Posted June 4, 2013 by Justin Camputaro 

Strategic Planning Isn’t Rocket Science

The academic year is over, so for those of us in higher education, of course, that means it’s time to begin thinking about next year. For many of us, this time of year means vacation and getting to breath after a long, exciting, and often challenging academic year. But it also means we need to spend intentional time preparing for the upcoming academic year. It seems that our breaks have gotten shorter and shorter every year as planning kicks in right as the year ends. This includes, strategic planning.

Last year, our department underwent a full strategic planning cycle as we developed our 2012–2018 strategic plan. We took our annual leadership team retreat, brought in a consultant from our campus professional development office, and spent two days working through and developing the basic elements of what would become our new six-year plan.

But let me back up a bit, as I’m getting ahead of myself. The first question to ask is: “Why do a strategic plan in the first place?” If you think about your staff and the myriad of responsibilities they have on a daily basis, with no clear direction as a full department, those responsibilities could have everyone moving in different directions.

Strategic planning is how you can help focus a staff. This visual shows how the department’s values, mission, and vision can get everyone moving forward in a parallel direction and as one cohesive unit. Once everyone has a shared purpose for the work they are doing and how their individual responsibilities fit into the bigger picture, the strategic plan kicks in. The strategies, tactics, and actions of the department are what the individual areas take into account to make final decisions on priorities for their respective areas. As Roy Disney once said, “It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.”

Now that we all understand how a strategic plan helps us from a global organizational perspective, how do we get there? There are many different core tools (these are just a few) for developing a formal strategic plan. Each can assist you in your process, and there is no perfect answer to which to use, we each must find a solution that works best for our organization.

So back to where I left off about our strategy. We knew that the university was just finishing up their own strategic plan and that our division had also embarked on developing theirs. We had access to drafts of both, which we used as starting points. From there, our facilitator took us through a series of exercises as a leadership team (and some students from our programming board and student government as we oversee those areas) that ultimately led us to seven core areas. These exercises were fairly simple that included small group conversations, brainstorming of ideas regarding what is important to our future successes, coupling themes, and narrowing the themes down to our final list.

Over the next few weeks, we pulled together small groups, each of which tackled a single priority section. The groups developed basic descriptions of the priority, specific and measurable outcomes, and recommended action steps. These all went through another round of feedback from the full leadership team and our entire department, including student leader feedback, and viola, we now have our 2012–18 strategic plan.

This past year, each of our units have identified how they will contribute to the accomplishment of this plan, and they have been incorporated all the way down into individual performance plans. As we move into our planning this year's retreat, we will discuss even further how we will operationalize these priorities and how we will continue to monitor our department’s progress.

This is not rocket science. Yes, there are definitely formal exercises that simplify the process and help get down to the final product. However, what I have found is that the most important part is including the right individuals who can best represent and then implement the final strategic plan on behalf of the organization.

There are many reasons for undergoing strategic planning, including developing a multi-year strategic plan, developing financial strategies, programming strategies, etc. ACUI specifies as part of the Planning core competency that understanding strategic planning is pivotal to the success of an union and activities professional.

Have you done strategic planning? What nuggets of advice can you offer to those who are about to begin?

Justin Camputaro

Justin Camputaro is the Director of the HUB at University of Washington.


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