Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Five strategies for successful implementation of your strategic plan

Posted on September 26, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Earlier this year the Harvard Business Review published an article by Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull on Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It. The findings from their research into hundreds of companies confirm the issues that I’ve seen at dozens of colleges and many of the recommendations I offer in my book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability.


1. Focus, focus, focus. A successful institution has just a few clear priorities. Many colleges spread themselves too thin, pursuing “more initiatives than resources can support” and ending up doing a mediocre job of many things rather than an excellent job on a few top priorities.


2. Communicate. A successful institution has just a few clear priorities that everyone understands. Sull and his colleagues concluded that, often because there are too many priorities and strategic initiatives, most people don’t understand their institution’s strategic goals, how they relate to each other, and how they connect to strategies (the things people do to achieve the strategic goals). The proportions of people who say they understand how major priorities and initiatives fit together drops from just over half of top leaders to less than a third of their direct reports to 16% of people like department chairs.


3. Be flexible and innovative. A successful institution must be agile enough to adapt to changing circumstances and new opportunities. A good strategic plan is flexible; the overall strategic goals are relatively constant, but the strategies to achieve them continually evolve. But Sull and his colleagues found that “after investing enormous amounts of time and energy formulating a plan and its budget,” many institutions are reluctant to deviate from them. Sull and his colleagues also note that “agility requires a willingness to experiment, and many managers avoid experimentation because they fear the consequences of failure. Half the managers we have surveyed believe that their careers would suffer if they pursued but failed at novel opportunities or innovations.”


4. Coordinate. Sull and his colleagues found that 30% of managers said the single greatest challenge to executing institutional strategy was failure to coordinate across units. Only 9% of managers said they can rely on colleagues in other functions and units all the time, and just half said they can rely on them most of the time. Sull and his colleagues suggest that institutional leaders “could help by adding structured processes to facilitate coordination” and “do a better job of modeling teamwork.”

5. Put your money where your mouth is. A successful institution aligns its resources with its top priorities. Resources include how people spend their time; successful institutions recognize and reward not only accomplishments but agility, teamwork, and collaboration. But Sull and his colleagues concluded that resources are often “trapped” in unproductive or peripheral uses. They found that institutional leaders “devote a disproportionate amount of time and attention” to programs and initiatives “with limited upside” and fail to move resources from tangential programs to ones that strongly support institutional priorities.

Categories: Institutional effectiveness