Pennsylvania State University Strategic Planning Discussion
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Finalizing a strategic planning process that informs the new road map an organization will follow to create its unique position and vision for the future is a mammoth accomplishment and one that would seemingly lead to a well-deserved sigh of relief. But anyone who has been involved in a strategic planning process knows the more challenging work begins in formalizing the plan and managing the many factors the new direction will affect—the culture, changes, risks, communications, and stakeholders. Authors Michael Allison and Jude Kaye explain in Strategic Planning for NonProfit Organizations: A Practical Guide for Dynamic Times the greatest mistakes in formalizing a strategic plan are “failure to translate strategies into operational plans, resistance to change, lack of specificity, losing focus, and failure to adapt to external developments.”I concur with Allison’s and Kaye’s findings. In my experience, the two most challenging aspects to navigate are resistance to change and communications, both of which ultimately influence the culture. After all, as Peter Drucker so eloquently stated and then Mark Fields of Ford subsequently made famous, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”As I shared in this class in previous discussions, JFCS has had our fair share of challenges in adopting new strategies. Perhaps the greatest came from opening our Enrichment Center. Our “if you build it, they will come” philosophy has proven to be true from an external perspective, which is certainly an achievement to celebrate and foster. However, a portion of our staff working at other locations did not respond favorably to what they perceived as an inequity in work spaces and an emphasis on services other than those they are carrying out in the community. This uncovered a weakness in our cultural competence that we are currently addressing, but we cannot deny the damage that has been done because we did not anticipate the risks of building a state-of-the-art facility where some employees (though very few) are based, while others are working in spaces that appear to be “less than.”The area in which the executive team (me included) could have done far better is communications. We should have been much clearer about the purpose of the Enrichment Center when we first set out to build it. It was never meant to be an office space for JFCS, but rather a therapeutic environment where our clients can be part of a larger community. It is a service center and one that the whole agency can use to improve outcomes for the people they serve in their respective programs.Thankfully, in the two years since we’ve opened, the culture has improved tremendously, and the staff is realizing the benefits of having this oasis for our clients to utilize. That said, as leaders of JFCS, the executive team should have communicated in the way Susan Tarandico advised in her Forbeswomen article, “5 Habits of Highly Effective Communicators.” To summarize, Tarandico recommends that leaders should align their words and their actions, keep communications simple, be authentic and visible, and know how to read the proverbial tea leaves. These are certainly words of wisdom to reference when communicating big changes, but advice all should heed when communicating even the simplest of information.I have learned a great deal from this class about strategic planning; the most relevant in this moment being implementation, anticipating and mitigating risks, and the importance of communication. I will surely know to approach things differently when rolling out new strategies and visions in the future.
After reviewing the readings in this module and thinking about my own experience, I believe that managing the implementation of the strategic plan is one of the most difficult aspects of this process. In addition to general challenges with implementation, I would also consider resistance to change as another key area that can be roadblock to successful execution. As I enter into my ninth year working full-time at La Salle, there have been two or three strategic plans that have been created and rolled out during my tenure. From my perspective, each plan was communicated fairly well in the beginning – I remember seeing multiple email announcements for each, attending a presidential town hall every time a new one was produced, and discussing the new plans in various smaller staff meetings after their introductions. While communication of the strategic plan can be a challenge, from my perspective, I believe that is one thing that my workplace has managed fairly well, at least in the initial stages. But it seems like problems appear when it comes time for execution of each new plan.Once a strategic plan is created and shared with the University community, communication about implementation seems to trail off with the end result being a lack of follow through in terms of fulfilling specific deliverables. In correlation with the Erica Olsen implementation video, I do not consider La Salle’s leadership to be especially strong in connection with the ‘accountability’ and ‘frequency’ aspects of the implementation piece. During the introduction of the most recent strategic plan my office (along with most other offices across campus) were initially asked to identify where our work aligned with some of the specific goals and objectives that were outlined in the SP and report to our department heads small steps we could take to work towards helping to achieve those goals. But after this initial request, I can’t recall any other regular or frequent follow-up or check-in related to accountability in order to monitor what type of progress was being made (or not). I believe that this lack of accountability and frequency of communication has inhibited successful implementation of La Salle’s strategic plans over the years. Not to say that none of the goals are being met, but I do think that more could be accomplished if there was a more consistent system for accountability. Speaking for my office, as we are not asked for regular updates or given formal reporting structures to use, it becomes difficult to keep the specific aspects of strategic plan at the forefront of our work, especially as each semester unfolds and student interaction/needs increase. I think that Erica Olsen’s suggestion of quarterly strategy review sessions (even done via email) would be a simple, yet effective way for my office (and the La Salle community in general) to remain accountable in terms of executing any deliverables that are related to our area of work.Additionally, I see resistance to change as another major challenge connected to successful strategic plan implementation. The idea that ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ has permeated through several organizations that I have worked or volunteered at and is a mentality that has often halted the execution of new goals or objectives. A few of the tools provided in this module resonated with me as potentially productive ways for meeting this particular challenge. I like the idea of working from the perspective of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model as it aligns with many of the tenets of the substance abuse counseling that I do in my day to day work – set small goals, create short-term wins that build confidence, and use those small successes to highlight the overall benefits to making bigger changes. Finally, I would suggest that introducing the RACI matrix into organizations that are resistant to change or have a history of not staying accountable during the implementation phase could also be beneficial. I like how the RACI plainly lays out the structure for various responsibilities related to implementation, promotes organization, and allows for each member of the team to have a clear understanding of who is to do what. I believe this last piece may help to lessen any feelings of being overwhelmed by change, as each individual can clearly identify their specific role in the process and not feel that they are responsible for everything.