OVERVIEWExternal pressures have created extreme challenges for collegesand universities across the United States. Changing demographics,decreasing support for public universities, and increasing debt loadfor students have brought these challenges into the public eye. Forthese and related reasons, it is important for universities to articulateclear and compelling institutional priorities and correspondingstrategic processes with the buy-in of many, varied stakeholders.The following slides review some of the key concepts in strategy forhigher education described by Michael Dolence, Ellen Chaffee,Richard Morrill, and others.
STRATEGY IS LEADERSHIPStrategy lies at the core of leadership. The scope and time scale ofstrategy requires that processes be driven by a vision – a vision thatis not imposed from the top down, but rather that reflects the valuesand principles of many constituencies. In higher education, thesheer number of such constituencies, including students, faculty,parents, alumni, legislators, staff members, accreditors, members ofthe local community, and others, requires university leaders tobalance a complex range of conflicting demands and priorities.Hearing, understanding, and reconciling these conflicts is the heartof strategy and the heart of leadership. Strategy supersedes normalplanning processes associated with budgets, enrollments, facilities,and hiring in order to provide a higher order framework forunderstanding the present and influencing the future.
PREPARING FOR PLANNINGStrategic planning arose from within business and the military; theseassociations continue to raise suspicion among some universityconstituencies. Although strategic planning for higher education hasserved as a topic of discussion and a model for action over morethan 30 years, the terminology and methods used may still elicitdisfavor. Many valid criticisms of strategic planning focus on thedifficulty of predicting future conditions, the substantial immutabilityof organizational culture, the power of external constraints, andnotable historical failures of strategic planning. In the academy,treating strategy as a form of emergent organizational learning maymitigate these concerns. From this viewpoint, Henry Mintzberg sawstrategy as a process more concerned with discovery than invention:understanding, with the help of analysis and intuition, what is mostpromising in current organizational practices.
PLANNING PROCESSESMany strategic planning methods are depicted as linear processesbearing superficial similarity to conventional research methods –collect data, interpret data, report results, draw conclusions. In fact,it may be more typical for strategy to involve iterations around ideasand information that gradually become more and more refined.Internal and external environmental scans do inform the strategicplanning process but do not dictate outcomes. Effective leaders usethe driving conditions of the internal and external environment toenergize discussions among stakeholders. When planning issuccessful, these dialogs gradually align onto positive practices andpriorities that leaders amplify and support within the university’sconstituencies.
3 STRATEGY MODELSA review of the strategy literature in higher education reveals at leastthree conceptual approaches to strategy, each rooted in differentassumptions. The linear strategy takes an industrial approach toplanning by scanning the competitive environment, devising ideasfor future activities, and pursuing implementation of those ideas. Theadaptive strategy follows a biological metaphor and prescribescontinuous cycles of change to match the demands of the changingenvironment. The interpretive strategy casts the organization as anetwork of social actors whose interests may align to the mutualbenefit of the institution and the individual. In the following slides,details of each approach illuminate their respective concepts,stances, and methods.
LINEAR STRATEGY (DOLENCE)1. Process begins by choosing and operationalizing key markers of effective organizational performance2. Environmental scans focus on the external environment (opportunities and threats) and the internal environment (strengths and weaknesses)3. The core of planning is brainstorming and analysis of ideas that capitalize on strengths to exploit opportunities and that mitigate weaknesses to avoid threats4. Leaders synthesize these ideas into objectives and high level methods of pursuing those objectives; analysts consider how methods and objectives may influence key markers of performance5. A normal operations phase includes implementation of methods and monitoring progress towards objectives
ADAPTIVE STRATEGY (MILES)1. Process is continuous and ongoing, rather than episodic and periodic2. A cycle of adaptation contains overlapping entrepreneurial activities, implementation activities, and administrative activities 1. Entrepreneurship focuses on identifying and putting footholds in areas of potential opportunity; environmental scanning is an intrinsic part of this process; small scale experimentation and failure are expected and appropriate 2. Implementation phase scales entrepreneurial activities into normal operations through investments in talent and infrastructure 3. Administration rationalizes and refactors normal operations to cope with growth and gain efficiencies; may uncover new entrepreneurial opportunities3. Organizational change occurs organically and is characterized as a process of “matching” the challenges and opportunities present in the environment
INTERPRETIVE STRATEGY(CHAFFEE)1. Focuses on organizational culture and its influence on the motivation of individuals. Assumes that the organization is a network of self-interested actors whose motives are based on perceptions of the organization.2. Overall goal is to establish mutually beneficial social contracts with members of constituencies who contribute to the organization’s success.3. Environmental scanning focuses on understanding the socially constructed reality of different functional groups.4. Leaders construct symbols by means of actions and communications; symbols influence interpretation of organizational reality by members.5. Successful symbols increase the coherency of perceived organizational reality and motivate members to align their actions favorably with this coherent vision.
THE 3 MODELS IN HIGHER EDUCATIONThe 3 models represent “pure” philosophical positions; real strategicplanning activities inevitably contain some measure of eachphilosophy. Each position has pitfalls: Linear strategy may be seenas too corporate and/or top down. Adaptive strategy may be seen astoo ad hoc. Interpretive strategy may be seen as too diffuse andindirect. Each position has benefits: Linear strategy imposesstructure, favors goal-focused action, and provides metrics forsuccess. Adaptive strategy copes with the high uncertainty of thecontemporary environment of higher education and distributes riskacross activities. Interpretive strategy aligns the mission of theuniversity with the goals of its powerful constituencies, such asfaculty, who may typically resist top-down planning methods.
STRATEGIC APPROACH ANDRESILIENCYChaffee conducted 14 case studies, half of colleges that made asuccessful financial recovery following a decline, and half that didnot. All 14 undertook strategic activities that had close resemblanceto the adaptive model and that attempted to benefit fromenvironmental opportunities. The failing group focused exclusivelyon exploiting these opportunities. The succeeding group selectivelyexploited opportunities but also invested heavily in symboliccommunication that was oriented toward helping organizationalconstituencies understand and orient themselves with respect toorganizational change. The resilient universities “self-tuned” theircultures through symbolic communication in order to promoteadaptation to environmental challenges.
REFERENCES Chaffee, E. E. (1984). Successful strategic management insmall private colleges. Journal of Higher Education 55, 212-239. Chaffee, E. E. (1985). Three models of strategy. Academy ofManagement Review, 10, 89-98. Driscoll, D. P. (2010). Higher Education Planning for a StrategicGoal with a Concept Mapping Process at a Small Private College.Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of North Carolina,Greensboro, NC. Dolence, M. G., Rowley, D. J., & Lujan, H. D. (1997) WorkingToward Strategic Change. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. Miles, R. E., & Snow, C. C. (1978). Organizational strategy,structure, and process. New York: McGraw-Hill. Morrill, R. L. (2007). Strategic Leadership. Lanham, MD:Rowman & Littlefield.