Strategic Planning That’s Truly Strategic

Do you know whether your institution’s strategic plan priorities are visionary or hallucinatory? How can you tell the difference, especially given the disruption of normal operations during the last two years?

During our October 12 webinar, RHB Vice President for Marketing Leadership Dr. Rob Zinkan and I shared insights about how strategic planning can be more effective in a time of turbulence. These insights came from our study of 108 active higher ed strategic plans called What Makes a Strategic Plan “Strategic”?.

We presented findings that sometimes bemused us but which very often uplifted us. Drawing on the analysis of our initial set of 108 plans, we laid out several conditions under which plans could be considered truly strategic, meaning they call for a change in direction and set out goals that are lofty but still measurable and achievable. We described 16 plans as most strategic. These plans were visionary, but not hallucinatory. Equally important, these plans provided roadmaps through disruption to stability since March 2020.

We discussed our conversations with leaders from several of those institutions about their strategic planning processes. We also shared the results of conversations with other strategic planning thinkers about the questions institutions need to be asking to design an effective strategic planning process.

Here are some questions we answer:

  • How many goals and priorities are enough?
  • Who should be involved in the planning process?
  • How can presidents and chancellors lead effectively during a strategic planning process?
  • How prevalent are goals covering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?
  • When should marketing and communications professionals play a role in the planning process?
  • What do these plans have to say about how institutions can serve students better (Spoiler: for many. not nearly enough)?

My favorite finding—and the one that I think about a lot—is that doing honest work to understand both positive and negative constituent experiences leads to community co-creation of plans that withstand challenges. That’s in part due to the fact that constituents see themselves in plans and know how they can help make plans and institutions successful, regardless of their roles in the institution. To learn that strategic plans can be an effective, proactive way to deal with uncertainty was truly inspiring.

You can gain that same inspiration by watching the recording of our webinar or reading our slides. We hope you come away with the same sense of clarity and inspiration this study gave us—and the freedom to implement these findings in the ways that best serve your institutions.

Watch our full webinar below, complete the form below to download the slides and read the transcript.

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Aimee Hosemann

Aimee is a Writer at RHB.