Strategic Planning: A Model for Higher Education


Strategic planning is simply clarifying the
purpose of an organization, where the organization wants to be at some point in the future and
how it is going to get there. This is simple in concept, but not so simple in design and
execution. The more complex the organization, the more challenging it is to conduct effective
strategic planning. In this presentation, I will share with you
a strategic planning model for higher education. It is one designed by folks at my institution
and that we use to lead my institution through the strategic planning process. I will describe
the various steps and provide some examples as we explore the model. While there are many approaches to strategic
planning, most derive from a common framework. The key components of strategic planning almost
always start with the mission and values of the organization and an exploration of the
current environment and culture. What follows from this are issues and goals of the organization,
the strategies to address these, and the action plans for implementation. A successful strategic
plan is also designed to monitor progress and adjust as necessary. Let’s explore this model in more detail. As we begin the strategic planning process,
it is important to establish some baseline agreements as to timelines, outcomes, responsibilities,
etc. This should also include designating the planning committee or those who will be
responsible for developing the strategic plan. These initial agreements will define the process
and keep the path clear as the planning ensues. From there, the real work of strategic planning
begins. Higher education has numerous stakeholders
who influence the outcomes and are invested in the success of the university. Identifying
these stakeholders is a critical first step in this planning process. This process is
designed to ensure a good fit between the internal and external environments of the
organization. At this stage, it is most important to identify everyone that needs to be engaged
in the strategic planning process. The next two steps are important aspects of
exploring the internal and external environments. First, a full review of the mission and values
of the institution should begin. This introspective review confirms the purpose of the institution
in relation to the planning about to begin. For most colleges and universities, our missions
and values are well-defined and need minimal changing. This review is designed to align
the planning with the mission and values in an intentional way. Within the external environment of higher
education are many mandates that drive operations and impact decision making. For instance,
the Federal government mandates certain requirements in order for institutions to be eligible for
Title IV funding. States may mandate reporting requirements to ensure efficiencies and effectiveness.
And accrediting bodies mandate operational procedures and policies to confirm quality.
All of these mandates need to be explored as the strategic planning process begins. Once all of the stakeholders have been identified
and the process of reviewing the mission and values as well as scanning the environment
for those mandates that are most influential to your institution has begun, it is time
for the SWOT analysis. This is the chance to explore in formal and informal ways the
strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from both the perspective of those within
the institution and those outside of it. Using surveys, focus groups, discussions or other
means of collecting data, the SWOT analysis is the most important component of the strategic
planning process. In both the internal and external SWOT analysis,
the point is to explore the influences of the environment from the perspective of the
stakeholders. How is the institution impacted by this environment and to what degree? What
are the forces and trends that are most influential? What are the sources of various resources
and how are these currently being impacted or anticipated to be impacted within the environment?
For the external analysis, it is important to also consider the competition and those
organizations that are considered partners or peers. For the internal environment, additional
consideration is focused more on the performance and processes of the institution. After all the data are collected, the process
turns from exploring and analyzing to decision making. It is now time to begin to understand
the results of the SWOT analysis and the scan of the environments and to apply these to
the strategic plan. This process can take considerable time depending on the amount
of data and other information collected. At this point, planners are discerning between
the strategic issues and beginning to define strategic goals to address these issues. Action
plans are developed to provide specific focus to each issue and goal, measures are established
as a means for ensuring progress and determining completion of the goal, and resources are
identified and allocated to achieve the strategic plan. Depending on the scope of the strategic
plan, these steps can be college-wide or focused within a single program or department. One
of the advantages of this model is that it is scalable to the scope of the strategic
planning project. At this point in the strategic planning process,
all of the work has been done to understand the strategy and how best to accomplish it.
It is time to organize the strategy into a manageable format and formally adopt the new
strategic plan. Again, this takes many forms depending on the institution and intention
behind the process. Typically, this is a published plan with the strategic issues, goals, action
plans and measures identified and outlined in a meaningful way. Adoption of the plan
is generally executed by various stakeholders, particularly the faculty and the board of
directors. The key to this stage is the acceptance of the strategic plan so that it has strong
buy-in across the campus. This is the point in this model that differs
slightly from most other models. The vision is often reviewed and explored at the early
stages of the process along with the mission and values. This makes sense because the vision
should be the driving concept over all of the planning at the institution. However,
this model places the review of the vision after the development of the plan. It is critical
for the vision of an institution to reflect, in a realistic way, the future of the college.
It is only after fully understanding the internal and external environments can this vision
be defined. For many institutions, this can manifest in a strategic vision separate from
the overarching vision of the institution. Finally, it is time to implement the strategic
plan. This requires some thought as to the process for implementation. It is counterintuitive
to the process to assume a top-down approach to implementation – remember, the entire
process has been inclusive so the implementation should also be inclusive. More importantly,
implementation is also a time to monitor and adjust the plan accordingly. Don’t get caught
in the trap of believing that this newly minted strategic plan is static. It is a living document
that should be allowed to expand and change over time. The basic strategies should stay
the same but be flexible on how these strategies are accomplished. Remember the initial agreements
in place? This is the time to ensure that all of those have been honored and that the
process was true to the original plan. Effective strategic planning begins with the
desired end and works backward to the current status. It takes into account the future state
of the environment and uses this to determine strategies to implement now. A successful
strategic plan must be realistic and attainable so as to allow those in the institution to
think strategically and act operationally – it is a plan that both influences and
is influenced by the operational plan of the college. But there is a distinction between
institutional effectiveness and strategic planning. Daily operations and goals are captured
in an institutional effectiveness plan while future goals and actions are documented in
the strategic plan. One is focused on the here-and-now while the other is all about
the future.

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