Building an institution worthy of its history: the evergreen strategic plan at Widener University: faculty and staff began to see accreditation (and accountability) as something truly meaningful.
--Andy Warhol (1975, p. 111)
From its founding as a Quaker school for boys to its evolution into a military school and, ultimately, into the thriving coeducational civilian institution it is today, Widener University has been no stranger to change and transition. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that although it had a mission statement and goals, prior to 2004 the university had never been through an inclusive and meaningful strategic planning process that had serious implications for the future of the institution.
Inherent in such a historical oddity, perhaps, are the competing institutional priorities for both stability and flexibility. While committed to the "evergreen" or evolving nature of a new strategic plan, we also wanted to prevent the perception of whimsy that sabotages so many plans--that they serve as merely a set of good ideas until the next idee du jour comes along. On the other hand, we also wanted the plan to be sufficiently flexible to allow us to take advantage of conditions that might better position the institution to live its mission and vision. Ultimately, we learned that planning the implementation of the plan as it evolves is as critical as planning its development, funding, assessment, and next steps--all leading to the culmination of declaring the victory of meeting goal after goal.
In this article, we describe Widener's accomplishments in developing and implementing its strategic plan, Vision 2015, as a hallmark of the institution's contemporary culture and a driver of its extraordinary achievements. We first describe the process of developing the strategic plan, then articulate the evolution of the plan's influence as we developed clear links to the budget and supports for assessment, reaccreditation, and, now, a comprehensive campaign. We focus on the mechanisms and processes in place that protect the key features of the plan while also inserting some flexibility for contingencies, greater transparency and inclusion, and opportunities for advancing the institutional mission and vision--all managed as transitions in the evolution of the 10-year strategic plan. In addition, we describe the ongoing assessment of our progress as a critical feature of implementation that also promotes both flexibility and stability. We conclude with lessons learned about managing transitions in the evolving strategic plan and our expectations for what will follow when we close out Vision 2015 and move into a new planning cycle.
Developing the Plan
When a new president, Dr. James T Harris, III, was hired in 2002, the Board of Trustees was looking for a leader who would take the university to the proverbial "next level" One of President Harris's first actions was to assemble a strategic planning committee of faculty, staff, and students that would facilitate and coordinate the first comprehensive planning process in Widener's history. Although a new president instituting a planning process upon his or her arrival is not unusual in higher education, it was traumatic for a university community that had had only two presidents in the prior 45 years and that was very comfortable with the status quo.
Widener's history with strategic planning is, perhaps, not really so different from such histories at other institutions. Prior plans at Widener were completed by top-level administrators with little or no involvement from the rest of the campus, and after approval by the Board of Trustees, the plans were not widely disseminated to the Widener community. The last plan was completed in the mid-1990s but was not communicated or monitored. As a result, President Harris and the Strategic Planning Committee (committee) had to initially educate the university community, stress the need for and benefits of a comprehensive strategic planning effort, and create the necessary sense of urgency.
Realizing we were introducing planning in a much more concerted way, we turned to the research and advice of several authors. The two works we used most extensively in guiding our processes were High Impact Tools and Activities for Strategic Planning (Napier, Sidle, and Sanaghan 1998) and Intentional Design & The Process of Change (Sanaghan and Napier 2002). Following their advice, we charged a 16-member committee in September 2002 with the task of "planning to plan": identifying the goals of the process, best practices in planning, a planning timetable, and the processes for engaging all constituencies in the Widener community in the development of the plan. With the assistance of planning and change management expert Rod Napier, the committee spent time discussing why some strategic plans succeed and others fail, concluding that a long-term commitment from top leadership and a budget process aligned with the planning process were essential elements of a successful strategic plan. Given the steep drop in enrollment and the overall general stagnation of the last decade, it was decided that a longer-than-usual planning time frame was required, so a 10-year planning horizon was selected and approved by the Board of Trustees. This discussion and the two-academic-year planning timetable led the committee to conclude that the goal of the process was not only to develop a strategic plan, but also, more importantly, to institute the beginning of a culture change within the university community. This culture change would require a planning process that was (1) inclusive, collaborative, and transparent; (2) communicated widely, encouraging both discourse and feedback; (3) clear about accountability; and (4) directly aligned with the university's budgeting process.
The strategic planning process followed by Widener is shown in figure 1, and it contained many of the standard steps followed in developing a strategic plan. An environmental scan (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis) of both internal and external factors was completed by 12 groups of faculty, staff, and students to assess the university's current state. The results of this scan were then used as a basis for discussion in a visioning conference, the purpose of which was to address a variety of issues central to developing priorities for Widener's future. To capture the broadest range of thinking, Board of Trustee members, alumni, faculty, staff, and students, as well as local business, community, and political leaders, were invited to the visioning conference. The output from that conference led to the drafting of vision and mission statements, which then led to the formulation of goals, objectives, and action steps that supported the vision and mission. This last step was accomplished through the creation of goal and objective committees (13 "GO Teams" of 10 to 15 members, each focused on one of the goals), whose charge, in the context of the vision and mission, was to identify the gaps between the present state and the desired future state and to create operational objectives and action steps that would lead to a successful achievement of that GO team's goal. The process culminated in the Vision 2015 strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2004.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Inclusiveness and transparency were priorities of the plan's architects, and over 400 of the university's 1,000 full-time employees were directly involved in various subcommittees, with hundreds of others participating in town hall meetings, faculty and staff meetings, plan walkthroughs, open mic meetings, and brown-bag lunches during every step of the process. The process was also respectful of faculty shared governance processes (although some faculty were quite chagrined that they did not get to vote on the plan), and various committee meetings were conducted in conjunction with a couple of faculty governance committees. In addition to these communication vehicles, a dedicated website and a newsletter were created to keep the Widener community informed and to provide access to all of the documents generated during every step of the planning process (environmental scan, visioning conference results, mission, vision, goals, objectives, actions steps, and feedback to each).
Two-way communication was especially important, and the establishment of a feedback process was essential. It should be noted that every step in figure 1 that generated a study or a document was immediately followed by a step that sought input from the community, and multiple loops occurred between the two steps as the documents were revised as a result of the feedback. Starting with the vision, mission, and goals and continuing with the objectives and action steps within each goal, every initial document was revised at least once as a result of the community feedback. These changes not only resulted in community buy-in, but also started to establish a culture where feedback and discussion were valued, heard, and acted upon.
Figure 2 Widener University Mission, Vision, and Goals MISSION As a leading metropolitan university, we achieve our mission at Widener by creating a learning environment where curricula are connected to societal issues through civic engagement. WE LEAD by providing a unique combination of liberal arts and professional education in a challenging, scholarly, and culturally diverse academic community. WE ENGAGE our students through dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, and experiential learning. WE INSPIRE our students to be citizens of character who demonstrate professional and civic leadership. WE CONTRIBUTE to the vitality and well-being of the communities we serve. VISION Widener aspires to be the nation's preeminent metropolitan university, recognized for an unparalleled academic environment, innovative approaches to learning, active scholarship, and the preparation of students for responsible citizenship in a global society..
The two-year planning effort resulted in both a compelling vision for Widener as it aspires to be the nation's preeminent metropolitan institution (see figure 2) and a reevaluation of the university's existing mission and goals. The new vision, mission, and goals reinforced the institution's long-term commitment to the community through a renewed focus on civic engagement, diversity, experiential learning, and leadership. Ultimately, Widener's first comprehensive strategic plan, Vision 2015, was a 10-year plan that identified 13 goals, multiple objectives within each goal, and priority action steps for each objective. The template used to capture the final copy of the plan helps to demonstrate how the action steps connect with assessment, accountability, and resources (see figure 3).
Phase I: Implementing the Plan and Earning Reaccreditation
Following the Board of Trustees' approval of the Vision 2015 plan in 2004, the senior leaders of the institution were committed to promoting a disciplined approach to implementing the plan and quickly discovered the first meaningful challenge that could derail it. Undetected in the plan's creation was the overlap of many of the steps' contexts and desired outcomes with the reaccreditation standards of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Widener's regional accreditation body. While a large group of faculty and staff had been working on the strategic plan, a smaller committee had been working separately on the institutional self-study for the upcoming Middle States reaccreditation. When that self-study committee's work was presented to the new provost, Jo Allen, to be approved and then acted upon--in effect, laying out how the institution was to be "studied" for reaccreditation--the proposed repetition of study that had already occurred in the early stages of writing the Vision 2015 plan became clear, raising a concern that conducting the reaccreditation self-study would quite likely exhaust the faculty and staff who had just expended two years of energy on the strategic planning process. We also saw a possibility that the traditional reaccreditation process could derail the implementation of the strategic plan since almost by definition accreditation requires attention to what an institution has done in the past, while a strategic plan requires attention to what an institution will do today and tomorrow. So, should the institution focus on looking backward (for the reaccreditation evidence) or forward (for the strategic plan's implementation)? There was no easy answer since reaccreditation also hinged on providing evidence that the strategic plan was being meaningfully implemented to guide decisions regarding institutional resources and directions.
Fortunately, work with staff liaison Robert Snyder from Middle States opened the opportunity for Widener to participate in a pilot project that would streamline the work of reaccreditation while honoring the institutional desire to get started on the plan's implementation. Great care was taken in bringing together the Vision 2015 plan's original creators and some new participants to coordinate the plan's implementation with the reaccreditation self-study through the reaccreditation pilot project. What Middle States required in this project was targeted attention to four of its 14 standards--effectively summarized as planning and resource allocation, financial integrity and sustainability, assessment of institutional effectiveness, and assessment of student learning outcomes--while documenting evidence that we met the other 10 standards.
In spite of the possibility that the pilot project approach would reduce redundancy of labor and exhaustion of faculty and staff, it would be quite a stretch to characterize this new direction as a "relief," given the newness of the proposed pilot procedure and the incredibly high stakes of institutional reaccreditation on the line. That said, given that we had Middle States' articulation of what it wanted, we could either take the organization at its word and proceed accordingly or retrench and pursue the old way of doing things. We decided to move forward with the pilot project.
The alignment of the work of the four reaccreditation task forces with the four mandatory standards was highly intense (we all knew the stakes) but ultimately quite rewarding, primarily because each task force was free to address its standard in whatever way was most meaningful to the university. Consequently, the financial planning group presented a rather standard chapter on resources and analysis, but the student learning assessment task force presented case studies from the various schools/colleges and discussed how its findings would move the university forward. Ultimately, two achievements emerged: (1) we continued the commitment to implementing the Vision 2015 plan while achieving reaccreditation, and (2) faculty and staff began to see accreditation (and accountability) as something truly meaningful to institutional conversations about the future.
As part of that first phase, we also began our assessment process, devising a "traffic light" report that noted green lights for in-process or ongoing steps; yellow lights for steps that were causes of some concern; and red lights for steps that had not been addressed, that had been re-prioritized as a result of current conditions, or that faced considerable, and likely insurmountable, obstacles. We continue to conduct this assessment annually and present the results to our Board of Trustees at its fall retreat. In time, we have added two more lights, totally throwing off the clever traffic light analogy but necessary nonetheless: a blue light for action steps that are completed and do not need to be revised (e.g., the establishment of a committee to review assessment data or the completion of a campaign planning process) and a purple light for action steps that we want to signal to the board will probably be eliminated in the next iteration of the report and the plan.
Phase II: Alignment of Unit Plans
The next phase of implementing Vision 2015 required the development of the various school, college, and operational unit plans and their alignment with the university plan. The opportunity to create their own plans in some ways assuaged faculty who had resented not being allowed to vote on the university plan, not understanding that it was the Board of Trustees' plan for the institution.
The steering committee of this phase of Vision 2015, comprised of the co-chairs and reviewers from each unit, used its summer retreat to comb through unit plans and articulate gaps or discrepancies with the university plan. Recommendations were sent to the vice presidents of each unit, who then worked with the dean or director to massage the plans to reflect institutional priorities.
Using the same template as the one devised for the university's plan (as shown in figure 3), faculty and staff had to pay attention to measurable outcomes, accountability, time lines, and needed resources in their unit plans. As with the university plan, the greatest obstacle was the desire to "front-load" the plan, which tended to create unrealistic time lines and resource requests that could not be met. Ultimately, all unit plans were submitted to their relevant vice presidents whose approval moved those plans to the implementation stage.
Phase III: First Round of Revisions
Inherent in the "evergreen" intention of this plan is our desire that it not become a deadwood document--that we consider upping the ante, so to speak, when we meet goals early rather than simply checking them off as completed. For instance, when we hit an enrollment target early, it would have been rather simple to just note that step as "done," rather than go back into the research and analysis mode to determine what a new target should be and whether this had any further implications for other aspects of the plan or the institution's resources. We also wanted to make sure that we were not hampering our ability to respond to new information and opportunities that were in line with our mission and vision but that were, perhaps, unforeseeable when the plan was created and approved. Indeed, as one exercise in the fourth year of the plan, we developed a three-page, single-spaced list of events (both positive and negative) that had occurred since the plan's approval in 2004. Some were within our locus of control, such as the decision to open a charter school after years of little to no progress in helping the public school district (consistently rated either 500 or 501 among Pennsylvania's 501 school districts) to improve. Other events--most notably the economic downturn that began in 2008--were beyond our control but nonetheless had a daunting effect. And, finally, we also wanted to have some flexibility to eliminate action steps (but not goals) that were either unattainable or, perhaps, would jeopardize our ability to achieve other, more desirable goals or objectives.
A key factor in the planning process was the insistence that no items be modified in the first three years of implementation and assessment. The idea was to eliminate any quick determination that an action step was too tough to pursue. By keeping a challenging action step in, we had the opportunity to revisit it at least annually (if not substantially more often) to see if circumstances had changed to make it possible. For example, we specifically flagged the action step on academic quality that tied assessment of student learning outcomes to teaching evaluations, given that the effort to initiate assessment activities was going to be provocative enough without tying it to evaluations. Nonetheless, we left that action step in the plan for three years, using it as a good example of the kinds of changes that would be edited, thus contributing to the evergreen nature of the plan.
Another example of a revision was that we reduced the expected percentage of alumni contributors, following national trends and our own tracking that suggested our initial target was unreasonable. We also deleted a financial goal to improve our bond rating because we needed to build a residence hall with bond funding--a nice testimony to the impact of our strategic plan's enrollment goals that we did not anticipate meeting so quickly. In that instance, we realized that trying to hold onto the goal of an enhanced bond rating would have crippled our enrollment goals. As a tuition-dependent institution, Widener's enrollment and residential offerings are more critical to our success than a bond rating. (Interestingly, because of our success with the plan--both in terms of discipline and outcomes--our current bond rating has actually been solidified.)
Phase IV: Reality Check and Revisions: Same Song, Different Verse
Following the fourth year's focus on initial revisions (which were ultimately presented to and approved by the Board of Trustees), we designed the next phase of the implementation to be both a celebration and a reality check. As the fifth year of a 10-year plan, phase IV brought together participants (both experienced and new) to focus on each goal and summarize its attainability in five more years. With each team assigned one goal, we set the context for their work in this fashion: "We are at the midpoint of our 10-year plan. If you imagine the university's future out to 2015 as the 10-year mark (the end zone, so to speak) and looked back at where we are today, what would have to happen to be able to declare victory on your goal?" This perspective was illuminating because, far beyond the annual assessment of what we were doing to accomplish any particular set of action steps, this context required that we ask the tougher question: Are we doing enough? Equally important was that this phase required us to evaluate more than the action steps--it required us to evaluate the actual goal, ensuring that the action steps created five years ago were actually going to get us to the goal.
In this phase and given this context, we asked teams to answer two simple questions:
1. Are we on track to succeed with this goal?
2. If so, what must we do to stay on track and what must we complete over the next five years? And, if not, what must we do to get back on track and what must we complete over the next five years?
Teams met for several months, looking at five years' worth of assessments of the plan's implementation (our red, yellow, and green light reports) and requesting data from other sources as needed (e.g., enrollment, budget, assessment, facilities operations). Ultimately, our summer retreat brought the teams' leaders and interested participants together for the five-year reality check. In sum, yes, we were on track with every goal. But, unsurprisingly, some tinkering needed to happen regarding efforts, resources, and desired outcomes. In presenting these changes to the community via campuswide presentations (town halls and faculty meetings) as well as through senior leadership team meetings and our annual Planning Day (which brings together senior leaders and faculty from three key governance committees to set budget priorities for the upcoming year), we gained the support of the campus and kept constituents informed.
Related Processes that Intersect with the Plan: The Comprehensive Campaign
As the Vision 2015 plan was evolving in its implementation and content, we also began to analyze where we stood in designing and launching a comprehensive campaign. The campaign's two-year planning process, typical for many campaigns, involved evaluating potential lead gifts; determining the priorities for gifts; and assessing the institution's board, staff, and alumni readiness for a campaign. Unlike many other campaigns, however, we wanted to apply key elements of the model we had developed for strategic planning to the creation and implementation of the campaign--specifically by including the faculty and staff, as well as donors, board members, and alumni, in articulating messages and setting priorities and goals. The result is a campaign whose priorities mirror the strategic plan, that has the buy-in of all stakeholders, and that has claimed strong support (and donations) even in difficult economic times. We launched the public phase of our $58 million campaign after only 18 months of silent work, benefiting from having honed our campaign message via the strategic planning process. Further, we are using evidence from our assessments of both institutional effectiveness and student learning outcomes to have pivotal conversations with donors about what their gifts will help us achieve. This culture of informed decision making, inclusion, accountability, and shared rewards is routinely practiced and thus more sustainable; we believe we will conclude both the strategic plan and the campaign in strong fashion.
The Future of the Plan: Anticipated Next Steps
The next step of our plan's implementation is the analysis required for our Middle States Periodic Review Report (PRR), due in June 2012. Again, our analyses and documented achievements of where we are with the Vision 2015 plan are the key elements for addressing our accreditors, as we are focusing on the same four standards as in the original reaccreditation report of 2007: planning, resource allocation, and institutional renewal; institutional resources; institutional assessment; and assessment of student learning. For each standard, we have appointed a task force and asked it to review the relevant segment of the university's 2007 reaccreditation report and draft a follow-up for the 2012 report. Realizing that the drafts will need to be tweaked, we nonetheless hope to have a rather seamless connection between initial and final drafts without the typical angst of reaccreditation or the panic of meeting the submission deadline.
Lessons Learned: Designing and Managing the Transitions
Part of the strength of our strategic planning process, implementation, assessment, revisions, and evolution into other projects such as the campaign is the careful crafting of transition phases that link annual activities, new and experienced voices, and ongoing accountability. Spreading this philosophy and culture of institutional renewal has required a sustainable commitment to analyzing the health of the institution and taking corrective action, while also streamlining processes to make more use of important data and critical improvement efforts.
The best means of starting any planning process, whether a strategic plan, academic plan, enrollment plan, financial plan, or campaign plan, is to introduce the effort with a recapping of the results of the prior plan. For those institutions--like Widener--that do not have the luxury of being able to point to results of prior successful planning processes and implementations, whether through lack of follow-through, accountability, transparency, and/or resources, here are some key lessons we learned about managing the plan's transitions:
* Set the expectation that although the plan is a 10-year (or however long) commitment, there will be numerous phases of implementation, assessment, revision, and renewal. We have managed to design a new phase for each year of the plan, although some phases have had a full year for action while others have had only a semester. Keeping that evolution of phases in front of the entire campus has clarified that the plan is a breathing, evolving document--not a report written, shelved, and forgotten.
* Be critical and conscientious in changing the inclusion of participants. While we have had experienced participants involved in every phase, we have also
mixed it up each time, including some people from initial phases to work on the revision phase, some who were engaged in their unit's planning to work on the reaccreditation documents, and so on. Other than the two co-chairs, only a very small number of faculty and staff (probably fewer than five) have served on every phase of the plan, and those individuals have served different roles in the context of substantially larger groups.
* Be judicious and transparent about how and why participants are selected. We agreed on one central quality that every participant on a task force or team must possess: a stated and evidence-based commitment to the mission, vision, and goals of the plan. Other than that, we have laid out in a template multiple but very clear criteria for selecting individuals to participate in each phase:
--A mix of institutional roles (faculty, staff, administration, student) to prevent the plan's being perceived as just academic or just operational
--Diversity in gender and race (especially since diversity is one of our goals)
--Representative senior contributors for institutional memory and commitment
--Representative junior contributors for generational buy-in and fresh perspectives
--Experience with planning and assessment to carry the message that planning is significant and valued and that the activities and impact of the plan would be routinely measured
--Leadership/followership to balance the planning and fulfillment of tasks associated with each phase's charge
--Personal/professional expertise to bring authentic review and analysis to various elements of the plan (e.g., including faculty from budgeting and accounting on the financial goals, staff from enrollment management on the enrollment goals, staff from leadership initiatives on the leadership goal)
--Unit/school balance to ensure representation to and from the various task forces and the rest of the campus
--Campus homebases because, with four campuses in two states, it would be all too easy for this to become "the main campus's plan," as opposed to the university's plan
* Plan timely retreats to assess where you are and report findings. It is a fact of the academy that nobody is on the same clock. With students and faculty members typically tied up until mid-afternoon and less available in the summers, it is imperative to set meeting times as early in each phase as possible. We found that announcing the date of the summer retreat when the teams themselves were announced was the best way to ensure as much participation in these "findings sessions" as we could hope for. A clear agenda with precise meeting designs that would elicit the kinds of feedback and information exchanges we could really use was also critical in trying to ensure that participants felt their time and efforts were both valued and respected.
* Design (or redesign) the budgeting request and allocation processes to clearly align them with the strategic plan's priorities in all its phases. We redesigned the university's budget request form so that submissions had to address the relationship between the request and our strategic initiatives. In our annual Planning Day that brings together constituents from all the campuses, we again reference the strategic plan in articulating funding requests and making decisions. We are convinced not only that this kind of alignment sends the message that we are serious about the plan's centrality to our decisions, but also that it has been instrumental in promoting the culture of planning we wanted to create. As a result, participants in each phase of the plan's implementation and assessment see their work as valuable and central to the university's progress.
* Celebrate milestones. Every year for us was an annual milestone as we completed the red, yellow, and green light reports analyzing where we were with each action step. We did not, however, celebrate every year's analysis, nor did we celebrate the completion of every phase. But we should have. We managed in small ways (nice lunches, occasional dinners, and public expressions of gratitude) to acknowledge these achievements, and we did consistently report out to our constituents where we were with the plan's implementation. But we wish we had done more. Following our reaccreditation's affirmation, for instance, we held an exquisite champagne reception for participants. We wish we had done that more often (though perhaps in a smaller way), rather than just at the critical junctures.
* Keep the faculty at the core of the phases, if at all possible. Schedules are difficult to manage, of course, but if faculty do not buy in to the process, then the strategic plan is likely to make very little difference in the culture of the institution. The faculty are also most likely to vocalize their suspicions of the plan and its process, especially if they have not been included in prior planning efforts or have witnessed the dust accumulating on the last plan. Their participation is critical to a well-informed plan, so bringing them onboard in large numbers is often key to their buy-in.
* Include campus experts in key elements of the plan, its implementation, and its assessment. However, it is crucial that these experts be included as resources, not as controllers. There is a bit of cynicism about "the fox guarding the henhouse," for instance, when a strategic plan's goal of managing enrollments is monitored exclusively by members of the enrollment services operation. Similarly, academic goals will benefit from the inclusion of students and staff members, as well as faculty. That said, experts with data in hand should overrule perception and supposition, bringing their data to the attention of the plan's chairs or the president.
* Vary the sizes and time lines of the task forces by charge and phase. The size of the task force should reflect the amount of input and review desired for each phase. Some of our phases had well over 100 participants, while some had as few as 40. Mixing a short burst of activity for a tight corps of participants with a longer sustained activity of widely representative numbers helps to prevent plan fatigue while also ensuring deep analysis and transparency. The key is sending a message that not every phase is equal, since they rarely are--some are simply more critical than others, some require more time and effort, some require more voices and opportunities for expression, and some require more urgency and direction. And under- or overstating any aspect of the plan's importance may fuel cynicism and reluctance to participate.
* Be realistic about the support needed for completing each phase. We have tried to design assignments so that no one can realistically assert a need for released time or secretarial support to complete his or her charge. We are especially adamant about not providing additional compensation for this work. Instead, we have been unwavering in our message that planning is of singular value to the mission and work of the institution. It is, in short, what educators and staff of well-run institutions do. While we certainly include extraordinary participation in considerations of merit pay and public gratitude, we have found that each task force through these first five phases has been able to complete its charge in extraordinary fashion with no additional compensation. Our singular acquiescence on this point was for the faculty co-chairs managing, documenting, checking, and editing the Middle States reaccreditation report, whose request for a single course reduction was certainly reasonable given that their commitment was clearly beyond the scope of traditional service to the institution. Notably, no one disagreed with that decision.
If there is a last word that should guide the transitions, it has to be "communicate!" In all phases of the plan's development, implementation, assessment, and revision, we have worked to communicate where we are, how and why we are making changes, and who is involved in the process. Reports on findings have been made as public as possible. It would be almost impossible for someone to claim they do not know about our plan or its significance to Widener. From our budgeting decisions to our campaign, and from innovations for programming, hiring, and marketing to unwavering commitments to our mission, vision, and goals, we consistently reference the strategic plan as our guide. In fact, as visible as this plan has been in driving all sorts of daily, periodic, and annual decisions and even in light of the 400-plus participants involved in the plan's creation, we anticipate an even greater participation rate in our next plan.
The Final Transition: From this Plan to the Next
The next couple of years will focus on two more key transitions: closing out this plan and creating the next one. We are trying to keep our focus on that first assignment--closing out a plan by declaring victory on each of our 13 goals--but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we do not want to wake up on July 1, 2015, with no plan for moving forward. Balancing the need to inspire constituents to finish what we started with the need to build enthusiasm for envisioning the next evolution in Widener's unique history will be a challenge. In the end, however, we are confident that we can manage that transition as well because we have sowed the seeds of evolutionary progress along with the expectation of success.
He wasn't talking about strategic planning, of course, but Sir Winston Churchill's (1921-22) comments about progress are clearly applicable here. He said, Every day you may make progress.
Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.
Through our work with colleagues across the university, we have found tremendous joy and glory in this climb, and we are extraordinarily proud that the institution we are all working to create is worthy of its history and eager for its future.
Churchill, W. 1921-22. Painting as a Pastime. Strand Magazine, December-January.
Napier, R., C. Sidle, and P Sanaghan. 1998. High Impact Tools and Activities for Strategic Planning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sanaghan, P, and R. Napier. 2002. Intentional Design & The Process of Change. Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Warhol, A. 1975. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. Orlando: Harcourt.
Jo Allen is the eighth president of Meredith College, established in 1891. She is nationally known for her publications and other work in assessment and strategic planning, bringing together processes that align planning with budgets, assessment, and fund- and friend-raising. She is the former senior vice president and provost of Widener University.
Joseph J. Baker has been the senior vice president, administration and finance at Widener University for the last 12 years and has been involved in the strategic planning effort at Widener since the beginning of the planning process in 2002. He is currently responsible for the financial, operations and maintenance, technology, athletics, campus safety, enrollment management, and human resources functions at Widener. Prior to joining Widener, he worked in the financial areas of several insurance companies; he is a certified public accountant and received his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
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|Author:||Allen, Jo; Baker, Joseph J.|
|Publication:||Planning for Higher Education|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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