One of the most challenging things about working in higher education is maintaining strategic direction and avoiding getting lost in the world of endless (sometimes feeling pointless…) tasks. This presentation outlines the five main strategic steps that will help any professional ensure they’re working towards the “greater good” and have bragging ammunition for their boss.
We are all moving really fast
We are all incredibly busy. Running a million miles a minute – many times skipping lunch or working extra hours to get so much done. We easily get trapped in the minute details that consume every moment of our work time – and end up with that nagging feeling of, “What have I done all day/week/month?”
Is there a clear direction?
Do we really know the direction our department/division is going in? Do our staff know what direction we’re going in? It’s easy to feel lost. Yes, there’s administrative work in nearly every job – but it’s important to get back to the ‘purpose’ of our job that made us so excited/passionate in the first place.
How do we demonstrate success?
Sometimes we don’t know what we’re working towards – and sometimes we just don’t know how to show that we’re doing good work. It’s hard to illustrate success. Do we create reports showing how many hours spent in meetings vs. projects? Do we list all of the completed tasks? Are our customers happier? Or did we just get through another week?
Quantity vs. Quality
One of the biggest mistakes I see organizations make is going straight to implementation. People illustrate their efforts through how many tasks they’ve completed – not whether they’re done efficiently or effectively. As a manager, I would much rather my staff write one really impressive brochure than have forty littering the floors. What’s interesting, is that customers tend to agree. They’d much rather attend one awesome event than go to ten mediocre event, or get one consolidated email than eight emails with lots of “fluff” they don’t need/want to know.
Let’s get back to the basics of strategic planning. Every friend and professional colleague I’ve spoken with feels that their organization/company over-complicates things – so let’s start back with the strategic principles we learned in those core business/science classes. (Yes – science. Testing a hypothesis to get a desired outcome is very similar to the basic principles of strategy.)
1. Situation Analysis
Products & Services
List all of your products and services, including all of the details. That includes photos, pricing, features, and the sales/usage for each product/service. This gives you an opportunity to assess what products/services are the most successful with your customers, and what you should be offering more or less of. It’s a really simple and effective way to establish a strategic direction.
There are three levels of customers: Primary Customer: who is using/purchasing your product/service (ie. students, faculty/staff, event guests, etc) Secondary Customer: who is influencing the purchasing decision (ie. family, friends, colleagues, etc.) Tertiary Customers: are interested in the details of your operation, but are not directly involved with your products/services. (ie. stakeholders, local city residents, the university) It is important to understand the distinction between the different audiences. Additionally, try to include as much detail about each customer as possible. Not every university student is the same – try to target specific markets/customers that have a higher probability of purchasing/using your product. For example, it makes more sense to sell a Star Wars lunchbox to a middle-aged man that works in IT and has a collection of light sabers than Paris Hilton.
I’m always surprised how many organizations don’t consider what their competitors are doing. Knowing what options our customers have for their time/money helps us figure out what our competitive advantage is – and where we fall short. How much are they charging? What does their store look like? What is the purchasing experience? How do all of these factors compare to our product/service?
Back to Business 101 – conduct a SWOT Analysis for your organization or products/services.
The next step is to make sure you have clear goals. Goals will help align your staff and reinforce the direction you all need to be moving in over the next month/quarter/year. There is nothing more frustrating than having a manager/client tell you they want something without a good reason why. Putting time and resources into maintaining another Facebook page or another brochure is pointless without a clear purpose. (And – NO -” because everyone else has one” isn’t a valid reason) All goals should follow the SMART format in order for them to be successful.
The third step is to plan everything out. This is the perfect spot for the core principles of project management.
Now that you have a good idea of your resources and a clear direction – you can identify tactics to accomplish your objectives. These tactics should all directly correlate with your primary goals, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing them. It may be a cool idea to use MySpace – but its impractical if your customers aren’t on MySpace. Some examples of marketing tactics to implement are: social media, blogs, email, press releases, flyers, postcards, bulletin boards, videos, give aways, etc. My Project Strategy template may give you some good ideas.
Build a Timeline
Start with your deadline and work backwards. Schedule each of the tactics so you’re ahead of your deadline and have a little wiggle-room in case things get crazy (which they always will).
Make people responsible for implementing each of the tactics. Make sure they keep you in the loop in regards to the status of their part of the project and make sure they are staying on schedule.
The primary objective of effective planning is so that you can maximize resources: Work smarter, not harder. Look for opportunities to accomplish multiple tactics at the same time and use people’s skills/time to get things done more efficiently.
You should have everything laid out – when to do things, how to do them, who’s responsible, etc. Now go do it! There were be hiccups along the way, but you will be able to illustrate success as long as the key planning was completed.
This is the most important part of strategy – did you do what you set out to do? Because you had a clear idea of your initial status quo and a specific business direction – you can show what worked and what can be improved next time. Directly correlate each tactic with the strategic goal and identify what worked well so you can do that again next time. The best part is that this measurement helps set the foundation for your next situation analysis – hence it all starts over at step one.