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Professional Opinion

Strategic planning complete. Now what?

Moving from planning to implementation is just the beginning
University Business, June 2015
Paul R. Brown
Paul R. Brown

Anyone who has worked in higher education knows that harnessing and harmonizing many disparate voices representing different academic disciplines and administrative perspectives can be a challenge. That was our experience at Monmouth University during the more than 10-month process to develop our new strategic plan.

By the time the plan was endorsed by our board of trustees, hundreds of hours of open forums, discussion, debate and deliberation helped to shape the guiding principles that emerged from the process. That probably sounds idyllic, but at the beginning of the process even asking the campus community to trust that the development of a new plan would be truly different was a challenge.

Communicating and successfully sharing the results of the plan also required more effort than an administrative email from Mt. Olympus. Too often, such messages are instantly disregarded or deleted by faculty and staff who either feel no sense of ownership or worse—who think that the process is over, when it is really just beginning. We publicized the plan to alumni stakeholders as well as to our internal community, along with a clear message: Without your participation, this plan will not succeed.

Developing a clear strategic plan and communicating it effectively certainly wasn’t easy, but it was much easier than the effort that will now be required for a holistic implementation process that puts our vision into action.

Changing team members

One immediate challenge we faced was a change within senior administrative personnel. Near the end of the planning process, our provost returned to a faculty position. While the new provost brought extensive strategic implementation experience from her prior post, she was not party to nuanced deliberations that shaped our plan. Provost leadership is critical to realizing the shift in emphasis the plan requires—along with improving the areas identified during the process as needing further attention or investment.

How would we ensure continuity in the process while making sure that the voices that helped shape the plan are championed? Fortunately, we were able to persuade the strategic planning steering committee to continue to serve as members of an implementation committee as we transition to our next stages. Their deep familiarity with the spectrum of issues raised during the planning process provides important continuity and ensures that the opinions expressed along the way will remain at the forefront of ongoing initiatives. Asking the members to continue to serve wasn’t a simple decision. Would keeping the same leadership team in place cause others to feel shut out of the next steps? Based on the incredible weight that the team places on inclusiveness and engagement, we concluded that continuity was worth the risk.

Eager for change

One consequence of inclusive participation is that the expectations are high, and after so many months of discussion across campus, there is palpable desire for immediate change. The provost and the committee continue to meet weekly with an eye on programs or new procedures that can be implemented quickly.

While some endeavors will require time and a methodical approach for implementation, there are others that can be more quickly organized and supported. We are evaluating mechanisms for a comprehensive inventory of programs and best practices that align with the broad objectives of our plan. Just as important is determining the appropriate metrics so we can benchmark our progress and measure our success.

Our planning process succeeded because every area of campus provided feedback. Likewise, successful implementation will require involvement and shared responsibility from the whole university. After the planning has finished, the real work begins.

Paul R. Brown is president of Monmouth University in New Jersey

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