CATALYST v23n4 - Strategic Planning Tactics for Shared Governance

Volume XXIII, Number 4
Fall 1993

Strategic Planning Tactics for Shared Governance

Daniel J. Phelan
Vice President, Educational Services
Western Nebraska Community College

Travis P. Kirkland
Vice President, Academic and Student Affairs
Neosho County Community College

Jann E. Freed
Associate Professor of Management
Central University of Iowa

Before 1950, public and private organizational structures were largely uncomplicated. However, beginning with the late 1960s, environmental changes became more frequent. Institutional structures grew in size and complexity, technological applications increased, the rate of change accelerated, and the accustomed lead time for planning decreased. Consequently, organizations faced increased instability and uncertainty.

Change has continued to accelerate during the 1990s. Dramatic developments in Europe have affected the global marketplace. Elimination of the Berlin Wall, establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the January l, 1993, advancement of the European Community have created new markets while simultaneously increasing competition. The congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in November, 1993, produced additional new markets domestically.

To be competitive, business and industry executives have identified the need for lifelong education of their employees. Ballen (1991) noted that in 1991 over 15,000 executives, 10% more than 1990, attended business-related college programs. As the public and private organizational environment has become more uncertain, effective planning has become increasingly important (Goodstein, Nolan, & Pfeiffer, 1992; Green, 1987)

Clearly, education is not immune to the accelerating rate of change. Colleges and universities must adapt to powerful, pervasive forces altering the environment in which they operate. According to Parekh (1977), while college administrators may be aware of environmental changes, they are typically poor strategic planners. Plans that currently exist are usually too general to provide useful guidance for all organizational levels and often remain unused. Goodstein, Nolan, and Pfeiffer (1992) agreed "...our experience as consultants to a wide variety of organizations has convinced us that most strategic planning processes are poorly conceptualized and poorly executed; the process is often not very creative and it is tactical rather than strategic in nature; and the so-called strategic plan rarely impacts the day-to-day decisions made in the organization" (p. l). Obviously, the higher education community must evaluate its environment, consider a variety of potential futures, and then define and articulate the strategy to reach its chosen future.

Assessment of the Environment

The external environment of higher education is comprised of several major variables, including economic, demographics, political, social, and technological areas (Jonsen, 1984) . Each is important to the strategic planning process and should be critically evaluated with respect to its potential impact on the institution.

The economic environmental variable incorporates factors such as fluctuating interest, unemployment and inflation rates, availability of financial aid, trends in consumer spending, and a volatile energy situation (Cope, 1981) . A change in one or more of these factors may affect the overall fiscal status of an institution and directly impact its future direction.

Major shifts in student demographics have occurred in recent years. The competition for students is intense because the pool of students has been decreased by a growing trend among noneducational organizations (military, government, business) to offer postsecondary educational opportunities (Hodgkinson, 1980). The College Board estimates that although 50 million or more adults will engage in some type of systematic study, only 12 million of them will study in a college or university.

Governmental policies have a broad effect on institutions. Changes in the governmental arena occur frequently at all levels: federal, state, and local. Financial aid, funding, direct lending, retirement plan regulations, Social Security increases, Average Daily Attendance formulas, Supreme Court rulings, and information disclosure laws are only some of the areas vulnerable to political or judicial decisions (Green, 1987).

The academic environment is one of shifting social values and lifestyles. Social class structure and population mobility have changed remarkably. Changing values and interests challenge college administrators assessing program and service needs (Cope, 1981). Consequently, many colleges are forced to expand their market territories and increase recruiting efforts (Tuckman & Arcady, 1985).

Technology has changed traditional instructional methods (Morrison & Mecca, 1987). Computer science, for example, has not only affected teaching methods, but kinds of equipment, number of faculty and skills needed, and program lengths (Jonsen, 1984). Multi-media, CD-ROM, fiber optics, and distance education technology continue to make significant impacts on instructional strategy.

Cope (1978) provides a diagram that reflects some of the environmental variables influencing higher education institutions (Figure 1). Colleges and universities have a federated management structure that must satisfy many constituencies. This structure complicates the development and implementation of novel strategies agreeable to all involved (Cameron, 1983). The myriad of challenges in the external environment, as well as a federated structure, can threaten successful plan development and implementation. Therefore, careful analysis of relevant economic, demographic, political, social, and technological factors is essential to a successful planning process.

The Need for Planning

Goodstein, Nolan, and Pfeiffer (1992) noted that the importance of a strategic plan cannot be understated.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Conceptual representation of environmental cross impacts (Cope, 1978, p. 19)

"...It provides a framework for action that is embedded in the mind-sets of the organization and its employees. Strategic planning provides a framework for managers and others in the organization to assess strategic situations similarly, discuss the alternatives in a common language, and decide on actions (based on a shared set of values and understandings) that need to be taken in a reasonable period of time" (p.6). Indeed, the consequences of not committing to and initiating careful organizational planning are potentially destructive. For example, the lack of strategic planning has inhibited higher education's response to the changing global environment in six ways:

  1. A majority of institutions plan from year to year rather than for long term. Crisis management becomes the norm. No formal mechanism (i.e., a planning process) integrates departmental or institutional efforts.
  2. The external environment is evaluated infrequently, if at all. Therefore, the institution does not have the broad view necessary to make appropriate decisions. Leaders may be unaware of external factors posing threats or offering opportunities.
  3. The internal environment is seldom assessed. Thus, the institution is unable to identify its own strengths and weakness.
  4. The relationship between institutional resource allocation and goals is commonly ignored. Consequently, the institution is unable to respond to emerging needs.
  5. Institutions often evaluate their performances on revenues and expenditures, encouraging spending rather than working to achieve goals (Freed, 1987).
  6. Institutional mission statements are seldom used to guide the organization. Rather than providing a meaningful guide for the future, mission statements adorn college catalogs and presidential offices.

As a result of these nonresponsive activities, educational institutions are at risk. Institutions of higher learning are now forced to enter a realm familiar to business--that of fierce competition and proactive planning. Strategic planning can make the difference by changing an average institution into an above average institution (Marsee, 1991). According to Steeples (1988), "leadership in higher education will shift increasingly to institutions with the vision and the will to undertake strategic planning" (p.104). The obvious solution to these institutional eventualities is to engage in the strategic planning process.

Strategic planning offers several benefits. Foremost is the clarification of the institution's overall mission and identity, which focuses the allocation of scarce institutional resources. Ideally, strategic planning should link budgeting and planning processes to maximize effective use of resources (Goodstein, et al., 1992; Marsee, 1991). Second, a well-communicated strategic plan can inspire institutional members and external constituencies. Third, a clearly defined institutional purpose should increase internal consensus and external support. Fourth, a carefully developed plan is a significant evaluative tool to measure an institution's performance over time. And fifth, while planning cannot ensure the future for an institution, it can serve as a guide through the future dynamic of the world in general and education in specific.

Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning is a method that provides unity through constituent participation and strong administrative leadership (Goodstein, et al., 1992). It requires the creation of a specific institutional vision that encompasses an entire organization, reflecting decisions in five area: institutional mission, targeted groups, program offerings and priories, comparative advantages, and key institutional objectives. The vision must be translated onto a practical working concept of where the institution wishes to be (i.e., a mission statement). The strategic planning process, in its simplest form, is comprised of three components: (a) mission statement development (b) SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis, and (c) strategy development.

Mission Statement Development

Ideally, the mission statement is a unanimously developed declaration of the college's instructional, research, service, and emphasis areas (McKeown, Daugherty, & Carroll, 1990). Developing a mission statement initiates the strategic planning process. The mission statement enhances the probability that a strategic plan will be used as intended. Five critical strategic decisions must be made based on analyses of internal and external environments prior to mission statement development. The college must decide whether it will maintain the status quo, change emphasis while maintaining the fiscal status quo, cut back, expand, or close its doors. The option selected will direct mission statement development. According to Goodstein, et al., "Mission formulation involves developing a clear statement of what business the organization is in (or plans to be in)--a concise definition of the purpose that the organization is attempting to fulfill in society and/or the economy. In formulating its mission, an organization must answer four primary questions:

  1. What function(s) does the organization perform?
  2. For whom does the organization perform this function?
  3. How does the organization go about filling this function?
  4. Why does this organization exist?" (p. 18).

A mission statement should ultimately communicate institutional uniqueness (Cope, 1981). It should facilitate various constituencies' understanding of the institution and increase their support of the college. In addition, the mission statement can become an important communication tool (Moseley, 1980), attracting "the students it wishes to serve and the support it needs to survive" (Mayhew, 1979, p.28). Finally, the mission statement should serve as a "litmus test" by which all future actions, decisions, and pronouncements are measured.

SWOT Analysis

Once the organization's strategic mission is defined, it is critical to engage in an institutional self-assessment of its recent history and capacity to meet the future. SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, a common technique in strategic planning, should immediately follow mission statement development. SWOT analysis has internal and external components. Its internal components include analyzing programs, faculty, administration, unique institutional characteristics, morale, receptiveness to change, and the "system" of the institution for areas of strength and weakness. External environmental considerations are analyzed for opportunities and threats in the district, regional, or national issues and trends, state of market growth or constriction, known and potential competition, and institutional image. SWOT analysis, also referred to as a performance audit, is critical in that it allows the organization to engage in a focused effort of considering its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (Goodstein, et al., 1992). Consider the following definitions:

  1. Institutional strengths (internal) are facts, resources, reputation, or other factors that may be an advantage an institution has in relation to competitors and to needs identified in the internal environment.
  2. Institutional weaknesses (internal) are deficiencies or limitations that constrain performance and must be clearly identified.
  3. Institutional opportunities are external environmental situations that our internal strengths may exploit.
  4. Institutional threats, the antitheses of opportunities, are adverse external environmental or institutional situations with the potential to impede success.

The audit process is never "complete." The analysis, and the product it provides, must be a living document, constantly under formal and informal review, identifying emerging or dwindling opportunities and threats, and reassessing changes in institutional strengths and weakness. Feedback is continuous during the process (i.e., cyclical rather than linear).

Strategy Development

The strategic plan flows from the SWOT analysis and is generally a 3-5 year operational or tactical plan that leads toward institutional mission accomplishment. From the analysis, priorities or objective statements are identified that position the institution for the future. Objective statements are further defined as individual, attainable tasks or milestones. Each milestone is then assigned to a person(s) responsible for attainment, time line, needed resources, and evaluation. All objectives and their consequent milestones are compiled on a matrix (see Figure 2). The resultant matrix serves as the organization's plan. The strategic plan must be monitored closely and evaluated constantly for appropriateness. At the conclusion of the plan's third year, it is advisable to repeat the strategic planning process.

Obstacles to Strategic Planning

Lindquist (1978) observed that change in higher education institutions is usually forced by external pressure rather than anticipated by internal planning. Strategic planning required evaluation of the present situation (i.e., self-evaluation), a process that is inherently political (Wildavsky, 1972). Resistance often arises because self-evaluation can imply dissatisfaction with the status quo. Some employees will oppose planning altogether because of the lack of an immediate payoff. Planning may be considered a time-consuming process with few immediate recognizable rewards.

Employees may resist self-evaluation because it is difficult and unsettling to analyze a shifting environment; they may be apprehensive of the unknown . Barker (1992) suggested that this is a logical consequence of people's constant resistance to change. He stated further that "...Much of the confusion we have about the future is because of changes in paradigms. These changes are especially important for us because, whether it is in business or education or politics or our personal lives, a paradigm change, by definition, alters the basic rules of the game" (p.39). He cautioned that unless organizations and individuals think about their futures and the potential variations precipitated by new paradigms, they are at risk (Barker, 1992).

Presidential involvement is imperative to the success of the planning effort. If top-level leadership is not apparent, planning and decision making will not be effective. Additionally, planners must seek campus-wide participation and support. The literature is replete with examples of good plans gone astray because all constituencies were not involved (DuRapau & Okeafor, 1990; White, 1990). Planning involvement by representatives from all institutional levels cannot be understated.

Yet another barrier to successful strategic planning involves an overabundance of data. Since education is a data-hungry enterprise, strategic planning can be crippled by overemphasis on data collection and analysis. Excessive and unnecessary paperwork will delay the process and blur the focus. Strategic planning is a useful tool, but it is not a panacea for all institutional problems. It does not create strength where there is none. It does not overcome resistance to change. According to Goodstein, et al., (1992), the strategic planning process will often prompt resistance. For many, the prospects of envisioning an uncertain future may be threatening. Notwithstanding these limitations, strategic planning is necessary for identifying and pursing long-range institutional goals.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Strategic Planning Matrix (Model adapted from North Iowa Area Community College, Mason City, Iowa)


Strategic planning has existed for over 50 years in business and the military as a mechanism to anticipate the future using currently available date. Given that length of time, it is not surprising that many strategic planning variations have emerged. These variations range from simple to complex, cursory to exhaustive, and pragmatic to burdensome. Lorange and Vancil, (1977), Steiner,(1979), Simerly, (1989), Goodstein, et al., (1992), and others have prepared a variety of strategic planning models. Each contains fundamental concepts of shared governance. Yet, which is best for academe? These authors suggest the best model is a simple one. Adherence to the spirit of a three component model and broad participation in the process will, de facto, result in a strategic planning model specifically suited to the institution conducting the planning.

Some institutions are observers, some are actors, and some are unaware. Educational institutions cannot afford to be idle observers or be unaware. Clearly, strategic planning, whether intuitive or formal, is necessary if institutions are going to be competitive.


Ballen, K. (1991). More executives go back to school. Fortune, 123(6).

Barker, J.A. (1992). Future Edge: Discovering the new Paradigms of success. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Cameron, K. (1983). Strategic response to conditions of decline. Journal of Higher Education, 54(4), 359, 379.

Cope, R.G. (1981)Strategic policy planning: A guide for college and university administrators. Englewood, CO: The Ireland Educational Corporation.

Cope, R.G. (1981). Strategic planning, management, and decision making. AAHE-ERlC/Higher Education Research Report.

DuRapau, T.M., & Okeafor, K.R. (1990). Organizational change processes in a private university and organizational health . Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston.

Freed, J.E. (1987). Relationships among indicators of institutional viability and variables associated with planning process in small, independent liberal-arts institutions. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.

Green, J.L.(1987). A strategic planning system for higher education. Topeka, KS: Strategic Planning/ Management Associates, Inc.

Goodstein, L.D., Nolan, T.M., & Pfeiffer, J.M. (1992). Applied Strategic Planning: A Comprehensive Guide. San Diego: Pfeiffer and Company.

Hodgkinson, H.L. (1980) . Impact of national issues. In P. Jedamus & M.W. Peterson (Eds.), Improving academic management (pp. 1-8). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Jonsen, R.W. (1984). Small colleges cope with the eighties. Journal of Higher Education, 55(2), 171-183.

Lindquist, J. (1978). Strategies for change. Berkeley, CA: Pacific Soundings Press.

Lorange, P., & Vancil, R.F. (1977). Strategic planning systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Marsee, J. (1991). Linking strategic planning and the budgeting process: Creating the "winning edge." Paper presented at the National Conference on Administrative Leadership in Community Colleges, Orlando, FL, 1991.

Mayhew, L.B. (1979). Surviving the eighties: Strategies and procedures for solving fiscal and enrollment problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, Inc.

McKeown, M.P., Daugherty, C.M., & Carroll, A.W. ( 1990). Implementing a strategic plan: The successful product of budgeting and planning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, 1990.

Morrison, J. L., & Mecca, T.V. (1987) Ed quest: A process of linking environmental changes with strategic management. The 27th Annual Forum. Kansas City, MO: The Association for Institutional Research.

Moseley, J.D. (1980). This mission of the church related college. Liberal Education, 662(2), 177-182.

Parekh, S.B. (1977). A long range planning model for colleges and universities. New York, NY: Project of the Phelps-Stokes Fund.

Simerly, R.G. (1989) . Strategic planning and leadership in continuing education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Steeples, D.W. (1988). Successful strategic planning: Case studies. New Directions for Higher Education, 64.

Steiner, G.A. (1979). Strategic planning: What every manager must know. New York: Free Press.

Tuckman, H., & Arcady, P. (1985). Myths about size and performance: Managing the small college. Educational Record, 66(3), 16-20.

Wildavsky, A. (1972). The self-evaluating organization. In J.M. Shafritz & A.C. Hyde (Eds.), Classics of Public Administration (pp. 412-427). Oak Park, IL.

Tracy Gilmore