Professional Development Brown Bag Series
Strategic Planning – What It Is and Why We Do It
Marilyn McCoy, Vice President for Administration and Planning
Whether we know it or not, we make strategic decisions constantly. How we allocate our time and invest our resources implicitly ties us to strategic directions. If we are more thoughtful in these decisions, however, we can be even more strategic in moving our units forward.
Strategic planning is a process in which we step back and analyze our current state, create a vision for the future, and discuss various ways to achieve these goals. Key steps include clarifying the mission and values of the organization, analyzing the unit and the external factors that will impact the unit, setting goals, creating an action plan, executing, measuring, and revisiting. It is important that key leaders and implementers are involved with the planning process so there is sufficient support. Finding quick wins is also important in signaling commitment to the plan.
Understanding the larger context at Northwestern is important when doing unit planning. Northwestern has a broad program portfolio, unique among private peers. Our mix of schools gives us the ability to collaborate in ways that others cannot. Our student and faculty quality has improved steadily over the past 25 years, and our Chicago location is an asset to be leveraged.
Strategic Plan Update
President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer
In two separate presentations, one on the Evanston campus in early November 2010 and the other in Chicago at the end of the month, Provost Daniel Linzer presented on the state of the university-wide strategic planning process and shared current drafts of the plan. Provost Linzer explained that during this phase the strategic plan is continually being modified based on feedback from students, deans, faculty members, staff organizations, and individual Northwestern employees.
Linzer described the document as one stored in electronic bits, rather than carved in stone; it will be revisited during both the planning and implementation phases, allowing the University to be nimble and flexible in the next ten years under which this will be used as a guide for action.
An important part of drafting the strategic plan was considering what differentiates Northwestern University from other institutions:
- Breadth and Balance: Northwestern maintains a large and diverse enterprise with a great number of distinct academic schools, departments, and centers.
- Collaborative Culture: At the University these separate units are encouraged to collaborate across boundaries, rather than compete with one another.
- Chicago, Evanston, and Doha: Northwestern is the only university in the world that can claim these three thriving cities as home.
- Forward Looking: Founded in 1851 in the pioneering spirit of the Northwest Territory, Northwestern has a history and tradition of looking to the future and leading toward it.
Northwestern’s new strategic plan will be guided by the University’s vision and values, which were discussed at the presentation. The four thrusts of the plan include:
- Innovate: the learning environment
- Discover: the research and creative enterprise
- Connect: the university community
- Engage: the world
With this in mind, the goal of the strategic plan is to help the University over the course of the next ten years build on its current areas of distinction, especially cross-school areas of excellence, and strengthen Northwestern’s voice in setting national and international research and policy agendas, and funding priorities.
During question and answer sessions following the presentations, Provost Linzer reiterated to the audience that developing the strategic plan has been an iterative process, and based on comments from the Northwestern community the plan will continue to be revised; feedback and new ideas are welcome. Once the plan is officially launched it will not be prescriptive, but a challenge to the University to follow cues laid out in the document moving forward.
To learn more about Northwestern’s strategic plan and planning process, or to submit feedback on the plan, visit the university strategic plan website at www.northwestern.edu/strategic-plan.
Practical Strategic Planning: How to initiate a strategic plan in your department, organization, and personal life
Shericka Pringle Jackson & Alan Paberzs, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law
During the closing event for AHEAD@NU’s series on strategic planning, Shericka and Alan showed why strategic planning is important and how it is possible in both the workplace and your personal life. Strategic planning brings clarity to an institution’s (or individual’s) mission, gives an opportunity to re-commit to a cause, improves decision-making, and helps to prepare for the future. They also outlined the process and major components of strategic planning: the mission, vision, defining values, conducting a SWOT analysis, and doing regular assessments and progress updates toward the goals and objectives outlined in the strategic plan. They then explained other important things to consider in strategic planning, such as who will be involved with the process and how to keep all parties involved accountable throughout the process. Audience members asked questions about how to create contingency plans and how to overcome resistance to strategic planning.
Special Topics in Higher Education Series
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