It has become common practice in the last ten years for universities to produce some form of institutional strategy to set out their mission, values and the direction of travel of the organisation. While the focus of an institution beginning the job of creating a new strategy is often on the output and implementation, the process of strategy creation deserves thought and attention as well.
Done well, it can align the energy and focus of that community, harnessing the expertise and insight of the university and its stakeholders, so that they know where they are heading and are all pulling in the same direction.
Done badly, perhaps with a strategy imposed by a small executive team, it can disconnect the leadership from the very staff who will need to be engaged in the delivery.
The process of listening and learning from the university community and other stakeholders should be fundamental to strategy development, alongside consideration of a comprehensive and insightful evidence base. With a clear, honest and realistic understanding of the university’s strengths and weaknesses, the strategy can instil an achievable sense of the future into the whole community.
The effectiveness of a strategy is typically assessed by measures of success and KPIs, and the monitoring of progress is important. But how often do governing bodies, the executive and those responsible for strategy development take time to consider the process that was followed and how that could be improved in future iterations?
The ability to reflect effectively on the previous strategy creation processes, as well as the self-evaluation of current performance and position, requires openness and candour. Each institution has its own character and ways of operating, and its strategy development process and strategy implementation are themselves part of living and demonstrating its culture and values.
It can be difficult to find the time and capacity to devote to strategy generation amongst the demands of business as usual, particularly for small institutions where the professional services can lack critical mass or are already stretched by covering wide portfolios. But the benefits of investing in the strategy creation process should be acknowledged in terms of building consensus in the institution and cohesion in the community. After all, it is the university’s academics and professional services staff that are key to delivering the strategy.
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