this is Third in a series of re-posted and Revised pieces I wrote Pre-covid19 that are more relevant than ever during this stunningly challenging time. I posted The original version of this one on November 21, 2019.
[Many of the school leaders who see this will likely have a strategic plan somewhere below a stack of recently made obsolete budget projections and March 20th Board meeting agendas. While the Strategic Plan may seen hopelessly back-dated, there is much to learn that is relevant in this time of Covid19 regarding just how vital it is to prioritize the process a leader and a team uses to reach both strategic and practical decisions as much as the product. Over the last couple of months schools have had to ask students and families a great deal. Our “customers” have had to adjust with us without seeing even as far forward as school leaders (and not even school leaders can see far at all). School leaders have been asking students, families, faculty and staff to accept decisions on faith. This works for a while. It will not work much longer.
School leaders need a plan for how to plan. Given the unprecedentedly short time-line in which schools must make and implement decisions now, there is significant risk of skipping process. The dangers of this are manifold. Here are three:
- Schools will make decisions in a vacuum, thus foreseeable problems will arise quickly and may be intractable.
- Even if the decisions are sound, the community will be ill-prepared to accept them, as the rationale will be unclear.
- The school community will feel disenfranchised (because they have been disenfranchised!) and as a result, they will be less inclined to aid in execution of decisions and the strategy they represent.
This Wednesday, Moira Kelly, President of Exploration Learning and I will be presenting a webinar on “Reopening School in a Pandemic: Planning for Fall 2020” for the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). Moira will examine reopening models and the operational and programmatic issues that will accompany throwing open the doors of brick and mortar schools in the Age of COVID. In my role as incoming VP for School Strategy for EXPLO Elevate I will walk us through a practical planning process called 2-5-10.
On Friday, I will take a significantly deeper dive into change management and process in a webinar for EXPLO Elevate titled, “Great Management in Times of Crisis: Leading Through COVID-19.” The webinar description: “Covid19 requires not that we imagine the world will reach a new normal, but rather that we create within our school a new normal regarding how we respond to an ever changing world. In this webinar, incoming Vice President for School Strategy for EXPLO, Ross Peters, will take a deep dive into a change management process called TWO-FIVE-TEN. School leaders and leadership teams face unprecedented and stunningly complex decisions in the quickly evolving context of the Covid19 pandemic. TWO-FIVE-TEN is scalable, replicable and well-suited to frame the expedited change processes demanded by Covid19. Ross will also point out how to use pilot programs and foreshadowing as tools to help constituents understand the direction of the school when so much feels uncertain.”
What follows is the original post.]
“Check out the new 2020 Strategic Plan—well-equipped, versatile, nodding to the past, styled for the future.”
For a moment think of a strategic plan as a luxury car, comprised of elegantly styled components. It is flashy; the engine sounds great; the styling is sleek. It represents the best of the elements of other luxury cars, and just as importantly, it has a few components not found in any of its competitor’s vehicles. When it arrives off the assembly line, there is a celebration of completing its design and assembly. But in truth, the car hasn’t done anything yet. Paradoxically, it has arrived, and it has not arrived—it simply exists. It is all potential.
The greatest challenge for educational institutions is not finding ambitious language to define strategic goals—we have proven time and again we can create a good-looking plan (to extend the metaphor, we can build beautiful cars with a great deal of performance potential). The greatest challenge is executing fully toward the vision of the language we create. Read any group of strategic plans from secondary schools, colleges, or universities, and you will find ample worthy goals—we build some beautiful-looking vehicles for strategy. However, not all of them (or perhaps only a very few of them) have the muscle to lay the foundation for successful implementation. My premise is: the secret to high quality implementation lies in the process that creates the strategic plan as much as it does the components of the plan itself. The process we use to determine WHAT our strategy should be also determines our ability to achieve the vision of the plan (the HOW).
Plan creation and implementation are not separate tasks but one whole with two inter-related components. Additionally, the goals of plan creation must include a vision of implementation. In short, our mistake is often that we focus on WHAT we want to create to a degree that dwarfs HOW we actually plan on achieving it. Indeed, the WHAT is often engaged without any vision of HOW to “get it on the road.”
Institutions don’t simply succeed or fail in strategic change implementation in the days, months, and years after plan is announced rather the plan creation process itself significantly determines the degree to which a plan succeeds or fails.