Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

Every university administrator understands the importance of setting goals for your school and developing a plan to achieve those goals.  Most accreditation standards require developing a strategic plan that provides a roadmap for mission achievement and that establishes the foundation for continuous improvement with an overarching goal of the plan to serve as an effective guide for decisions and practice.

Over the past 15 years I have been directly involved in strategic planning as a professor, department head, associate dean and dean.   In addition, I have been involved in developing strategic plans at the department, college and university level.

University-level and college-level strategic plans are often grand productions necessarily involving hundreds of stakeholders (faculty, staff, alumni, strategic partners, students, donors, administration).    These strategic plans will often take 12 months or more to complete.    Yet, in many cases these strategic plans focus more on planning and much less on strategy.

If your university, college or department is truly looking to achieve a bold vision it is imperative to develop a sound strategy and corresponding strategic plan.   If you are willing to get outside of your comfort zone of conforming your strategic planning to traditional academic norms, I highly recommend that you read the following book:   Scaling Up:  How a Few Companies Make It … and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish, Gazelles Inc., Asburn, VA (2014).  

In this book you will find some straight forward thinking on how to compete and grow in a competitive market.  If you are unwilling to examine your university through the lens of business, this book is not for you.   However, if you are willing to examine the business principles in this book and adapt them to your school’s situation, you will find this a very helpful book.

A great place to begin is the one-page strategic plan.   I recommend that you go the the “Social Sector Growth Tools” page at the book’s website.  Here you will find free strategic resources, including the One Page Strategic Plan, adapted for the non-profit sector.

In one page you will be asked to answer difficult questions about your core customers, the ‘product’ that you are selling them, your brand promises and your kept promise indicators (KPI’s).   Only after answering these questions will you have a foundation necessary to build a strategic plan that enables a bold vision.    Do you have the courage?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe


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j9810I have a new hero.  He is Edward Burger, current president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.   Why is he my hero?   Here are the reasons:

  1. Burger went directly from professor of mathematics at Williams College to being a university president.
  2. Burger built his reputation by being an innovative, thoughtful teacher-scholar.
  3. Burger is the author of one the most important books I have read “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking”
  4. Burger has articulated the essence of being an effective academic leader into just two simple principles: (1) a focus on life-changing teaching, and (2) the commitment to securing resources to support the university’s academics.

I first learned about Burger in an interview published in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled ‘A Professor in the President’s Chair: Pushing for a ‘Friendly Revolution’.  In this article, two quotes stick out:

There are only two branches to this job: No. 1, make sure students are getting the most profound, life-changing, life-enhancing educational experience they can, and, No. 2, make sure that 100 years from now, whoever’s sitting in this chair will have the resources so he or she can do the exact same thing. That’s all. Everything else is noise.


The biggest change we made was in our committee structure, which had consisted of councils and committees and task forces. I have amazing colleagues, but the system was so gridlocked that it basically prevented itself from doing business. Shared governance to me means I get to share the wisdom and counsel of my colleagues, but the system in place didn’t allow that. People now serve on fewer committees, but they meet more frequently and have more impact.

It will be interesting to follow the presidency of Edward Burger.   Personally, I believe that he is just the breath of fresh air that is needed in higher education.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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visionI recently read the 2012-2013 President’s Report for Clarkson University. In the report I found something very interesting – a “Vision of a Clarkson Education”. Unlike most university mission statements, the focus was on the educational experience offered at the university. I am impressed. The vision talks about the “what the education is designed to enable the students to do” and talks about a the characteristics of their “personal and friendly learning environment”. Bravo!    Below are some of the highlights of Clarkson’s vision statement:

  • The Clarkson University educational experience is designed to provide talented and ambitious students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve positions of leadership within their chosen profession.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to enable students to solve real-world, open-ended problems with creativity and risk taking to obtain solutions that are practical and sustainable.
  • A Clarkson education is designed to develop and refine exceptional communication skills with an awareness of potential cultural differences and to lead effectively and work productively within disciplinary and multidisciplinary teams composed of members with diverse interests and backgrounds.
  • A Clarkson student’s education is greatly enhanced by a personal and friendly learning environment.
  • A Clarkson student’s education draws undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff together into a cohesive and stimulating learning community, wherein an atmosphere of scholarship and spirit of research is cultivated.
  • Together, these provide a unique educational experience that is directed toward developing the whole person.

I am often struck by the importance of the words that we speak.   Clarkson is speaking volumes.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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dennis greenDennis Green, former NFL head football coach for the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals is often remembered for a famous rant after a tough loss to the Chicago Bears:

The Bears are what we thought they were. They’re what we thought they were. We played them in preseason — who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it’s bullshit? Bullshit! We played them in the third game — everybody played three quarters — the Bears are who we thought they were! That’s why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let ’em off the hook!

Is our college what we say it is?   Do we really believe the things we say about ourselves?   After taking a look at our college’s mission and values statements, our college’s strategic plan, and some of the “branding” found in our promotional materials and web site, here are some of our defining characteristics:

  • innovation/innovative
  • able to work in global economy
  • integrated curriculum
  • high job placement
  • academic rigor
  • effectiveness in groups
  • strong internships
  • prepare citizens
  • develop leaders

Are we who we say we are?   In my opinion, the words we use to describe ourselves need to be fully vetted by the faculty and external stakeholders.   Who are we?   Who do we aspire to be?  The words we use to describe ourselves are very important.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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meet the candidatesBased on another visit, here are more faculty questions for the dean candidate:

  1. How can faculty get engaged in development efforts?
  2. How would you reward faculty research?
  3. How would you prioritize faculty scholarship?
  4. What is your management style?
  5. Would you be in favor of large class sizes?
  6. We face three issues related to accreditation: core learning objectives, our capstone learning experience and faculty qualifications.  How would you handle each of these issues?
  7. How would you deal with the ‘good old boy’ network on our campus?
  8. How would our centers and institutes enter into your strategic planning?

I particularly enjoyed the way in which our candidate reflected on these questions before answering and how our candidate typically told a story when answering.  Good job.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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triple bottom line BM-thumb-380x271-thumb-380x271Our most recent Dean candidate offered some interesting insights.  I thought that I would share a few.

  1. What do we mean by ‘engaged learning’  and ‘student focused learning’?   At Cornell University this means to advance academic service-learning, community-based research, and public scholarship across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines and programs.  At Lawrence University it means to create and sustain connections between the academic curriculum and community service.  At SMU is means a capstone-level, student driven research, civic engagement, professional internship or creative work that has clear project and clear personal learning goals.
  2. How would our decisions be different if we considered student success as our top priority?
  3. Do we agree on our ‘tagline’?  We must be on the same page as we move forward.
  4. Fundraising and stewardship of existing gifts.    Stewardship of existing gifts is extremely important.
  5. Must be an advocate for the college.  Internally within the university.  Externally with alumni and friends.   Don’t forget the students!
  6. Globalization.   Who will be your partners?
  7. Triple bottom line ( people, planet, profit) – the new buzz words related to sustainability and the environment.
  8. Thought leadership – how do we leverage this?
  9. Finale – How Do We Create the Future?  Put a proposal together and match it with the right donor.   Build relationships.

Overall I was impressed with this candidate’s ability to articulate their thoughts around academic leadership.   I am always pleased when I can learn a few things.  This candidate was able to ‘bundle’ their accomplishments into four categories: (1) strategic planning, (2) reputation building, (3) development, and (4) accreditation.  Good thinking!

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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1901-600x324Dean Harlow Person served in the deanship of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Administration and Finance from 1906 to 1919 (Khurana, R., From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 152).    Person was also influential in the establishment of the AACSB.

Person was clear in articulating a mission for his school.   Following are several quotes from Person about the Tuck School’s mission and vision.

Our judgment is that our primary obligation is to the student, and the first and largest draft which the instructor should make on his store of time and energy should be on behalf of the individual student.  We attempt to develop in our instructing staff the feeling that instruction is not something formal but is a personal responsibility for the personal success of every individual student.  That, we conceive, as also our largest public service.

Person argued:

The essential public service that the school could provide was to teach students to ‘develop the power to apply principles to the solutions of business problems …. which will some day be of service to us all.’

In regard to the teaching of ethics, Person stated

We do not attempt any formal instruction in business ethics.  We believe that formality and artificiality of a formal course in business ethics would defeat its very purpose.  But in every course it is the aim of every instructor, I know, to inspire in his students a conception of the nobility of the profession of the business man and of his responsibility to his fellow-man and to society.

Finally, in order to assist young men in the pursuit of a career

Every possible method is employed to enable students to meet business men -(guest) lecturers – personally, and the lectures of such men are followed by a simple luncheon intended to enable second-year men to meet lecturers informally.

The ideals espoused by Person are as relevant today as ever.   Have many of the “top” business faculty strayed from this ideal?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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