Still thinking about this strategic plan thing.

Still thinking about this strategic plan thing.

There are lots of challenges for any leader and if you are a leader who has been asked to develop a new organization and/or it is your first year in a new leadership position, you have the additional challenge of learning and understanding as quickly as you can the new organization as well as the personalities that make up your new organization.

Having finished my first year as the dean of the College of Continuing Education and Professional Development at ODU, I enjoyed and resonated with a recent Chronicle article, “Reflections of a First Time President.” While the challenges this author faced as a new president were not the same as I faced it was very helpful to read his insights.

“One of the things that I learned quickly during my first year as president was that my previous jobs did not prepare me for this role.” I found this to be partially true because some of the hurdles we have to deal with similar issues I’ve had at other institutions. But even though the issues may have been the same, because it was a different institution the context of the issues were quite different and thus requiring different ways of addressing the issue. As the author indicates, “Once you get into the job, you identify strengths and weaknesses you never realized you had.” And I would add, once you identified your strengths and weaknesses make darn sure you exploit your strengths and work on improving your weaknesses.

Which brings me back to still thinking about this strategic plan thing. As I indicated in an earlier blog post, I chose to not rush into a strategic planning process a year ago because I felt that we needed to simply get the work done. I good give you a number of reasons why this was a an optimal approach in the first year the Reflections of a First Time President reminded me of the one of the shortcomings of this approach. In the article, the author outlines his first retreat where he asked “ those in attendance to answer Sinek’s three core questions: (1) What do we do? (2) How do we do it? and (3) Why do we do it (i.e., what is our purpose)?” He referred to Simon Sinek’s TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” as an inspiration for asking these questions.

http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en

Listening to the TED talk it didn’t take me long to see that a flaw in concentrating in the first year on the “what we do and how do we do” and not on the “why do we do what we do.” While the “why” conversation wasn’t completely absent from our conversations in the College I don’t know that I made it a specific or purposeful topic in our conversations. Knowing me, I am confident that I waxed eloquently about why I do what I do but I am guilty about not asking the why question of the team members in the College. One of the suggestions from the “First Time President” is to get to know your team and the weaknesses and strengths they bring. While I know the team’s strengths and weaknesses related to how and what we do, I failed to ask and to listen to the “why” they do what they do.

So as I think about this strategic planning thing, the one item I want on the agenda is discussing “why we do what we do” as an organization and exploring the “why” for each staff member. Watching the TED talk reminded me that we attract students, a.k.a. customers, and also partners who work with us not because of what we do or how we do, we attract and keep raving fans because of why we do what we do.

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2 Responses to Still thinking about this strategic plan thing.

  1. Don Swoboda says:

    Well James, congratulations on your first year. After your last two blogs I sense that you are frustrated about not having done a strategic plan, and I want to say that this is not something you want to stress too much over. If, as you said in your first blog.”I am very comfortable saying that one year later we are functioning as a team and we’ve developed a good level of trust.” then my friend you have had a successful year. Trust is the key to every leaders success. Trust in the members of your team and they in you and among the group will help you identify the real purpose of “why we do what we do. It’s key also in examining your mission and in developing a shared vision. One time I asked one of my directors why we were planning the 21st annual conference on (whatever), and his answer was,”because last year was the 20th annual conference. The answer was perfectly honest, but didn’t include how it fit the mission or vision of our organization or why we were doing it again. In 1970 when I was just a pup administrator I flew to Columbus, Ohio, to attend the First Annual Conference on The Use of Satellites in Agriculture. It turned out to be a case where the idea was very futuristic but the technology and practicality based on research was not there, and so there was never a Second Annual Conference. In my leadership responsibilities with four unique outreach organizations I learned the hard way that having a written strategic plan on the shelf wasn’t a guarantee of success, but having once developed a shared vision of how we were going to successfully carry out our mission went a long way down that road. I believe in having a plan that is constantly examined, always a work in progress. I have much evidence to support the need to remain flexible and resilient as your organization looks to the future. I used to keep copies of speeches from futurists for years and upon examination of them 10-20 years later I found that each of them was correct about 50% of the time. With a flexible organization that is constantly adjusting its programs to most effectively meet the customers needs while maintaining a focus on and testing it against your mission, you can do much better than a 50% success rate.

    Continued success,

    An Old Dean in the Desert

  2. shaeffjm says:

    Don great to hear from you and as always your insights are right on target. Things are moving so darn fast that the shared vision is extremely important and the notion of making your organization resilient is probably the best plan to have. Thanks my friend.

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