Albert B. Blixt
Coach and Consultant on Innovation and Change
Part one of a three-part series to help higher education leaders who find their vision for the future held captive by the demands of the present. A step-by-step strategy to ignite real change.
Higher education strategic plans don’t fail; they just don’t succeed.
Colleges and universities spend a great deal of time and effort developing their traditional five-year strategic plans. The whole planning process can take six months, a year, or more. Committees, town halls, and multiple meetings yield inspiring statements of mission, vision and strategic goals. The process results in a laundry list of strategic initiatives with assigned responsibilities and good intentions.
Despite all of that, most strategic plans are not as effective as they should be.
The more ambitious the changes called for in the plan, the harder they are to achieve. Leaders find that their day-to-day world is just “too busy”.
“It’s too bad things didn’t work out but look how hard we tried!”
When we say that strategic plans don’t fail, we mean that the process continues even when desired outcomes are not achieved. Committees will still meet. There will still be reports, town hall meetings, and good discussions. All of these are fine.
But well-intentioned activities are no substitute for actual results. This is particularly true when the threats to higher education are existential. For many schools, survival may depend on the ability to transform who we teach, what we teach, how we teach, and where we teach.
The unwelcome truth is that necessary innovation and disruptive change won’t happen unless there is a real commitment to making them happen.
There are always good reasons for lack of results. You can probably name most of them. Lack of resources. Coordinating schedules for committee meetings. Delays because of campus events like orientation, mid-terms, commencement, or homecoming come with the territory. Lack of cooperation between functional areas. All of these come down to the fact that other demands got in the way.
Step #1: Fire Up Your Extended Leadership Team
To achieve your strategic vision, your leadership team must be fired up and ready to lead with the necessary knowledge, skill, and motivation to get things done. The people who report to you are your core team. Those who report to them constitute the extended leadership team. This is true whether you are a president, a provost, a vice president, or a dean.
For a president, just meeting with the provost, vice presidents, and deans is not enough. The entire extended leadership team must be on the same page to ensure the strategy is fully implemented. When the whole team meets together face-to-face, everyone hears the same message. Then they can engage in the conversations that will lead to cross-functional collaboration down the road.
The “Fire Up” strategy is a series of events that ignites and then sustains commitment to actions that produce results.
- Core Leadership Team Planning: This meeting (call it a workshop or a retreat) focuses on how senior team members will work together to translate the leader’s vision into a strategy roadmap. The team sets priorities and takes responsibility for engaging the campus community. The team will also plan for engaging the extended leadership team.
- Extended Leadership Team Launch: This session gets at how everyone will work together across organizational boundaries. The focus is on creating a sense of positive urgency, balancing individual and collective responsibility and building trust and cooperation. This meeting sets the stage for future work by functional leaders and their reports
- Extended Leadership Team Check Points: These sessions, held two or three times a year, are used to share information, evaluate progress, and plan further action. The team uses these gatherings to recommit to achieving vital outcomes.
The Key to Success: Professional Design and Facilitation
These are far more than simple meetings or training events; it takes professionally designed experiences to succeed. This is best done when they are crafted jointly by experienced consultants and a small planning team of participants. These events also require professional facilitation. More information can be found at Workshops on Innovation and Change.
Frustrated by slow progress in implementing your strategy?
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