficiency. The PR closes the cycle, using the indicators provided by ANVUR.

In University B, the PP, whose first issuing was in 2011, from 2016 also started including information relating to transparency and anti-corruption, becoming an IP. The reason for that can be found in the words of an interviewee: “ The need to move from the PP to the IP derives from the need to avoid writing the same things in different documents or, vice versa, the risk of writing different things in the three documents (actually this has never happened in our university, since the documents were prepared by the same structure). Moreover, it is appropriate to have an IP because, in defining the managers’ objectives, they take into account different aspects (anti-corruption, transparency, efficiency). ”

This document is essentially aimed at the central administration, albeit with references to the university’s entire activity. The IP is drawn up by the office managers and the GD, while the structure that coordinates the entire process is the personnel area management.

As highlighted before, the IP concerns the administrative sphere and is an expression of how the academic organisation pursues its management objectives and implements its functions, in support of the political bodies, in achieving the strategic objectives of teaching, research, and the third mission, as reported in the planning process. The preparation of the IP, therefore, starts from the basic guidelines contained in the TYPD and the SUP and then, through various meetings with managers and top management, they are translated into operational objectives, which are subsequently translated into actions, indicators, and targets based on which performance measurement, evaluation, and reporting is carried out. This is clearly represented in the performance tree, a tool which, in a “cascading” logic, “graphically represents the links between strategic priorities, general strategic guidelines and operational objectives” (IP 2020–2022, p. 15).

While there was no clear link between strategic planning and performance management cycle in the past, University B’s last IP now displays an explicit reference to the SUP. In particular, the GD’s objectives (and related actions) derive directly from the strategic objectives set out in the SUP, while the managers’ objectives derive, in turn, from those of the GD, and therefore only indirectly from the SUP.

Finally, the closing document is the PR. The PR is drawn up by the GD annually, following a specific format. This document makes it possible to highlight the organisational and individual results achieved in relation to the expected targets regarding the individual planned objectives and resources.

The approach described for the IP is also confirmed in this document, i.e. a comparison is made with the strategic planning documents and, in particular, with the monitoring of the SUP, as well as taking into account the report that the GD prepares at the end of each year on management activities.

As declared by the GD during a meeting of the BoD: “ The IP has been really improved compared to the past, both in terms of editorial and content. This is thanks to the fruitful work of the managers involved. The IP demonstrates, in the best possible way, the ability to coherently correlate administrative activities with the planning policy documents adopted by the university […]. This document […] highlights the coherence between the university’s strategic planning system at the political level, the management activities, and the financial planning. ”

In line with the regulations, University C planned also to adopt a system of performance evaluation in 2010 by issuing the first PP for the period 2011–2013. However, on the institutional website of the university, we found an archive where the first PP is the one dated 2013–2015, so we do not have any information about the very first PP, except for the fact it was based on the application of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) model.

In this document, a performance tree highlights the logical roadmap, which links the institutional mandate, the mission, the strategic areas, the strategic objectives (with their indicators and targets), and the operational plan (which includes operational objectives, actors, and resources). In the first PPs, three different strategic areas were identified: didactics; research; and services (then named the “Executive Plan”). The latter includes the objectives assigned to the GD from which are derived the objectives to be assigned to each manager, in addition to those arising from the strategic planning documents. However, we did not find an explicit link between these objectives and those of the SUP; instead, the document seeks alignment between the performance cycle and the financial reporting planning cycle.

By comparing the different PPs, it emerges that the strategic objectives related to the three strategic areas have changed over time. Moreover, while the strategic areas of didactics and research are under the responsibility of the political bodies, the strategic area of the Executive Plan is under the responsibility of the GD who, also through the other managers, is responsible for the correct management of the organisation, as well as for verifying its effectiveness and efficiency.

Another crucial strategic objective is transparency, which is directly related to the performance of the administrative activity and the best use of public resources; therefore, the objectives of the PP are closely related to the strategic and operational planning of the administration and are considered strategic for the university itself.

In the process of identifying the areas of intervention, different actors have been involved: the political body; the Rector; the delegates of the Rector in the areas of strategic planning, didactics, and research; and the GD, who in turn consults the managers involved. In order to gather and analyse the data, the self-evaluation committee and self-evaluation support group are also involved. The 2013–2015 PP concludes with the desire to improve the process both by anticipating the preparation of the plan together with the budget, and by better involving stakeholders and all delegates and managers and sharing with more actors the actions and strategies to be implemented.

Similar to Universities A and B, in 2016, the PP became an IP. The IP is organised in five sections:

The strategic framework of the university, where the main lines of development of the administrative activity are indicated, according to the strategic planning documents, the financial reporting planning documents, and the actions taken and to be taken.

The organisational performance, which constitutes the central part of the IP, which lists the objectives of the planned actions, the related monitoring and measurement indicators, and all those involved in administrative performance.

Analysis of risk areas, drawn up according to the guidelines provided by the Anti-Corruption Authority (ANAC), whereby the areas at risk of corruption are defined.

Communication and transparency, which specifies the actions that the university intends to promote in order to meet the requirements of transparency and contains the communication plans aimed at informing stakeholders about the results achieved by the university.

Individual performance, the last section of the plan, which describes the criteria that the university intends to adopt for the assignment of individual objectives, as well as for the evaluation and monetary incentives for technical-administrative staff.

In the IP 2016–2018, for the first time, an important attachment was added highlighting the links between the SWOT analysis and the SUP by creating a more direct link between strategic planning and performance management.

This link is strengthened in the IPs 2018–2020 and 2019–2022, where a specific section recalls the macro-objectives of the SUP and connects the strategic guidelines of the IP with them. The document explicitly states that, although the IP strategic guidelines do not precisely coincide in wording and number with those mentioned in the SUP 2016–2018, these strategic objectives derive from that document (IP 2018–2020, p. 12).

Further on in the document, it is reaffirmed that the link between the university’s strategies and the performance cycle is of fundamental importance: the relationship between strategic planning and performance management systems is expressed as a link between the university’s political perspective of development, set out in the SUP, and the management actions to be implemented to achieve the expected results, contained in the IP (IP 2020–2022, p. 17). As learned from an interviewee: “ The university in the last years has introduced a new planning process which aims to maintain coherence between the operational dimension (performance), the dimension linked to access and usability of information (transparency), and the dimension linked to access to information (transparency). Moreover, the more recent IPs aim for greater consistency with the strategic planning system, in that the objectives of the performance planning are in line with, and derive from, the objectives of the strategic planning .”

As literature highlights (Bower & Gilbert, 2005 ; Francesconi & Guarini, 2018 ; Goh et al., 2015 ), evidence confirms that the strategic planning and the performance management dimensions are strongly connected with the resource allocation in all three cases. In University A’s budget, we read that its “ formulation is carried out through a process in which the (strategic and operational) objectives of the University drive the resources allocation aimed at their achievement. It represents the translation of those strategic lines in monetary terms ” (Annual and Three-Year Budget, p. 8). At the same time, in the IP, we found a link between the budget and the performance cycle. In fact, University A is trying to progressively optimise the allocation of its resources, by investing them in long-term projects that can have a positive impact on performance, to draw up a budget that is as consistent as possible with the strategies, following the circularity that characterises the strategic, financial, and operational planning phases.

As far as University B is concerned, on the one hand, the annual budget and the three-year budget (composed of the economic and investment budgets) are the technical and accounting tools through which the university’s strategic goals are set out in the short and medium term following the institutional mission of the university. Another important tool is represented by the activity budget, a document included in the explanatory note to the budget, through which strategic and operational goals are connected to the quantity and the quality of resources allocated to their achievement by highlighting the budget specifically earmarked for the pursuit of strategic actions and objectives. On the other hand, the IP represents the document by means of which performance is linked to the budget cycle. As it is clearly expressed: “ The integration between the budget cycle and the performance cycle makes the Integrated Plan the means through which disclosing both the recommendations included in the strategic planning documents, as well as the initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the University’s management processes ” (IP, p. 3). Coherently, the IP depicts the amount of budgetary resources necessary to achieve the operational objectives, as determined in the planning phase.

Turning to University C, both the documentary analysis and the interviews revealed the willingness to make the budget increasingly consistent with the strategic objectives provided by the governance, through a path of integration and circularity between the strategic planning and the budgeting processes aimed at enhancing the quality and efficiency of services, with a view to continuous improvement. This connection was still partial during the years under investigation; however, an interviewee stated that: “ In the next years, we intend to draw up a road map to define the timing of all operational activities, also for a gradual coordination between budget and objectives, towards an alignment of the two planning processes phases ”. Conversely, a similar path has been traced to increasingly link resource allocation to performance. In fact, as scholars have also identified in other cases (Van Dooren et al., 2010 ; Van Thiel & Leeuw, 2002 ), University C has started a performance budgeting system, by identifying specific financial resources for all the GD’s objectives from 2017 onwards. Moreover, the internal distribution of resources to departments is based on the results achieved, with a budget allocation policy based on awards and other selective criteria.

In all three universities, we therefore notice that the integration between strategic planning and performance management systems is an ongoing process that is being improved over time. Evidence demonstrates the willingness of these universities not only to meet regulatory requirements, but also to implement the logic of planning, both at political and administrative levels, to promote the proper functioning of the academic organisation, with a view to improving decision-making processes and accountability towards its stakeholders. However, while strategic planning information is incorporated in the performance management system, the role that performance management systems play in redefining strategies is less evident.

6 Discussion and conclusions

The comparative analysis of the multiple case studies carried out in Section 5, although without making any claims regarding generalisability, provides interesting food for thought on how strategic planning is conceived by universities, how the process to define strategies is developed and connected with the operational documents and budget, and to what extent the strategic planning system can be integrated with the performance management system, overcoming semantic boundaries and capturing the implicit links.

Moreover, the interviews with some of the main actors involved in the two systems help to understand also the reasons underpinning certain political and administrative choices. Table  2 summarises our findings across the three case studies, as detailed in Section 5.

Concerning the strategic planning system, evidence demonstrates that, as Boyne and Walker ( 2010 ) claimed, the definition of the strategies is a process that is more effective the more it results in a shared and collective effort towards a common vision.

This is more likely to happen in those public organisations where the unitary strategy is the synthesis of different strategic visions, linked to heterogeneous contexts and needs. Universities, embracing several areas of teaching, specialisation, and research, fall into this situation. In addition, the decision-making processes at universities are often complicated and extended due to the involvement and different interests of academic structures composed of professors and administrative staff.

Examining the three cases, a core aspect is the degree of participation of different actors involved in the process. While for University B the elaboration of the SUP is mainly delegated to the Vice-Rectors, who probably only informally consult the GD, in University A and University C, it appears to be more participatory and formalised. In fact, in University A, the project team involves different stakeholders in the process (including their competitors) through sharing the strategic ambitions of the governance bodies. This was mainly observed in the first wave of strategic planning. In the second wave, the phenomenon was scaled down, also in terms of participation, to make way for a more apparently centralised vision, but less impactful than the previous one. In University C, different political and administrative actors are involved in defining the areas of strategic intervention: the political body; the Rector; the delegates of the Rector in the areas of strategic planning, didactics, and research; and the GD, who in turn consults the other managers involved. During this time, University C has experienced better involvement from stakeholders and managers, and shared the actions and strategies to be implemented with more actors.

Moreover, University B has apparently not used external consultants, and neither has University C. University A, however, in the drafting of the second SUP, turned to external parties for various specific aspects (definition of strategic positioning and internationalisation strategy).

Therefore, three different patterns emerge, which can be placed along a spectrum ranging from University B, through University C, to University A. For example, University B still wants to maintain a clear distinction between the political and administrative sphere, and the strategic planning process involves only internal actors and only at the political level. University C, still maintaining the process as entirely internal, is instead trying to make a collective effort to bring both the political and administrative spheres of the university together towards common goals. The latter formalises a process in which participation is the widest, even involving external stakeholders.

This is also largely confirmed by when and where the SUP is placed in the strategic planning process and among the planning documents. For example, the placement of the SUP in the three universities is different. In University B, the SUP derives from the TYPD, and both are interpreted as documents of a more political-institutional nature (also due to the methods and actors involved in their elaboration). In University A, the SUP is placed upstream of the TYPD. This position, in addition to projecting a different integration of the concept of strategy that should normally be inferred from political indications/lines, also predisposes it in a different way with respect to the IP. University C displays a peculiarity compared to the other cases, in that the TYPD is not a separate document but embedded in the strategic plan itself. This has been done to highlight and reinforce an even stronger connection between the two planning documents. It should be pointed out that the TYPD takes on a more strictly bureaucratic and ritual programmatic character, while the SUP becomes the instrument to which a more managerial character is assigned, in accordance with a methodology and content more capable of incorporating the involvement of the organisation.

Despite the high political value of strategic planning documents, examining their time horizon reveals that none of the three SUPs has a duration equal to the rectoral mandate. In University B, the duration of the plan is three years, in University A it is four years, and in University C three to four years. Moreover, observing the programming cycles from a longitudinal point of view, it emerges that, for all three universities, although the change in the governance bodies has marked an important transformation, strategies have not been overturned and the SUP has maintained its consistency over time, outlining for all the three universities the importance of guaranteeing continuity and a medium- to long-term vision.

Regarding the performance management system, all three universities comply with the academic regulations, which require issuing a PP (which recently extended its content in terms of transparency and anti-corruption by becoming an IP). At the end of the year, the GD elaborates the PR, highlighting the organisational and individual results achieved with respect to the planned objectives and allocated resources. However, going beyond mere bureaucratic compliance, as the literature affirms (Bouckaert & Halligan, 2006 ; Van Dooren et al., 2010 ), the measuring of performance is only the first step towards a proper performance management process from which implementation should follow. In fact, performance information needs to be incorporated into the management system before it can be used.

The issue of implementation is relevant in answering our research question. As stated, our analysis focuses on the policy cycle, attempting to understand to what extent there is a link between strategic planning and performance management systems, also considering the budgeting process within the financial cycle. As emerges from the documentary analysis and the interviews, all three universities declare a correlation between the two systems and show coherence between the performance objectives and strategic objectives. On the one hand, it is possible to state that performance documents, procedures, and discourse incorporate strategic planning information. Hence, strategic planning tools contribute to performance management systems, since evidence demonstrates that performance objectives included in the IPs are partly derived from the strategic areas of interventions included in the strategic documents. This link is expressed in the connection between each university’s development policy perspectives, outlined in the strategic planning documents, as well as the systems, operations, and logic used by the administration to define its management objectives, monitor its performance, identify corrective actions, and evaluate the results achieved. This seems to happen according to a top-down logic, from the political function (responsible for defining strategic guidelines) to the administrative function (responsible for the most operational activities).

However, on the other hand, performance management systems do not really help to reshape universities’ strategies; barely any performance information is incorporated in the strategic planning process. In fact, the PR evaluates performance information for the purpose of assessing past performance. According to the policy cycle (Van Dooren et al., 2010 , p. 91), these evaluation reports should feed forward into the next strategic plan. However, we do not have evidence about whether, or how, this happens. This is probably because, in many cases, performance barely meets organisational and academic needs. While descending from strategies, the performance system in complex organisations such as universities risks impeding an integrated view of the organisation in its different administrative and academic components.

As far as the financial cycle is concerned, evidence demonstrates that, although internal resources allocation is different among the three cases, this difference reflects their different strategies and priorities. It is, therefore, possible to highlight consistency not only between the strategic planning and performance management systems of these universities, as Francesconi and Guarini ( 2018 ) also demonstrated, but also with their budgeting process. Indeed, in all three cases, willingness is evident to achieve an increasingly meaningful connection between the strategic planning process, the financial planning process, and the more operational dimension of performance. The need to pursue this virtuous path derives from a growing awareness from the academic governance and management of the currently perceived connection and interdependence of these dimensions. The dynamic environment in which universities operate leaves no room for isolated management of these aspects. Therefore, it is necessary to take an overall view to exploit the synergies arising from this link, aiming to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services provided.

This study’s main limitation is its focus primarily on the policy cycle, since our analysis has been carried out at the governmental and top management level, without going into detail at the lowest organisational levels, such as departments and other structures. Although conscious of this limitation, we believe this research may have important theoretical and practical implications.

The theoretical implications are twofold. First, evidence leads to considerations regarding the adoption of strategic planning in public organisations with different effects than in other organisations. Although the value of strategic planning is recognised as fundamental for public sector organisations, what emerges for public universities is not immediately generalisable to other public entities because of the specific nature of the higher education sector. Strategic planning shifts from opportunity to necessity for rationalising decisions and vision, redirecting the organisation towards shared values, objectives, and goals, as long as participation in the elaboration of plans is not neglected.

Second, the link between strategic planning and performance management seems to be more evident, even if a university’ performance system undergoes different declinations and it is not always easy to find a cohesive link with strategies. Universities are extremely complex in the articulation of their established aims. What a strategic plan can support in organisational terms may not be of value from an academic point of view in the narrower sense, particularly regarding research, which requires different planning rules from other activities in the organisation. This has consequences on performance, which take on different connotations and nuances. A performance measurement system is undoubtedly linked to the organisation’s ability to define achievable and successful strategies, but the ability to forecast university performance is not always anchored to all the elements that characterise it.

The practical implications of this study include suggestions for universities’ governance bodies related to supporting their decision-making processes in the definition of their long-term objectives and performance management systems. It is also recommended that information arising from the performance management system should also be used to periodically reshape strategies, implementing a virtuous circle between strategic planning and performance management systems.

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Italian Anti-Corruption Authority

Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of the University and Research Systems

Bachelor’s Degrees

Board of Directors

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Integrated Plan

Master’s Degrees

New Public Management

Doctoral Degrees

Performance Plan

Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System

Performance Report

Academic Senate

Strategic University Plan

Strategic Teaching Plan

Strategic Research Plan

Strategic Plan for the Third Mission

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

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Biondi, L., Russo, S. Integrating strategic planning and performance management in universities: a multiple case-study analysis. J Manag Gov 26 , 417–448 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10997-022-09628-7

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