Developing the Action Plan

In This Issue

Once you have defined the priorities for your division and have set some strategic objectives for the immediate future (e.g., the next three years), how do you turn those objectives into concrete action plans with a champion, timeline, and clear measures of success? Larry Goldstein, president of Campus Strategies, LLC, suggests the following process.

Gather a broadly representative group from your division and divide them into small groups, each of which will draft an action plan for one of the strategic priorities you've established. "The key is self-selection," Goldstein notes. "Don't assign someone to work on an action plan if they lack the enthusiasm and the interest. Otherwise, how strong can your action plan actually be?"

Following a template for action planning developed by Pat Sanaghan, president of The Sanaghan Group, Goldstein recommends having each of the groups outline:

  • What is the overarching goal?
  • What are three specific action steps or activities that will move us toward the goal?
  • What is the timeline?
  • What resources are needed?
  • Who will champion and steward the effort?
  • Who else needs to be involved?
  • What will success look like, and how will we measure it?
  • What pitfalls should we be aware of, going in?

If you manage a large division, Goldstein suggests assigning multiple groups to work on action plans for a given priority -- you can then choose the best from among the suggestions made. If you manage a much smaller unit, consider devoting staff meetings to action planning. Perhaps you elect to devote each week for several weeks to one of the division's priorities, and in each of these weekly meetings, you work through the template together and decide how to operationalize that priority.

Identifying Three Action Steps

"The activities you commit to have to be very concrete," Goldstein cautions. "These are specific steps you can take that will move you closer to success. You need to be able to say easily that either you achieved or didn't achieve this step."

For example:

  • We will conduct an RFP process to identify consultants in this arena.
  • We will visit these three peer institutions to find out what they have done.
  • We will conduct research to determine the best value for investment dollar among various technologies.


Specificity is critical. You want to tie each of the action steps you've identified to a specific time. Identify appropriate phases for each activity. For example, for an RFP process, define timelines for conducting the initial research, issuing the RFP, and selecting the appropriate consultant or vendor.

Identifying the Resources Needed

Goldstein emphasizes the need to consider all the resources needed, not just budget dollars. Consider leadership attention, technology, and time. Staff hours are often the most critical resource -- can you free up staff from doing X to allow them to devote themselves to Y? "This has to be addressed realistically up front," Goldstein warns. "You can't put together an action plan with pie-in-the-sky expectations about resources."

The key is to align resources, the scope of the plan (as expressed in the specific action steps you've proposed), and the anticipated timeline.

"If I know any two of these three -- resources, scope, and time," Goldstein adds, "I can determine what the third will be. If these three are looked at separately, you have a big problem."

Have the tough conversations at the outset:

  • If you know your division will be short on resources, do you need to extend your timeline?
  • Are you committing to too much, given the resources available?
  • If a shortened timeline is critical, do you need to find creative ways to increase the resources available? If you're short on staff, do you need to bring in outside expertise?

Identifying the People Needed

First, a given initiative will need a champion. Select this individual on the basis of their expertise and their affinity for the project, not their title. This is the individual who will steward the project, marshaling resources and people to move it forward. "This person needs to be in the room when selected and needs to be a vital part of that conversation," Goldstein notes. "You can have no champions by default."

"The champion is the one who takes it to heart that the success of the action plan is instrumental to their own success. Responsibility for these activities is not just another assignment; it comes with accountability."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies, LLC

When deciding who else to involve, Goldstein recommends setting narrow criteria. Those involved in the activity need to be there for a clear reason. Either they have special expertise they can apply to these activities, or it is part of their core responsibility to be involved, or, politically, it would be inappropriate not to involve them.

Identifying these key people at the outset -- in the same conversation that identifies the action steps, the timeline, and the resources needed -- will help you make sure not to miss anyone you do need, while avoiding too many cooks in the kitchen.

Measuring the Plan's Success

To set your division up for a successful implementation, decide on key measures of success from the outset. These measures need to be specific and quantifiable. For example, progress toward a goal of becoming a leader in the use of instructional technologies could be measured by the number of faculty engaged in adopting instructional technologies in their classes, the number of courses that have integrated instructional technologies, the GPA of the students in those classes, or any of a number of critical and measurable factors.

Is there a specific distinction that will let you know the goal has been reached? A specific score on a student satisfaction survey? Decide, in dialogue with key people across your department, what measures are truly important.

Anticipating Pitfalls

Finally, engage in some realistic contingency planning. Goldstein recommends holding a "pre-mortem" planning activity to brainstorm what might go wrong, and what your division can put in place to mitigate these potential obstacles.


The pre-mortem is an activity developed by Pat Sanaghan to anticipate various issues that might arise that would stall implementation of your plan —- and to create effective strategies for dealing with these anticipated challenges. You can learn more about the pre-mortem and other planning activities at Academic Impressions' upcoming Integrated Resource Allocation and Strategic Planning conference.

What if you are unable to secure the resources you need? What if a key person you need will be away on sabbatical and unavailable? "Don't assume you're going to get everything you need," Goldstein remarks. "Plan a cushion. Let's say that if everything goes perfectly, the initiative would take a six-month effort. Assume it won't go perfectly and allow yourself seven months."

Or consider obstacles that may arise related to buy-in. Perhaps your action plan calls for adoption of instructional technologies, and a pitfall that you can foresee is insufficient faculty participation. Can you invest time up front to identify all the benefits that would accrue to faculty who participate (increased student engagement, etc.) and build the case?

Also In This Issue

Setting Priorities for Your Division

Developing the Action Plan

Funding Your Action Plan

Strategies to Ensure Implementation