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Abstract: Strategy and Leadership

The future of higher education is unclear. Polls show the public viewing universities as a positive benefit for society and as a good personal investment but worrying about the price tag, student debt load, and school responses to environmental changes. Institutions face changes such as increasing students numbers and diverse demographics; increasing competition (e.g., MOOCs, online learning, for-profit schools, training companies); increased facilities costs; legal, regulatory, and political constraints (e.g., health care, safety, completion agenda, pressure to be cost-effective); and lower state and federal funding and uncertain income streams (creating a high tuition–high aid cycle).

Technology tools include hybrid learning, advanced teleconferencing, and distance learning. Some observers say that the college business model is broken.

What Is Strategy

Strategy and management long were the same. Now strategy is an integrated set of choices, positioning an organization to deliver superior competitive value; it requires hard choices to increase odds of success, not eliminate risk. Common mistakes include defining strategy as a vision, plan, status quo optimization, or use of best practices or denying that long-term strategy is even possible. To develop strategy, managers can ask a series of questions representing a decision-making flow, sometimes with many levels of choice and interconnected decisions. This approach avoids strategy traps (e.g., do it all, something for all) and bad strategy signs (e.g., fluff, failure to face challenges, goals mistaken for strategy, bad strategic objectives).

Available strategies are affected by many factors (e.g., control, size, profit status, leadership, State laws).

Defining Challenges. Most strategy work is identifying obstacles (outcomes and processes) and ways to overcome them, including noting internal and external stakeholders, ways to deliver value, and potential growth areas. Internal and external factors drive strategy. A full strengths, weaknesses, opportunities,  and  threats (SWOT) analysis will clarify status and competitive advantages. Competitive forces (e.g.,  threat  of  new firms or substitute goods, bargaining power of suppliers or buyers, intra-industry rivalry) affect strategy; their strength must be analyzed often.  Such  large quantities  of data for culling to spot the most important data and consensus results, supporting ongoing issue-focused strategic planning.

Developing  Direction   and   Policy;   Decision   Analysis and Decision Making. A guiding policy is an overall approach to overcome obstacles; it channels  but  does not specify actions, nor does it create or exploit sources  of advantage. Decision analysis shapes strategy by reviewing options that address the value and impact of services on  institutions,  people,  and  resources.  Per Peter Drucker, deleting unproductive activities is part of adopting new strategies based on data about activities and processes. Leaders must select  a  strategy  and flexibly change it as the environment and organization change. Most institutions struggle with implementation, especially if structural changes are needed. The most effective tools include clarifying decision  rights  and getting information where it is  needed.  Leaders  must link strategy and implementation (e.g., use a simple strategy, challenge assumptions, speak the same language, discuss resource allocation early, identify priorities, continually monitor performance, develop execution skills).

Strategy Execution

Execution results from thousands of daily employee decisions based on available data and perceived self- interest. Leaders must fully communicate strategy to employees, secure stakeholder commitment, align incentives with strategy, and maintain flexibility. Neilson et al. surveyed thousands of employees (more than 1,000 institutions, more than 50 countries); at three of five organizations where employees rated execution of strategic and operational decisions as weak. Common mistakes are underestimating time, complexity, and needed communication and coordination; not fully factoring in current commitments; not anticipating system implications and pushbacks; and not seeing execution from an employee perspective.

Leverage Resources. Because nonprofit educational institutions have no bottom line, Drucker noted the need for “organized abandonment” to help overcome the resource risk issues of concentrating versus balancing resources. Using the strategy to align and allocate resources and budgets (e.g., responsibility centered budgeting) and reward strategy-related  achievements will integrate leveraging resources in daily decision- making.

Monitoring and Evaluating. Institutions must monitor and evaluate strategy, using quantitative analyses (e.g., data analyses, benchmark institution comparisons) and qualitative measures (usually stakeholder surveys).

Leaders can make small or large changes in the strategy  at any time. The frequency of ongoing monitoring depends on the nature of the organization and environment. Many institutions view metrics via a dashboard, balanced scorecard, key performance indicators, or other tools to identify trends.

Strategic Performance Measures. Strategic performance measurement is a core tool to evaluate strategy, provide information to the public, and perform better. Metrics support resource allocation, note progress, and lead to changes in behavior and performance. Effective measurement systems usually integrate into decision-making, focus on a few desired and simple metrics, lead to action, communicate selected metrics and performance targets, and recognize limitations. They span multiyear plans and budgets. Strategic performance metrics should identify a coordinated set of actions aimed at long-term improvement, include a rationale and purpose, and analyze areas that the school controls. Output is an inadequate metric because measuring quality and quantity of student learning is complex; benchmarks lie outside the institution; and some metrics can be manipulated. Performance metrics should focus on operational and capital measures and customer satisfaction, similar to APPA’s Facilities Performance Indicators (FPI.)

Accountability for Results.  Accountability,  a  way  of  life at many institutions, provides timely and useful performance data. A positive culture is necessary for effective accountability (e.g., agreement on  goals, positive focus on improvement, open dialogue, recognition of progress and strengths,  data transparency). Leaders and all stakeholders  must embrace accountability.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an ongoing  activity  that  outlines how an organization will reach and measure goals. A strategic plan addresses the entire organization for a specific timeline; a product, service, or program and utilizes a business plan. Useful models and approaches depend on leadership, culture, complexity, and environment. Strategic plans focus on allocating funds, capital, and people to serve customers, molding  the future through risk-taking decisions to build on strengths despite a changing and  competitive  external environment. Strategic planning is inherent to management, a responsibility (a way of  life)  for managers. Limited  resources  argue  for  focusing  on fewer and more limited objectives to produce larger payoffs. Steps to make strategic plans more substantive include testing assumptions in  short  experiments, banning fuzzy language, escaping template tyranny, and asking tough questions to get unscripted answers.  Keys   to strategy implementation are strengthening accountability for results (not activities) and behaviors  and cultivating employees who act like owners.

Common pitfalls are a reluctance to say no, failure to connect strategic planning to action, and vague action steps. Critical principles are to assess whether an institution is ready for strategic planning; assign the best people; engage leadership priority and decisions; involve frontline personnel (and customers); and understand that no one approach or process is perfect.

Communicating the Plan

A strategic plan must be written in a style and format that fits the institution and can be widely distributed to stakeholders. Most plans include an executive summary; vision, mission, and value statements; goals and strategies; and appendices (e.g., operating detail, data analysis, financial plan, performance measures).

Facilities  Planning.    Ideally,  facilities  planners participate in the strategy and  strategic  planning process; strategic plans often include a campus facilities master plan. Colleges must recognize that facilities and technology infrastructure plays a role in creating a sense of place and identity (for the institution, students,  alumni) and in supporting learning (e.g., amount of daylight in a classroom, space design to promote small group interactions). One important function of the facilities manager (and campus leaders) is implementing  a strategy embraced by administrators and academics campus-wide.

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