Volume 1, No. 4, Summer 1998
Welcome back! I hope you had a good summer, whether working, studying, or doing research. And I hope you had a chance to relax and enjoy the sunshine we were blessed with. The summer was a productive time for the College — a time in which new people came on board, research initiatives were developed, and undergraduate research and outreach activities flourished. You’ll be able to read about these in the following pages of the newsletter. But I’d like to personally highlight a few accomplishments:
I’d like to stress that the framework laid by the College’s strategic planning efforts played an important role in the successes I’ve mentioned. The funding approval for the Tools for Transformation projects specifically states that an important criterion was each project’s link with the stated strategic goals and themes of the College. This will be true, as well, in upcoming budget and UIF decisions. In fact, in early September, the College was requested by the President’s and Provost’s Offices to make a presentation at a strategic planning workshop for Deans, Chairs, and Directors. Our College and the College of Engineering are recognized as relatively advanced in campus strategic planning efforts, and we were asked to present our experiences of what worked what didn’t work, and what benefits resulted. I’d like to share with you a few excerpts from the presentation we made:
What’s all this fuss about planning? What is it? Why do we do it? Aren’t we in academia somehow different? The answer to that last question is "no." We aren’t different from any other system that wants to improve itself. But it’s hard work, and in a growth mode it didn’t seem as important as it does today when we are faced with new challenges, not the least of which is scarcer funding. We no longer have the luxury (if we ever did) of ignoring the larger environment in which we exist.
Like it or not, this is where we are. We have a responsibility to adapt to these challenges not merely to survive, but to thrive. Thus, we need to think and act strategically.
I want to focus on the benefits we’ve seen from our three years of strategic efforts. As we have conceptualized and implemented the plan, it is as much about process and community-building as it is about planning. But the process produces important results — direct and indirect — that are implemented along the way.
The direct products of planning are no surprise. We have mission and vision statements, just like everyone else. We also have medium-range goals that we use on a daily basis to guide decisions, large and small, in the Dean’s Office and throughout the College. You can see that this isn’t rocket science. The basic elements of academia — teaching, research, and service — are there. We aren’t changing our "business," but rather HOW we do business. I could have formulated these goals alone in my office and then attempted to "sell" them to the College. The important point is that I didn’t do that. The mission, vision, and goals were developed at College-wide workshops, with attendance of about 100, where faculty, staff, administrators, undergraduates, and graduate students participated and now have a sense of ownership in these words, some of which were labored over extensively.
As our process evolved, we arrived at the point of developing last spring specific shorter-term targets that we intend to focus on for the coming year. These targets are things we feel are critical for our success and achievable. They too support the basic elements of teaching, research, and service, and are also the product of discussion and input. We’ll rank our overall success compared to these targets next spring, and then renew the process.
The "bones" of planning provide a way of clarifying direction and setting priorities for programs of the College. They provide a way for us to fit the President’s and Regents’ expectations into our work. Similarly, they bring activities of our component units into alignment with College goals. Barriers to meeting goals, such as structural or operating problems, ambiguities, differences and misunderstandings — anything that stands in the way of meeting a goal — are uncovered, and there are now strong incentives to resolve them. In the past they might have gone untreated. Planning focuses multiple resources, human and financial, on priority areas for greater impact. It allows us to adapt more successfully to change and opportunities.
It is important to remember that planning doesn’t put us in a straitjacket; it allows us to react more quickly when something unexpected comes up, good or bad. For example, when the Tools for Transformation program was announced, we were ready and filed a request almost immediately. But that’s not all. Once your organization sees the power of strategic thinking and internalizes it, things happen that were not previously imagined. The simple procedure of arranging alternatives and contingencies in an orderly way often leads to useful new strategies.
Planning discourages the "quick fix," which often doesn’t work. Planning elicits participation and information from parts of the organization that do not normally play much of a role in formulating policy and practices. Planning helps take the fear out of accountability. Planning forces you to pay attention to your organization and develops a culture of valuing people. Planning strengthens external linkages. And last but not least, the process attracts resources.
That last point brings me back to the list of accomplishments with which I began these notes. Our work plan for the coming year will be reviewed at the all-College quarterly meeting on October 9 (followed by our annual salmon barbecue). Please join me in sharing the work (and its rewards). I look forward to seeing you all then!
Photo Credits this issue: L. Wall and J. Hoppe
Please send comments or submit news items to Cecilia Paul: email@example.com; 3-3075; 107E Anderson, Box 352100.