Hi everyone,

After more than a decade in existence, my department has no mission, vision, or long-term plans in place. The time has come. What do I do?


- We are a university department that runs a number of programs that provide access and support for non-traditional students.

- We need to do some significant fundraising.

- We are often presented with opportunities for growth (new programs, more students), which we address in an ad-hoc way.

- We have just come through an extremely difficult period that ended with the termination of an incompetent and toxic admin support person. Our managers were beaten down by the experience.

- Our assistant manager is on sabbatical this year. A colleague and I have divided her duties between us. We want to create plan instead of lurching from one crisis/event to the next. Our manager is vaguely on board but is an academic with no positive experience of planning exercises (endless meetings, dust-collecting reports).


- What is the basic process of strategic planning? We are thinking of a gradual process of collecting and analysing information about us (e.g., interview the team and students; SWOT analysis, etc.). Then in a few months, a retreat to come up with a mission and some goals. Are we on the right track? Can you offer more detailed suggestions?

- We are thinking of hiring a consultant to lead the department through a strategic planning exercise. Any advice for us here? Your experience?

- Any reading suggestions? I have browsed in the library but most is geared toward for-profit business and has a corporate feel that would be quite distasteful to many on our team. Anything good for non-profits, especially in education?

Thanks everyone!


tlhausmann's picture
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[quote="rthibode"]Hi everyone,
After more than a decade in existence, my department has no mission, vision, or long-term plans in place. The time has come. What do I do?

I have assembled IT strategic plans for a number of colleges.

The word "alignment" may be overused and nevertheless it is still the first step. Review your overarching college/university strategic goals.

A handy worksheet I use has three columns.
Column 1 - Priority (urgent, important, desired)
Column 2 - The Goal/Initiative
Column 3 - Notes on how it ties back to the institutional plan

If you cannot justify the goal with hooks back into the institutional plan then how else do you justify the initiative?

When your plan is approved through channels and you desire to begin sharing it with oversight committees then add Column 4 - Status (Completed, On-going, Pending). [b]The result is a tractable, living plan that is easily updated.[/b]

bug_girl's picture

If you are at a university, you may have access to people who can help you with this process. Have you checked with HR, development, and faculty development?

External consultants can be really helpful--but find out if you can get one free!

rthibode's picture

Thank you bug_girl.

We are working with someone in the development office but they don't offer planning support. The other two departments you mention aren't viable options on our campus, unfortunately. The faculty development office doesn't offer it ether. HR might offer this, but our experience working with HR has been almost wholly negative, and there is no way I could convince my boss to work with them on something like this.

I have chatted with Tom Hausmann about how to get started. He offered some helpful advice such as starting from the university's strategic plan and identifying ways in which our department already supports it. He has also shared his own process for planning, which I'm going to take a look at shortly.

I'm also reading Bryson's Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, which provides a good overview and some practical advice that I think I can use.

Through my network, I have leads on a few consultants experienced with our type of organization and hope to have some price quotes by next week.

Thanks for you help everyone!


bug_girl's picture

Bummer! Well, if I think of anything else, I'll be sure to share.

Good luck! It can be done--I saw someone take a completely dysfunctional academic unit and turn it around within 3 years to be the place on campus to be affiliated with.

bflynn's picture

Again, getting in late. If you're looking to do this on a budget, check with your business school too. This is exactly up their alley and students always need a few extra dollars. Even though the work could come out a little unpolished and academic, most good professors are looking for ways to relate the classwork to real life situations.