The Strategic Planning Implementation Clinic

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Bogged down in implementing your strategic plan? Try this creative meeting design to get things moving.

by Patrick Sanaghan (The Sanaghan Group)

Successful execution of a strategic plan separates the excellent from the "pretty good." Creating great "visions" and ennobling pictures of the future for a campus is not difficult. There are many smart, dedicated and hardworking faculty, staff and administrators throughout every campus and they have powerful aspirations. The really hard part is the implementation part, and too few institutions are good at it.

Problems are inevitable during an implementation process, but they are often covered up because people are reluctant to ask for help, don't want to appear inadequate, or are "stuck" with what they are doing and lack good solutions.

Having worked on strategic planning with hundreds of campuses over the last 25+ years, I have created the following meeting design. The Strategic Planning Implementation Clinic creates the opportunity to surface the real problems and pressing challenges that campus stakeholders are facing in implementing strategic priorities, and allows leaders to tap the thinking & resources of participants to generate constructive and realistic solutions to tough problems.

This meeting design:

  • Fully engages participants (they work very hard in this meeting).
  • Builds participants' problem-solving capacity.
  • Taps the creativity and wisdom of participants.
  • Helps normalize the fact that people on campus are experiencing problems and challenges - that challenges are both expected and can be overcome.

One caution: This design will only work if the campus climate feels safe enough for participants to share real organizational problems. If failure isn't tolerated on your campus or if the trust level is low, don't use this design.

How to Set Up the Clinic

A senior leader (e.g. an executive vice president or provost) needs to convene this kind of meeting and fully support its outcomes. This is essential; senior-level sponsorship creates both the opportunity and safety needed to operationalize this meeting. This should not be an ad hoc, informal meeting where participants congregate, share some problems, and then hope things somehow work out. You need senior leadership's credibility and support to pull this initial meeting off.

Once participants have experienced success with the Strategic Planning Implementation Clinic, they often organize more localized implementation clinics back in their own units. But the first one needs senior level support.

This meeting design works best with 12–24 participants, but you can increase that up to 30 participants if needed. Here is what you need:

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