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Get a Week’s Worth of Strategic Planning Done in One Day

Strategic Planning In A Day

Getting stakeholders to come together, discuss their college’s future, and determine a direction can feel nearly impossible when you consider everyone’s packed schedules and heavy workloads…which is why Erica Eckert, assistant dean, assessment and accreditation, College of Education, Health, and Human Services, Kent State University (KSU), designed a “one-and-done” visioning and direction-setting retreat for KSU College of Education, Health, and Human Services strategic plan.

That’s right. In one, eight-hour day, Eckert brought together six teams to perform scanning, analysis, and prioritization activities, all toward one goal: setting “positive, but not delusional” strategic directions that would be the basis of the college’s strategic plan. 

Below is a short recap by Sadie Wutka, director of content strategy, Society for College and University Planning, from Eckert’s presentation at the SCUP 2019 Annual Conference in Seattle.

The Teams

Organizing the teams around five priorities outlined in KSU’s university strategic plan kept the college’s strategic plan aligned to the university’s. The sixth team focused on resource allocation in support of the college’s plan. Each team was led by a facilitator (more on that in a bit).

Team Member Requirements

  • Must have opinions
  • Can disagree and still get along with others
  • Expertise in team’s subject
  • No title above “director”

A “naysayer” was an additional requirement of the resource allocation team. “If you can get the naysayer on board with resource decisions,” Eckart said, “Then you’ll have a much easier time with the rest of the college.”

Facilitators

One-and-done might be a bit of a misnomer. While it applied to most of the team members, facilitators put in around 400 hours of work—before, during, and after the retreat. 

A facilitator’s role? 

  • Prepare their team for the retreat.
  • During the retreat, manage the conversation (but don’t direct it).
  • After the retreat, analyze and document the team’s decisions.

Preparing Their Teams

Before the retreat, facilitators researched their team’s priority (examples: putting students first, meet regional needs). They read materials and interviewed stakeholders related to the priority. Once they felt they had developed enough expertise in their priority, facilitators decided what their teams should read to prepare for the retreat.

Manage the Conversation

As Ekhart said, “We trained the ever-loving crap out of [the facilitators].” Facilitators completed three days of training over three weeks prior to the retreat, including a full run-through of the retreat agenda, so they could be prepared to lead their teams in “Assess the Landscape” exercises from SCUP’s Planning Institute: Foundations, including stakeholder analysis, STEEP environmental scanning, and SWOT analysis.

At the end of the day, each team had identified potential strategic directions for the college.

Analyzing and Documenting

After the retreat, facilitators documented their team’s decisions and discussions. Then, facilitators met to look for commonalities between the teams. The decisions informed future strategic planning activities, including an all-college survey and the development of the college’s strategic plan goals.

Keys to Success

Eckert shared a few tips that made the retreat such a success:

Make it personal. 

Each team member received a personalized email invitation that explained why they were being asked to participate and the expertise they could contribute. 

Retreat name tags included each team member’s affiliation with the college (faculty, staff, student, alumni, etc.), so each person felt like their identity was being honored.

Make it special (without breaking the bank).

Do what you can with what you have! For example, retreat participants had reserved parking spots close to the on-campus location of the retreat.  

Neutralize dominant behaviors. 

Facilitators wrote ground rules for the day, which teams added to. 

Encourage respect. 

The day’s kick-off reviewed the amount of prep work the facilitators did, establishing the facilitators as in-room experts. 

Before sharing post-retreat documentation with the rest of the college, facilitators asked their team to review it for inaccuracies.

View the session slides.