5 Strategic Planning Detours You Must Avoid

Vol. 15 No. 1

trustees eletter vol15 no1 planma

When in the process of strategic planning for your school, you want to continue the favorable growth of your school. In conducting this session, however, don’t allow the momentum of understandably favorable feelings to sidetrack your process from a truly strategic path.

You might, for example, spend too much time discussing interesting and positive accomplishments—or give them undue priority when approving items for the plan. Such detours can lead to a planning document that is too broad and unfocused. Make it a priority to emphasize the Board’s goal—viability for the future. Is each item “merely important” or strategic, specifically focused on enhancing the school’s stability and solvency?

With this in mind, be wary of the following five detours, which can distract Boards from a strategic focus and sidetrack this critical process.

  • Detour No. 1: Rely heavily on constituent opinion when identifying and prioritizing planning items. What constituents think can matter, but it is often overemphasized. Surveys targeting students, parents, alumni, and teachers can provide data before your planning session. During your planning retreat, however, don’t allow the survey results to sidetrack your efforts. Your retreat is not the time to bask in your surveys top-rated areas, unfavorable results, and other “interesting” data. Consider only the strategic implications of your survey results as you craft and determine your planning items.
  • Detour No. 2: Emphasize student programs. It is the role of the School Head, not Trustees, to administer student programs and manage faculty. Some components of student programs may, for a particular school, be strategic because they have an impact on the school’s market niche (e.g., strengthening the advisory program). More often than not, these items are “merely important.”
  • Detour No. 3: Become preoccupied with what competitor schools are doing. The external environment merits awareness, but the Board’s strategic emphasis is internal. Make your school strong and distinctive, and market these strengths and distinctions. Don’t become distracted by trying to develop your version of what a competitor school across town is doing. Too much external “scanning” can dilute fulfillment of your school’s mission and diminish the quality and amount of strategic attention to the institutional health of your school.
  • Detour No. 4: Place excess focus on capital items. Like student programs, new or renovated buildings or other large-scale capital improvements can garner too much attention during the strategic planning process. It’s the Board’s responsibility to identify the full range of strategic variable—concern over capital items can obscure the real problems.
  • Detour No. 5: Ignore the cost and impact on tuition levels of noncapital planning items. A strategic plan that lacks two components—the cost of the item and the source of revenue to cover the cost (including any impact on tuition)—becomes no more than a “wish list.” Such a list typically has a short shelf life because, after the initial enthusiasm fades, it provides little direction and clarity for creating annual Board and administrative agendas. Ultimately, this hampers fulfillment of the school’s vision across the life of the planning document.

When you move into strategic planning, keep the emphasis on items that move your school forward—and beware of detours! Your planning retreat should be characterized by enthusiasm and an affirming view of the school’s future. Focus on creating a prioritized set of truly strategic planning items—and a statement about their likely costs. This contributes to a different kind of positive emotion: gratitude for your strategic prudence and discipline for your future Board members.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 10Planning Your Annual Summer Board Retreat
The Source for Trustees Vol. 12 No. 3 Enhance Future Strategic Planning Efforts

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 38 No. 8 Salvaging a Constituency-Based Planning Document: Six Steps
I&P Vol. 35 No. 2 A Sample Strategic Plan (Including a Capital Campaign)

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