ERIC Identifier: ED447842
Publication Date: 2000-08-00
Author: Howell, Elaine
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Strategic Planning for a New Century: Process over Product.
Since the 1980s, community college administrators have been using the
strategic planning process as a way to guide their institutions into the future
and soften the surprises that come with economic, technological, demographic,
and political change. However, a strategic plan can be limiting and even
damaging to an organization when it does not allow for flexibility. In a rapidly
changing world, uncertainty is an element that must be built into any long-range
plan, as "long-range thinking is important, but long-range plans can be traps"
(American Society of Training and Development, 1990, p. 10). This digest
discusses traditional strategic planning in the community college, the people
involved, examples of colleges' planning processes, and recent thinking that
supports a change in the way institutions plan for the future.
STRATEGIC VS. LONG-RANGE PLANNING
Long-range planning and
strategic planning are often used as synonyms, but there is a difference:
strategic planning aims to exploit the new and different opportunities of
tomorrow, in contrast to long-range planning, which tries to optimize for
tomorrow the trends of today (Morrison, et al., 1984). Long-range planning is
usually inwardly focused and consists of monitoring trends of interest to the
institution, forecasting the expected future of these trends, defining the
desired future for the institution by setting goals, implementing policies and
actions, and evaluating the effects of these actions and policies on the
In contrast, strategic planning begins with environmental scanning, a process
of studying the external environment via newspapers, literature, and periodicals
for emerging issues that pose threats or opportunities to an institution. Each
issue is then evaluated with regard to its possible impact. The environmental
scan and evaluation are combined with the conventional long-range planning
process to produce six stages of strategic planning: (1) environmental scanning;
(2) evaluation of issues; (3) forecasting; (4) goal setting; (5) implementation;
and (6) monitoring (Morrison et al., 1984). This model allows for both internal
and external issues to be considered during the planning process.
As an example, Capital Community-Technical College (Connecticut) presents its
strategic planning process as a system that integrates four components: plan,
do, check, and act (Mohammadi, 1997). The first component consists of the
environmental scan and the formulation of the college's mission, vision,
strategic issues, and long-range institutional goals. The second component is
comprised of establishing departmental objectives, activities, measures,
methods, and intended outcomes. All academic and administrative departments are
required to exchange data and information, and at the same time develop
operating procedures that will enable them to assess their stated objectives and
activities. Capital's third component involves the assessment and evaluation of
intended outcomes, and the fourth component focuses on using the results of the
evaluation to improve academic programs, academic support services, and
administrative processes at the college.
THE HUMAN ASPECT OF PLANNING
Perhaps the most important
element in the strategic planning process is the people. A successful plan will
have a group of organized staff, trustees, administrators, faculty, and, often,
students behind it. Some common needs of individuals should be kept in mind
during any planning process: the need to feel important, to be respected, to be
informed, to receive recognition and rewards, to know the expectations held for
performance, and to have influence (McClenney, 1982). Recognizing these needs
and facilitating an environment conducive to trust and communication are
imperative. Absence of trust will "short-circuit even the most creative plans
for organizational development" (p. 107).
Strategic planning at Victor Valley College (California) met with resistance
several times in the early 1990s when change was attempted (Gould and Caldwell,
1998). The existing organizational culture at the college was one of distrust
and segmentalism in which faculty, staff, and administration had become
adversarial and territorial. When a new president arrived in 1990 and began
making efforts to change the organization, he was unsuccessful. But, after
embracing the principles set forth by Covey (1990), most notably personal
trustworthiness, interpersonal trust, and managerial empowerment, the president
helped garner the faith and cooperation of his employees. An environmental scan
and a strategic plan were successfully completed, followed by an eventual
re-engineering of the college.
Most colleges recognize the importance of individual and group personalities
in the strategic planning process. Rio Salado College (Arizona) implemented some
helpful activities for its employees during this process, including a survey
that identified employees' biggest fears about change, an employee training
program and empowerment training manual, a weekly President's bulletin, a
monthly President's breakfast with a small group of randomly selected employees,
and a rewards and recognition program (Thor, 1993). Allegany Community College
in Maryland developed a model for managing organizational change that emphasized
the human element (Frank and Rocks, 1996). Built into the model was a component
for active, two-way communication, as well as a component that called for
commitment and input from all personnel to the planning process. According to
this model, organizational leaders should be sensitive in managing change and
assisting employees with transitions, and proposed changes should begin with
frank discussions of possible causes of resistance.
A TRADITIONAL MODEL
One of the foremost models used in
strategic planning and change management, Lewin's (1951) Forcefield Analysis
defines an organizational environment in need of change as a state of imbalance
between driving forces (legislation, economic imperatives, competitive
pressures) and restraining forces (traditional practices, organizational
culture, job insecurity). To achieve change, three steps are required: (1) the
driving and restraining forces that hold the organization in a state of
equilibrium must be unfrozen; (2) an imbalance must be introduced that enables
change to take place, preferably achieved by reducing the restraints; and (3)
the new elements must be refrozen. In the case of Victor Valley College,
mentioned above, the restraining force of organizational culture was reduced, "unfreezing" the state of equilibrium. In time, the institution was successfully
transformed (Gould and Caldwell, 1998).
THE FUTURE OF STRATEGIC PLANNING
Although Lewin's model
remains popular more than 50 years after its initial development, some scholars
prefer more dynamic models . Pettigrew and Whipp (1991) developed a model of
strategic change that emphasizes continuous interplay between the components of
change, differentiating between the inner and outer context: outer refers to
external factors such as economic, political and social environments; and inner
is concerned with internal influences such as resources, capabilities, and
culture. Vaill (1989) asserts that the reason some traditional planning models
are becoming outmoded is that the contexts surrounding a situation will not hold
still long enough to make a planned course of action feasible. Drucker (as cited
in Lorenzo, 1993) explains that organizations can no longer base decisions on
what is most likely to happen. They must ask instead, "What has already happened
that will create the future?" (p. 50)
According to Lorenzo (1993), a new planning model must emphasize process over
product. As the environment changes, strategic planning must evolve into an
ongoing process. Requirements for a new model of strategic planning in community
colleges also include: (1) producing a clear sense of purpose and an
understanding of the college's relationship to the larger environment; (2)
devoting greater attention to measuring effectiveness and improving quality; (3)
objectively and systematically monitoring faculty and staff attitudes; (4)
determining more accurately the external forces that trigger the need for
change; (5) designing an environmental scan that reflects the expectations of
multiple and diverse constituencies; and (6) providing a means to monitor and
influence public opinion.
Planning efforts must also take institutional culture into account. Only by
understanding the cultures and subcultures unique to an institution can
strategic planning and change management attempt to include all facets of a
college's population. Carter (1998) asserts that "transformation calls for the
entire college community to become involved" (p. 441) and describes any major
change in the community college as a cultural change. According to Carter,
"there are disruptive and uncomfortable dimensions to cultural change ... [but]
it can also be a time of tremendous innovation and creativity" (p. 447). What
should accompany any effective plan is a set of activities designed to support
the process of cultural transformation.
Community college leaders in the next century
must create a new organizational culture--one with decentralized decision
making, collaborative governance, structure and systems aligned with
institutional values and goals, and the ability to thrive on chaos (Gould and
Caldwell, 1998). The strategic planning process must be constant and fluid, with
the flexibility to accommodate change in internal and external forces. Instead
of focusing on a strategic plan, community colleges should emphasize strategic
planning--a verb rather than a noun, an ongoing and people-centered activity
rather than a finished product.
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