Throughout any given year, I often meet with cabinets, presidents, and boards who are in the process of building/renewing their strategic plans. Strategic plans can be a fantastic way to create and propagate vision and—more importantly—progress toward needed changes at an institution. That being said, these initiatives often fall far short of being the catalyst of transformation at institutions and rather serve as a comprehensive list of ideas with little means of prioritization and filtering. Let’s discuss ways to shift this mentality and create a stronger pathway for plans to transform.
Find the real focus of your strategic plan
The power of a strategic plan is to create a focused vision for change (emphasis on focused). One problem most presidents and planning committees face is that ideas largely tie to institutional missions and values. While these are extremely important ideals, missions and values tend to be extremely broad and therefore extremely poor filters to decide which plan initiatives to pursue—and perhaps more importantly, which ones not to pursue.
One way that Carnegie gets through this conundrum is by using a different type of metric for filtering: institutional personality. The personality and culture of an institution is much more specific than its mission and values. This enables a committee to wrestle with the ideas that will enhance or confirm culture. As a successful university president once said to me, forming a strategic plan is like creating a 27-lane highway. Personality helps me figure out which cars to put in which lanes.
Avoid planning fatigue
A second problem facing many presidents is the fatigue that the planning process takes on the campus and the appetite for continuation. Most plans are huge consensus-driven projects with dozens to hundreds of campus constituents weighing in to the project. Consensus is a critical component of any shared governance culture, but using it in strategic planning is often misguided.
The reality of most plans is that 10%–20% of the people involved create 80%–90% of the ideas that make it in the plan. As a result, consensus is wasted when it could be harnessed to enhance the understanding of culture, personality, or, even better, involvement in plan implementation. Considering the moment to call for consensus is very important to ongoing plan success and fatigue reduction on campus.
Maintain your momentum
A third and more problematic issue facing strategic plans is the fact that they often fail to produce momentum after competition. A plan will have a great website and fanfare only to fail to produce results in the outer years.
One way we recommend harnessing your plan is through continuous planning processes (sometimes called “Evergreen”). In this philosophy, planning is never really complete and always in a state of implementation, evaluation, and renewal. Universities implementing such a model often republish their plans for the subsequent three-, four-, or five-year period annually and seek board adoption of the revision as well.
As a result, institutions following this method often see much more focus and progress on critical initiatives, an increase in implementation activity, and the potential for a rise in institutional transformation.
Whether your strategic plan is on its next iteration or you’re just initiating the first of many versions to come, it’s important to reflect on the way to filter ideas, the timing and use of consensus, and the process for plan renewal in order to realize the desired transformation at your institution.
If you are considering a strategic planning project and want to learn more about how institutional personality can help you create a plan that inspires authentic change, contact us to set up time to talk.
Scott Ochander is a Partner and Chief Client Solutions Officer at Carnegie. As a former Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing, Scott is regarded as an expert in reputation and enrollment strategy in higher education. He pioneered a consensus-building reputation and change management research model in higher education that has empowered campus communities and enabled enrollment growth and reputation transformation. Scott has worked extensively in marketing and enrollment strategy, completing hundreds of strategy development projects across higher education at some of the largest and most influential institutions in the nation.
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