Strategic planning next steps: first in a series on strategy in higher education
I was brought into a community college district to present on strategic planning. This was not a kick-off meeting where I offered guidance on the process. Quite the opposite. This was a meeting held the quarter following the completion of a strategic planning process. The goal of the talk was to remind people that even though the process was over, the work to “be strategic” was something they needed to keep top of mind. The best way to execute strategy is to move forward incrementally, and to navigate change as it occurs.
There really is no separation between strategic planning and change management in a dynamic organization. Strategies create context and direction which induce change, and therefore, require change management to ensure that the strategies find realization in execution.
Planning and Executing is a Cycle
Units and functions should assess, within their existing budgets and charters, how to incorporate evolution toward strategic goals into their regular operations. Deploying a world class data center in a decade does not mean starting the year before it is to be built, but planning, investing, conducting research, testing assumptions and building relationships as part of the day-to-day work. Hiring new staff should reflect future requirements and capabilities, not just of existing needs. Short-term investments should be strategically validated to determine if investments make sense against strategic plans that may require removing them or retrofitting them in the future. Can near-term investments, for instance, be incrementally future-proofed in current dollars, perhaps even bringing down future costs? This is an especially important discussion when it comes to long-duration investments like buildings and other infrastructure.
Every decision deserves a strategic backdrop
Everyone in the organization needs to see the strategic plan as a backdrop to their own decision making. If they can’t tie what they are doing to a strategy, then they should question that work. This assumes that the strategic plan is written as something that includes actionable strategies designed to accommodate this type of alignment. Poorly written strategic plans that consist of fluffy verbiage and goals rather than strategies, make it difficult to understand how existing work aligns, either because large umbrella statements seemingly cover everything, or goals don’t include strategies where existing work is part of the path forward.