Strategic Planning for the Academic Department: Q&A with Anne Massaro

When done correctly, a strategic plan provides an academic department with a definitive blueprint. When done incorrectly, it’s an unpopular waste of time. Dr. Anne Massaro of Ohio State University shares strategies for making strategic planning more relevant for faculty, and for ensuring that once the plan is complete, it doesn’t sit on a shelf collecting dust.

Q: How do you convince faculty that participating in strategic planning is worth their time and effort?

Massaro: Don’t ask them to participate in strategic planning, instead ask them to define academic excellence, or the future growth of the department, or how to recruit the true “stars” in your discipline. Ask them to participate in something that matters to them, and then really do that. Take what matters to the faculty and structure group discussions around these issues. Behind every issue that matters to someone is a question that can be asked to the collective. If your faculty are currently concerned about pending budget cuts, bring the collective together and ask a question like, “How can we make the wisest decisions about how to use our resources?”

Q: What suggestions do you have for managing the differences of opinion in the strategic planning process so as not to create animosity?

Massaro: I suggest hiring an outside facilitator to help structure and manage difficult, possibly contentious, discussions. A neutral, third party can set parameters on the discussion, can allow for healthy airing of different opinions, and can control what might otherwise get out of hand.

I also suggest that criteria for decision making be established. There will always be more good ideas and smart strategies than resources will allow. Given this limit of resources, it’s important to define common criteria for making difficult decisions. If decision criteria are established, then everyone can air their opinions, knowing that their opinion will be weighed against the criteria.

Q: What suggestions do you have to create a strategic plan that will bring about positive change rather than sit on a shelf once the department has completed the planning process?

Massaro: It is the responsibility of the leader of the department, the department chair, to frequently return to the strategic plan. It should serve as a guide for all decision making. Before making a decision, the department chair should reflect on the requested action in relation to the strategic plan.

Periodic updates of the plan should also be shared with the full department. This might happen annually or twice a year. What is the progress to date? How have conditions in the environment shifted priorities? Is this still the right plan given what is now known?