Implementing Your Strategic Plan

On October 1, 2008, the Quality Advocates met to hear Jack Burke, Chancellor, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, and Al Horvath, Vice President for Finance and Business, talk about their best practices in implementing strategic plans. Louise Sandmeyer, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, moderated the session. The plan for Penn State Erie, The Behrend College is at http://www.pennstatebehrend.psu.edu/aboutPS/StrategicPlan.pdf and the plan for Finance and Business is at http://www.fandb.psu.edu/fbstrategicplan.pdf.

In reviewing all forty-six strategic plans from the budget units across the University, Sandmeyer found that good plans are those that have a strategy for implementation. This helps to get the plan off the shelf and into day-to-day management of the units. The structure for implementation must be thought through before the plans are written.

Jack BurkePenn State Erie, The Behrend College has over twenty-five years experience in strategic planning. The College uses a bottom-up, top-down approach to planning, in which the plans of the four schools and input from twenty support units (some with their own plans), is used to develop the College plan. Three types of planning currently occur at the College: strategic planning, diversity planning, and integrated planning. The integrated planning, which contains enrollment, faculty and staff, and physical plant information, is useful because it shows components of the College are interrelated.

Burke emphasized that the first task, and one whichOne of the first things we do in our plan is we actually write the accomplishments of the last plan. . . It really does kind of jazz you up – “Wow, we really did do something. We had a lot of actions that we were going to do and we really made progress” – That kind of progress gives you energy and forward motion to do the next plan.

Jack Burke

is very important in writing the plan, is to identify the accomplishments of the last plan. This helps people to see all of the goals that have been achieved and that strategic planning really does yield results.

The current strategic plan is very action-oriented. Along with the vision, mission, and hallmarks (values), a SWOT analysis, seven goals, and strategies for each goal, it contains 192 actions. According to Burke, these actions are “where the rubber meets the road”. Although 192 actions seem like a lot, since these are spread among twenty-five units over five years, they are achievable. To keep track of the action items and progress made against each, the plan includes an assignment matrix (view sample matrix). The matrix lists each goal and strategy, the areas that have responsibilities under each goal/strategy, the planned implementation year (if applicable), and an indication when the goal/strategy is completed. Burke has a working copy of this matrix and refers to it on a monthly basis and also keeps track of a list of the action items for which he is responsible.

Burke stressed that strategic planning is a process which results in a product, but that the implementation of that product and moving forward on goals is vital. To ensure a plan is implemented, Burke recommended: 1) holding people accountable, 2) making a plan implementable from the beginning by moving beyond vision and including actions, 3) having a senior-level person or persons driving it, and 4) recognizing previous accomplishments.

Al HorvathFor Horvath, the main challenges in implementing the Finance and Business strategic plan are how to communicate across such a large, complex organization (2800 employees, 10 units and across campuses) and how to get people engaged and excited about the plan. According to Horvath, writing the plan was the easy part of the strategic planning process; the difficult part is implementing the plan. F&B hoped to ease this difficulty by crafting their strategic plan with an eye towards implementation.

In writing the plan, F&B incorporated methods to “spread the word” about the plan through ownership, accountability, and understanding of the plan. They also created a new vision that is visual, and more memorable and inspiring for this strategic plan. VisionIn contrast to previous plans, the new F&B strategic plan is led by a fifteen person team which is responsible for driving the plan forward. The new plan brings the organization together in ways that previous plans had not. The plan creates a shared sense of purpose. There are 300 leaders within the organization who provided input into the plan during two day-long retreats. This brought their thoughts into the plan, spreading the feeling of ownership throughout more people. Also, F&B has used the website, pamphlets, video and newsletters to communicate the key elements of the plan and will be holding town hall meetings to build support for the plan.

In writing the plan with an eye towards implementation, F&B learned from their success and failures from past strategic plans. Horvath pointed to the success of the Environmental Stewardship key initiative and attributed its success to good leadership, cross-functional teams working, significant financial and other resources, and accountability. We’ve learned from things that worked, we’ve learned from things that maybe have not worked as well, and we can fold that back in and reenergize the process and move forward.

Al Horvath

Goals were set and regular reporting on the progress towards the goals occurred. Aligning strategic goals with the University’s goals helped the Environmental Stewardship key initiative to succeed. Because F&B did not prescribe to the team the process to achieve the goal, the team felt empowered and was able to be more creative. In contrast, the Diversity key initiative was less successful, mainly because, although the organization is committed to diversity, expectations were not as clear nor were resources as available, and there was not same level of accountability.

Both panelists agreed that plans should be “data-informed rather than data-driven”. Strategic indicators are important, but overreliance on them can sometimes be distracting. For instance, Burke cited an example of increasing the enrollment index to obtain better students which might decrease enrollment numbers. Thus, an increase in one performance indicator (quality of students) could lead to a decline in another (enrollment). Instead, Burke pays most attention to indicators of quality, student-centeredness, and learning outcomes. At F&B, groups working on the key initiatives are able to set their own goals and metrics of performance. According to Horvath, “Measuring and gathering really relevant information is always a challenge”.

Both Penn State Erie, The Behrend College and Finance and Business communicate with employees about progress made on the plan. The Behrend College updates staff and faculty during regular meetings and publishes information in the weekly bulletin. At F&B, celebrating successes is a work in progress; newsletters feature the work of one key initiative in each issue and staff are recognized at retreats, but more could be done. Sandmeyer recommended having a few goals in the plan that can be accomplished early on and recognizing these accomplishments and progress to provide early momentum.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.

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