Strategy Mapping: An Essential Tool for New Academic Faculty

benefits of creating a strategy map

Finding your path to tenure as a novice educator can be daunting and anxiety provoking. It is reported that challenges for junior faculty are most often related to decoding expectations of the academic organization and creating relationships with colleagues (Kahanov et al, 2012).  Few tools exist to help new faculty navigate the complexity of the first years of academic life.

This article will introduce readers to a process called strategy mapping. The result of the process is a tangible document called a strategy map. Although strategy mapping originated within the business world, its applicability within academic settings holds much promise. Within academic settings strategy maps can be used to prioritize teaching, research, and service expectations, particularly for novice educators who have little experience in the academic environment. This article will further demonstrate how the strategy mapping framework aligns with organizational expectations of academic life; how strategy maps can be used to optimize goal setting for new educators; and how strategy maps can be used as a tool to optimize structure and direction within formal mentorship relationships.

Kaplan and Norton (2004) in the book “The Strategy-Focused Organization”, introduced the concept of strategy mapping. Strategy mapping is known in the business world as a means to help companies manage and align their priorities to organizational strategy. It is a visual representation of how to connect the dots of activities within a strategy. For the individuals in the early stages of their academic careers, the map should be inspired by a personal vision that answers the questions, “what the educator is going to be known for? And what is going to be the educator’s unique contribution to the university, society, and the world?” It is an approach to academic success that goes beyond the fear-inspired motivation of the tenure journey, and couches tenure itself as an inadvertent consequence of working towards a broader aspirational vision.

The strategy map is based on “four perspectives”: financial, customer, internal, and learning and growth. The financial and customer perspectives were developed in response to the basic question: “What does the business want to accomplish?” The internal and learning and growth perspectives answer the question “How does the business plan to accomplish it?” If we were to adopt the academic lens on these quadrants, these questions would be asked a bit differently. For finances we would ask: What activity can the educator engage in that contributes to the financial gain or a return on investment for the university or faculty? For customer service we can ask: What does the educator have to do to increase the value of the student experience? For internal processes, we must ask:  What does the educator have to be good at to reach their vision? And from a knowledge and growth perspective, we ask: What professional development activities can the educator engage in, to grow their expertise and contribute to the discipline?

Strategy maps are individualized academic plans. Table 1 is an example of a completed strategy map. Given the inconsistency of academic expectations for tenure between institutions and individual differences between educators, the content of individual strategy maps will vary. However, the first column (strategy domain) with the four quadrants, and the second column (strategy definition) with the quadrant definitions, should remain constant. The third column (university expectations) contains the academic institutions expectations. The way to come up with the content in this column is to link or align the definition of each one of the four quadrants to its related theme in university policy /research/ continuing status or tenure documents for the respective University. The fourth column (Academic objectives) are created by focusing on and choosing themes within the third column that are considered important to the educator’s vision. The last column (specific deliverables) represents the specific activities that are negotiated to measure success.

Strategy mapping has much to offer novice educators, mentors of novice educators as well faculty who desire to adopt a new approach to strategically thinking about their short-term actions or energy investments and their deliverables over time. Strategy maps should be created at the beginning of each academic year outlining the deliverables for that year.

Potential benefits for novice educators

Learning about strategy maps offers two potential benefits for the novice educators. First, as a tool, it provides the educator with a framework to organize their critical research, teaching, and service objectives. As such, it supports the educator in summarizing the knowledge, skills, and systems that the educator will need to innovate and invest in the right activities. Secondly, it helps the educator build the right capabilities to deliver specific value to the academic setting as well as their academic careers.  Strategy maps should help novice educators in their ability to prioritize their multiple demands, especially within the first two years.

Potential benefits for mentors

There is little consensus among faculty mentorship programs as to best practices (Bruner et al. 2016). Although mentoring was identified as an essential component to a successful transition, few mentorship programs have a formal structure (Kahanov et al, 2012; Gresham, 2014; Grabinski 2014).  To ease the transition of novice educators into academia, the academy must create a template for mentorship interactions. Part of the template of activities should include working collaboratively on a strategy map, wherein an individualized plan be developed for each novice. The plan could also be informed by the mentor’s tacit knowledge of the organization. The strategy mapping framework can become a tool to support goal-directed conversations within the context of mentorship as well as tracking of the novice educator’s academic milestones.


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Dr. Keith Adamson is an assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto.

This article is featured in the Best of the 2018 Teaching Professor Conference, a collection of articles from some of the top-rated sessions at the 2018 conference. Download the report »