Why Facilitated Strategic Planning Workshops are Most Effective for Your College...
Apr 20, 2016
Strategic planning for many organizations and institutions tends to be more focused on the report or end product than the planning – and that’s a lost opportunity. As Eisenhower once said
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
Earlier in my career, I was the director of marketing at a college and was told to develop “…my marketing plan…” In their culture, marketing developed the marketing plan which was responsible for addressing how inquiries would be generated and turned into new students who would then be retained and turned into graduates and members of the Alumni Association.
And the way that had been done was for the marketing director to lock themselves in their cube and not come out until they had developed “…their marketing plan…” Which meant a plan with no input from anyone else in the institution – such as finance regarding tuition and fees or the Dean(s) regarding program offerings and faculty hiring/training/oversight or Student Affairs regarding services that included the library and social events…
You get what I mean.
So what typically happened was the marketing director would create their plan, as would the Dean(s) and Student Affairs, and finance and other areas – and about 30-days into the new year, conflict arose because everyone was contradicting each other’s “vision and plan”.
The Solution: Inclusion, Involvement and Teamwork
That’s when I went out and hired a firm to facilitate the planning process – and include key members of the leadership team from across the college. Well, the first thing I did was explain my vision to the President and after gaining his support, I went out and hired the firm.
The goal was to get the right people in the room, working on the plan together so it because “…our plan…” rather than “…marketing’s plan…”
Why? Because they have ownership in “our plan” and the only way the institution was going to be successful is if the leadership is on the same page.
In preparation for the workshop, we shared a lot of material with the participants and made roles and responsibilities very clear – everyone was going to come prepared and participate. I had to do a lot of “back room politicking” because some saw this as me trying to dodge my work and put it on their lap – but fortunately others saw is as an opportunity to have input on something that, previously, had been dictated to them.
The facilitator took the pressure off me – this wasn’t “marketing leading a workshop”, it was an outside expert coming in to help us all prepare for greater success. It wasn’t “marketing trying to get us to do their work”, it was “the President feels we need to do this to become better”.
As I mentioned earlier, the existing “process” led to everyone creating their own vision for the future and creating plans to bring that to life which typically created conflict. In this workshop, we were able to have the Dean(s) share their desire to launch # new programs in front of the Curriculum Development team which responded with “…we need to create a project calendar to see how this can fit into our existing workload…”
And then we saw Curriculum Development turn to Finance and say “…we might need new staff to handle the load…”
Which was followed by serious conversations about project management, budgeting, prioritizing…
At the end of the workshop we had a go-to-market action plan but for the first time we had everyone on board with the same vision along with a clear understanding of how their work impacted others. Communication improved because [ex] when the Dean(s) had an idea for a new program, they knew they really needed to talk with several people and get their buy-in so the action plan could be amended to reflect this addition.
We also saw deeper understanding and greater tolerance. When siloed like we were, it’s natural for some to assume that “…no one is as busy as I am…” – but with this workshop, we had almost every participant have an “A-ha!” moment where they learned that someone did something that was unknown. Those “I didn’t know you had to do that too” moments were critical to long-term success!
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.