Institutional success requires clarity of purpose and consistency of execution. Achieving both takes a strategic mindset not only at the top, but at every level, of the organization. Over the years, Maguire Associates has addressed strategic issues as an integral part of many assignments. Whether the primary focus has been managing enrollment, improving retention, addressing pricing and financial aid, or effectively positioning and branding the institution, strategic planning has been a necessary, and often critical, facet of our work.
Most educational institutions have undertaken some sort of strategic planning effort. In all too many cases, the experience has not been positive. Some typical complaints include:
- A lot of people spent a substantial amount of time (and money) attending meetings, doing research, and writing documents with not much of substance to show for it.
- Undifferentiated departmental wish-lists were generated without prioritization or meaningful trade-offs.
- The whole exercise was disconnected from ongoing operations, leaving behind a voluminous but rarely consulted strategic plan document.
How Maguire Associates’ Approach is Different
At Maguire Associates, we take a streamlined, dashboard-driven approach to strategic planning. We believe:
- The proper focus of strategic planning is not simply to produce a strategic plan but to create a desired future.
- People at all levels of an institution are making operational decisions daily that have strategic consequences. Their knowledge and experience should be incorporated into the process from the start.
- A fixed, long-range plan becomes outmoded, because the world changes around it. So a strategic plan needs to be refreshed annually.
- An organization benefits most when equipped with a set of strategic thinking skills and decision-making tools that are firmly rooted in reality and employed on a continuing basis across the institution.
- In order to succeed, strategic plans have to be “operationalized,” that is, integrated into the annual operating plans, budgets, and behaviors of the institution. It is through successfully managing the present – over time – that a strategic vision is attained.
Whether the need for strategic planning is prompted by a compelling issue such as declining enrollment, driven by a major institutional transition such as the installation of a new president, or occasioned by an accreditation review, our approach combines a balanced consideration of both the visionary and the pragmatic. In fact, it is a cycle that involves envisioning a future three, five, even ten years out and cycling back annually to gauge recent progress, revalidate underlying assumptions and, if necessary, recalibrate near-term plans. As illustrated below, this strategic thinking and planning cycle is an ongoing process in which the client institution is always Managing the Present but in a way that is periodically informed by Understanding the Past and Envisioning the Future. Maguire Associates works with clients to initiate this cycle – much as a fly-wheel starts an engine – and assists as needed in each of its three phases.
Understand the Past
By creating tailored dashboards around key metrics and by mining internal and external databases, we help clients improve their understanding of historical performance, drivers of success, key trends, and critical issues.
Envision the Future
We help clients perform dynamic SWOT analysis, environmental scans and other analyses to clarify their mission and values, and, through scenario simulations, one or more visions of a desired institutional future.
Manage the Present
We provide clients with a set of tools to manage strategic initiatives and continually assess progress toward goals.
Benefits to Our Clients
- We can initiate the strategic planning cycle at any point in the year, so our approach fits into each client’s schedule and circumstances. In most cases, the entire process can be completed within a single academic year.
- The approach is timely and cost effective. We only provide as many services as are needed and only for as long as needed to promote planning self-sufficiency.
- Because we build upon the institution’s collective knowledge and experience, the whole process assures greater faculty and staff ownership.
- By merging the operational and the strategic through tools such as strategically-informed budgets, we help bridge the “implementation gap” and distribute responsibility for strategic thinking and decision making throughout the organization.
- Because it is informed by meaningful data, the entire process promotes a sense of realism; and because it is responsive to a vision rooted in institutional mission, it has the inspirational power to mobilize all stakeholders and marshal their best efforts.
- Metrics are used in all three phases and displayed in insightful dashboard formats, facilitating the ongoing monitoring of institutional performance and enhancing accountability
Key Outcomes Addressed
- Alignment among key constituencies around a shared institutional vision.
- Commitment to achievable goals through actionable plans that are continually refreshed by a strategic perspective.
- Self-sufficiency in terms of strategic thinking and planning at all levels of the institution.