How Good is Your Crystal Ball?

How Leaaders Can Plan for the Future in Higher Ed - Image of a Crystal Ball

by David Kiel, Dr. P.H., David Kiel Associates, LLC
with contributions from Amit Mrig (President, Academic Impressions)
and Pat Sanaghan (President, The Sanaghan Group)

Dr. David Kiel is a higher-education organization and leadership consultant currently involved in projects at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. He is the author of the paper Creating a Faculty Leadership Development Program (Academic Impressions, 2015) and is the co-author of If Your Life Were a Business, Would You Invest in it? (McGraw Hill, 2003) which is about how individuals can use strategic planning in their own lives. This article owes much to the insights, suggestions, and feedback of Pat Sanaghan, of the Sanaghan Group.

How Academic Leaders Can Reinvigorate Forecasting and Planning Processes on their Campuses

The recent surprise in the US presidential election results suggests that those who do not pay close attention to current trends and possible future events may be unprepared for sudden and impactful changes. This is especially a wake up call for those who are in leadership positions on college and university campuses. In today's volatile environment, predictions that were once thought unlikely may actually have huge consequences. For example, many thought the call for free public higher education that surfaced several years ago was so unrealistic that it could be discounted. Now several states have enacted laws in that area.

How many people predicted MOOCs, or even now have a good sense of their long-term implications? The FLSA executive ruling on overtime, originally due to take effect December 1, was stayed by a federal court. Competition from for-profit educational programs looked like it might be on the wane after the recent federal crackdown, but now the founder of Trump University is the POTUS, so what does that mean for the for-profit sector?

How do college and university leaders keep on top of these rapid changes? The short answer is that they can’t; no one can anticipate all contingencies. The longer and better answer is that leaders need to institute regular processes to monitor and discover trends, events, and issues that could have an impact on their campuses. In addition--and this is the hard part--they need to have a process by which they consider the implications of these trends, issues and events, and then identify potential actions so they are ready to move when possibility becomes reality.

There are four things to keep in mind when trying to insulate your campus against "future shock":

  1. First, you must gather information from a variety of perspectives.
  2. You have to weigh that information in a systematic way.
  3. You have to plan and act on the basis of that assessment.
  4. Finally, you should create a leadership culture in which future prediction, planning, and action is understood, supported and expected.

In offering these four suggestions, we are joining in a line of thinking that is becoming more accepted in the private sector in recent years, especially after so many were blindsided by the catastrophic economic events that led to the recent global recession. (See "Are You a Vigilant Leader?"; "How to Make Sense of Weak Signals"; and most recently, Rob-Jan de Jong's Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead).

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