Stand-Up Paddle Boarding, Technology and Strategy

“I’m going to paddle board to the opposite side of the lake.”


“I’ve got a paddle board.”

My oldest son is as pragmatic as they come. There’s a lot of black and white in our conversations, and while I also fall in the realist camp in most areas of my life, it’s important to acknowledge that there is often plenty of gray area. I’ve been working on that with him. 

And so, as he began pushing the board from the shore into the lake, I jumped in front of him and we had a little chat. 

“Where do you start?”

“How are you getting on the board?”

“How do you stand?”

“How do you paddle?”

“How do you gain momentum?”

“What if you fall?”

These questions seem so simple that it’s easy to skip right over them; and you can imagine how a pragmatist would answer them. But, it’s important to assess them more deeply. We get so focused on the tool that we just assume it’s the solution. It’s when we take a step back that we realize the two are not synonymous. 

One of our favorite mantras at RHB is that technology is not strategy. When this is applied to our work with implementations or advanced functionality in Slate, it’s common for us to begin our engagements (and to be fair, our relationship development efforts) with the question of “Why?”

The “why” gets us to the reason we’re doing this to begin with.

“To grow enrollment.”

“To ease manual processes with automation.”

“To send better communications.”

“To be faster.”

These are fine responses. But they’re also representative of the horizon, where an institution wants to be. The tool, the CRM, will serve as a vessel for achieving those aspirations. But it isn’t going to define the strategy. You have to do that. And this brings us back to our paddle boarding questions:

“Where do you start?”

Strategic planning is something we are extraordinarily equipped to do at RHB. Like the more comprehensive process of aiding institutions in developing strategic plans, strategic planning around technology begins with an environmental scan. What are others doing? What’s working elsewhere? Internally, what are your strengths? Where do you foresee the opportunity? These types of questions will lay the foundation for your planning process.

“How are you getting on the board?”

Development of the actual strategy comes next. What makes an implementation successful for you? An active application? Robust, automated communications? A beautifully designed applicant experience portal? This vision will help you determine how best to chart a course for success and identify other strategic endeavors necessary to get there. Additionally, understanding how the greater organization will or will not support these measures of success will influence how your tactical strategy is implemented. Do you have ample resources? Will you require external support? Are budgets in line to support either of those approaches? Do these goals align with greater institutional strategic planning pillars? 

“How do you stand and how do you paddle?”

I watched my son, Dougie, attempt to climb on the board while already in the water in an effort to start his journey. The board tilted and he plummeted into the lake. As his brother and sister looked on and laughed, he tried again and again and the board continually shifted under his weight. So we brought the board back to the dock and he tried the knees-first method. Gliding over the water, balanced, he then leveraged the paddle to hold his balance and stand. As he dipped the paddle into the water, I noticed it was backwards and showed him the appropriate way to hold it. 

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals help ensure that you are able to make progress to overarching objectives. Kneel. Stand. Balance. Paddle. Compartmentalizing something like an implementation into tasks will enable you to have a structured path forward and sequenced items to check off in pursuit of enhanced functionality. Developing an implementation timeline complete with milestones also helps to set expectations for the team’s responsibility in the project, ensuring resources are available when and where they are needed.

The implementation plan should be targeted to impact the objectives set forth when laying the foundation. This is also the spot where it’s easiest to revert to relying on the technology as the solution.

Let’s take our previously stated objective of “to send better communications.” Your CRM will facilitate the audience segmentation, email editor and send functionality. But, what is it you want to say and why? Are you articulating your institution’s one true spot in the universe? Does your institution really know who it is? There is another strategy entirely that must be developed to craft and execute a coherent communications plan. If you fail to define that strategy, you’re simply designing and executing content that will float into the ether of unread messages or the bottom of a garbage can.

“How do you gain momentum?”

When you have your implementation plan in place, cleanly articulated toward your primary objectives, how do you continue to make your way to the other side of the lake? What levers can you pull to propel your team forward? If you’ve defined objectives clearly, you can follow a key component of paddle boarding: look toward where you’re going. By identifying the horizon and shaping the steps along the way, you can look ahead with the comfort of the stability you’ve created to get there. 

“What if you fall?”

Get back up, it’s easier now. Because you’ve prepared, aligned objectives, set a course of action and tethered implementation components to a greater strategy, getting back on the board becomes exponentially easier. There will be waves and branches and maybe even an obscure shadow or two that pass just under you (or in my son’s case, water skiers and significant wakes), but you have a solid path ahead for continuing your journey.

At RHB, we’re experts in aiding institutions in defining and aligning strategic plans with the institutional and departmental goals that roll up into organizational pillars. Technology is a key component for executing strategy, but it’s important to remember that in the end, it’s just a tool. If you could benefit from counsel in building an effective strategy, we’re happy to help you start paddling.

  • Spread the word
Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President of Relationship Development at RHB.