Strategic Challenges and Strategic Planning
LCC is taking a different approach to developing a strategic plan. “Strategic planning” in higher education has often been an exercise performed every 5 years or so by leadership with the assistance of either consultants or specialized staff. The result of these planning activities has generally been comprehensive “strategic plans”, documents full of detailed data analyses and projections for the coming 5 years or so that purported to identify the priorities for the institution for the next 5 years. In practice such “strategic plans” functioned more as long-run 5 year master plans, emphasizing “plan” over “strategy”. This traditional approach to strategic planning is useful if the future is predictable and the environment is changing drastically. Today is not such a time. The future for higher education is extremely unpredictable and the environment is changing rapidly.
Not the Traditional Strategic Planning
A different approach to strategic planning is required, an approach that emphasizes challenges, changes, and building on strengths to meet those challenges. We will emphasize and develop creative strategies for thriving in a rapidly changing environment. We will de-emphasize grand, long-run master plans focused on internal issues. In a rapidly changing environment, detailed master plans soon get outdated and put on the shelf. Instead, in keeping with our status as an AQIP school, we want to emphasize developing a creative strategies for thriving in the face of our major challenges. These strategies will be targeted at helping us face our challenges. Instead of being detailed project plans themselves, these strategies will guide us as we strive for continuous improvement through further AQIP Action Projects and other shorter-term action projects.
Our approach to strategic planning is built around four elements:
- Conversations: We want to go beyond “getting input”. We want to engage all our stake-holders in an active and thorough conversation – a real back-and-forth. We want involvement, ideas, and consideration from all internal members: our Leadership, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the entire staff, part-timers and full-timers. We also want to hear from and engage with the communities we serve: our students, past, present, and future; the employer, business, and professional communities that hire our students; the schools to whom our students transfer to further their studies; the broader community which supports us with tax monies including both our Lansing district and the state of Michigan. We are engaging in numerous forums where we can hold these conversations face-to-face. This website is the center of those conversations.
- Challenges: Before deciding on particular strategies or solutions, we want to make sure we know what our challenges are – the problems we need to solve. A “strategic challenge” is some trend, external change, internal tension, or competitive threat that demands major change in how we do things. Strategic challenges demand our attention because they are threatening and often require innovation to overcome. They threaten our ability to fulfill our mission or even to continue to exist. We speak more about what a “strategic challenge” is in our first briefing paper.
- Creative Strategies: Overcoming challenges requires creativity. Strategies are the principles and ideas for using our strengths to thrive despite the changes that threaten us. Our strategies will not consist of a set of detailed long-term goals or plans. Instead our strategies will be a set of novel ideas, concepts, or solutions about how we can adapt to our challenges. Instead of developing a strategic plan that is static and “in effect” for the next five years until revised again, we will develop a set of strategies for dealing with our challenges in novel ways. As our challenges evolve, so will our strategies.
- Integrated Planning Processes: Our strategies will inform and guide. Instead of the strategic plan being a separate document and process from operating plans and budgets, our strategies will inform our regular operating, budgetary, and academic planning processes.
1. Strategic Challenges
LCC has launched an AQIP Action Plan aimed at implementing this new approach to strategic planning. Actually we will completing two separate AQIP Action Projects in sequence. The first project, called Strategic Challenges, is built around the first two elements above, Conversations and Challenges. In many ways, this project is similar to the “situation analysis” of traditional strategic planning. The key differences are that we emphasizing broad involvement in conversations with both internal and external communities. We want to achieve a consensus understanding about the forces, trends, technology changes, and issues facing Lansing Community College as we move forward.
The Strategic Challenges project will proceed in three phases. The first phase, involves preparing a series of briefing papers. Each paper will examine some trends, technology changes, regulatory changes, or insights into ourselves. These briefing papers on the New Realities, New Rules, and Mirror will form the starting point for conversations and discussions, the second phase. These conversations will be conducted both online on this website and also in person in internal meetings and forums with external communities. We will explore the implications of the changing environment for LCC in these conversations.
Finally, in the last phase we will synthesize and summarize what we’ve learned from the briefings and conversations. In this last phase we will identify the 5-6 critical challenges that demand significant change and/or choices if LCC is to thrive into the future. We will not lose track of any other issues raised during the converations. Instead issues that are discussed but that don’t rise to the level of “strategic” will be summarized to provide input to regular planning processes. Once we have identified the 5-6 Strategic Challenges facing LCC, we will have completed the first project, the Strategic Challenges project. We anticipate completion of the Strategic Challenges Project in mid-Spring semester 2012 when we will engage the LCC leadership, faculty, and staff in a college summit to discuss the challenges identified and begin the process of planning how to meet them.
2. Strategic Planning
Looking ahead, the completion of the Strategic Challenges Project sets the stage and provides the input for the Strategic Planning Project. In this project, we will focus on the other two elements, Creative Strategies and Integrated Planning Processes. More specifics on the processes involved in the Strategic Planning Project will be forthcoming when we get there. In broad terms though it will look something like the following diagram:
The reason for separating these two projects is to ensure we truly understand the nature of the challenges facing us. One key to truly successful strategies among high-performing organizations is understanding the dynamics and nature of the challenges the organization faces. We want to ensure that we spend enough time truly understanding our challenges without the distraction of evaluating possible solutions. Moving too fast to developing solutions and plans before the problem is fully understood is a risk we want to avoid.
A second key to successful strategy implementation in high-performing organizations is consensus and ownership of the strategy by all. By involving everybody up front in the conversations about our challenges, we hope to not only expand our knowledge base, but to lay the foundation for acceptance and ownership of the strategies we later develop. Involving everyone in the conversation about our challenges and, eventually, our strategies will make us more agile and better able to successfully meet those challenges.