Tips for a Smooth Strategic Planning Process

As higher education institutions face the call for greater accountability amidst shrinking resources, the need for strategic planning has taken on new importance within the academic community. And with good reason. When done properly, a strategic plan delivers tremendous value and can serve as a definitive three-to-five year roadmap that takes a department where it wants to go.

A strategic plan provides a department with a shared direction; communicates a picture of who you are and who you aspire to be; organizes attention and energy; identifies quantifiable measures of success; defines allocation of critical resources; and builds commitment to action, says Dr. Anne Massaro of Ohio State University.

In the Feb. 4th online seminar, Engaging Faculty in Departmental Strategic Planning, Massaro used a model developed by the University of Wisconsin, Office of Quality Improvement to walk participants through the full strategic planning process, the questions you need to ask, and the strategies for answering them the right way.

The Eight Steps of Strategic Planning

  1. Articulate a Mission: Why do we exist? Whom do we serve? What do we provide?
  2. Articulate a Vision: How do we define “excellence?” What do we stand for? What makes us distinct?
  3. Analyze Current Situation and Performance: What is happening around us? What are our internal strengths and weaknesses? What are the external threats?
  4. Identify Gaps and Critical Issues: What is the gap between our vision and current situation? What other critical issues do we need to resolve?
  5. Set Strategic Priorities: On what major priorities will the department focus its efforts? What criteria will be used to set priorities?
  6. Establish Performance Measures and Goals: What measures will give us information about our overall performance? What goals must be achieved to accomplish the strategic priorities?
  7. Develop One-Year Action Plans: What specific steps will we take in the next 12 months to reach our goals? Who is responsible? What is the timeline for completion?
  8. Conduct Evaluation and Schedule Progress Checks: How will we evaluate the strategic planning process? How will we track our progress?

Making the Tough Decisions
Despite such a neat and tidy list, anyone who’s been involved in a department’s strategic planning process knows that it’s fraught with landmines. These challenges include knowing when and how to involve faculty, students and other stakeholders, moderating the influence of people who are involved in the process solely to push their own agendas, and having the fortitude to make unpopular (but necessary) decisions when it’s all done.

“In my opinion, the biggest danger is not making the tough decisions, and the plan gets written but not executed,” says Massaro. “You need to commit to making the strategic plan a living document that the leader considers every day.”