6 Integrated Planning Strategies and Tips We Learned at SCUP 2023

Every year at SCUP’s annual conference, over 1,000 of higher education’s leaders and innovators gather to share how they are advancing integrated planning at their college or university. Out of the wealth of tools, strategies, and tips shared at SCUP 2023, which took place earlier this month in Cleveland, here are six that stood out:

1. Discover Your Planning Team’s Hidden Strengths

When the University of Colorado Denver had only four months to find $6M in budget cuts, Beth Myers, associate vice chancellor for academic planning and institutional effectiveness, and Kate Linder, associate vice chancellor for digital strategy and learning, knew they needed an integrated planning process led by a talented and dedicated team. They included key players, like the chief financial officer, with some key skill sets, like project management, change management, and data analysis. As they shared in their SCUP 2023 presentation, “Key Strategies for Ensuring Integrated Planning in a Budget Crisis,” Myers and Linder knew that team members might also be able to contribute in other, less obvious ways. So the first time they gathered their Strategic Realignment of Resources Budget Initiative team, Myers and Linder asked each team member: “What are the strengths that you’re bringing to this team?” Team members shared their answers and used this knowledge throughout the process. For example, one team member identified her strength as “leadership relationship management.” That team member was often assigned to give updates to leadership about the planning process.

2. Apply Multiple Communications Methods . . . and Adapt Them as You Go

Communications and transparency are critical to any planning process, but especially to one that involves resource cuts. Myers and Linder’s Strategic Realignment of Resources Budget Initiative team assembled a communications strategy with multiple touchpoints, including:

  • Events for leadership that allowed them to align on the budget initiative’s principles and process
  • A one-pager with talking points for academic and operational leadership to guide conversations with their departments
  • Institution-wide information sessions every two weeks to address questions from the community
  • Institution-wide email updates
  • A website with updates and links to recordings of the information sessions
  • Regular briefings to standing campus committees and governance groups
  • How-to workshops to help those who had to submit proposals for resource realignment

While this communications strategy helped keep the campus informed, Myers and Linder soon heard feedback that some academic and operational leaders weren’t giving their departments very informative updates, which made some departments feel uninformed about the process.

In response, Myers and Linder added a new touchpoint: office hours. During office hours, a member of their team would visit a department and be available for one-on-one discussions. Office hours were particularly successful at helping departments understand the Strategic Realignment of Resources Budget Initiative in their department’s context, both in how they could contribute and how they could be impacted.

3. Nurture Data-Informed Decision-Making with Insight Guides

As Robert (Joel) Farrel, vice provost of institutional effectiveness, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said during his session, “The Challenges of an Integrated Approach to Institutional Effectiveness,” “Data is your greatest strategic asset because data doesn’t lie.” Unfortunately, those in colleges and universities who would like to use data often find themselves stymied by multiple hurdles—access, time, resources, know-how, etc. In University of Colorado Denver’s Strategic Realignment of Resources Budget Initiative, departmental decision-makers had to identify potential resource cuts within their departments. To help them make informed decisions, Myers and Linder developed insight guides. These PowerPoint presentations included not just relevant departmental data, but also insights highlighted by data analysts at the university, allowing departmental leaders to focus less on analyzing their data and more on actioning it.

4. Give Your Planning Team the Tools for Stakeholder Engagement

After an initial environmental scan, Augusta University identified eight priority areas—from learning and community to innovation and diversity, equity, and inclusion—that they wanted their strategic plan to focus on. Each strategic priority was led by two champions. To determine strategic plan goals, champions needed to reach out to the community and conduct stakeholder engagement. As they shared in, “A Strategic Planning Framework: Engagement, Collaboration, and Celebration,” Mickey Williford, vice president for institutional effectiveness, and Brittany Cipollone, director of integrated planning and effectiveness, gave champions tools and resources to help with these stakeholder engagements, including:

  • A one-page summary of the planning process and priorities
  • A boilerplate slideshow about the champion’s strategic priority
  • A question bank with potential questions to ask stakeholders

Cipollone and Williford also provided notetaking support during these engagements, and organized the stakeholder feedback afterwards, allowing the champions to devote their time to learning from the stakeholders and using the feedback to inform their planning.

5. Encourage Alignment with Speed Dating

In order to identify goals for the strategic plan, Augusta University’s strategic priority champions had to share what they learned during their environmental scanning and stakeholder engagement. With 8 strategic priorities and 16 champions, this was a tall order. To facilitate this, Williford and Cipollone developed a “speed-dating” exercise. During this exercise, each champion met one-on-one with another champion for seven minutes to discuss their priorities. The exercise was over after every champion had met with another champion for every strategic priority. The exercise created awareness and fostered intentional conversations, allowing the team to create a draft strategic plan that incorporated the insights from all 16 champions.

6. When Someone Fails, Don’t Give Them a Hard Time–Give Them an Award

At Shawna Herwick’s institution, Southeast Community College (SCC), FAST goals are the order of the day. FAST goals stand for Frequently Discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. Herwick, SCC’s administrative director of planning and accreditation, has found that many in the institution struggle to create ambitious goals. Why? They’re afraid to fail. To combat this, Herwick shared during her session, “FAST-Track Your Strategic Road Map Through Integrated Planning,” that you must create an environment where it’s safe to fail. That’s why SCC gives a failure award. Each year, during SCC’s Strategic Planning Week, awards are given out for different planning achievements, which also include an ambitious goal that failed. Recipients of this “failure” award are encouraged to share what they learned from their failure. Because of the award, the campus community pursues more ambitious goals and has a mechanism for learning from failure.

Learn more with these related SCUP resources

SCUP 2023 presentation slides (registrants only; login required):

Note: Full SCUP 2023 presentation slides archives coming soon.

Other resources: