In some of my posts here, I had shared that I was engaged in strategic planning at my own home institution. I am and have been. And that is where I have been focusing my strategic brain has been occupied—with my university’s strategic plan, with strategic and forward looking operations for my own office. I’m returning to the public conversation because it seems time for lessons to be shared from this intense, professionally “inward looking”—if you will—work.
Lesson 1: Change can only succeed with input and support.
My campus has prided itself on collaboration and shared governance for far longer than I have been here. However, this campus-wide strategic planning process has shown that to me in a new and special light. Sure, some people come to town halls and feedback-gathering meetings to champion the thing that keeps them employed, but so many of my colleagues came wanting to think about the institution and what it would need to do for the students of tomorrow.
That has also been true in the smaller context of growing my own office’s programming. My colleagues have been invaluable in helping me see possible roadblocks and challenges, in revealing new strategies and simpler processes. That collaborative process, in turn, made the staff feel valued and valuable—which they are.
Lesson 2: Don’t sweat the details too soon.
Yes, someone must ultimately be responsible for getting things done. Yes, the details do matter. However, when you need to stay macro and focus on clarifying the big picture, needing the details stops you dead in your tracks. We did this more than once in our large campus-wide committee. The result was operational thinking that didn’t inspire or engage anyone. Strategy should be exciting; vision should make people want to contribute. No matter the level of decision making, strategy must precede operation. Then, operational planning—and the details—can have the full stage. I’m a “get-things-done” kind of person, and my current position requires that I have a handle of all of the macro and some of the micro. The difference and the timing matter.
Lesson 3: Look ahead; think ahead.
I often joke with my colleagues that “it is already April in my head” or whatever far-off-seeking time I am actually planning for in my day-to-day work. Strategy of any kind requires that you think toward the future. Leadership, then, is seeing that goal and the road ahead that will take the organization there. Any big picture conversation, almost by default, must begin with that future vision, but seeing the full path is what connects the idea to the operations that accomplish it. This lesson, for me, is that it’s a good thing that I think so far ahead, but it also seems a lesson that many of us could use here in higher education from time to time.
These lessons learned in planning have helped my home institution see and plan for the future, but that future is the university for tomorrow’s students that we all must envision.
Next week, I’ll be thinking about what diversity can and should look like in that future.