"Bringing Plans to Life: Implementation"

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September 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005
8:30 to 10:00 a.m.
404 Old Main

The Quality Advocates meeting on September 16, 2005 focused on best practices in developing and implementing strategic plans. The three panelists included Jack Burke, Chancellor, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College; Gail Hurley, Interim Associate Vice President, Auxiliary and Business Services; and Eva Pell, Vice President for Research and Dean of The Graduate School. Louise Sandmeyer, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment acted as moderator.

Louise Sandmeyer, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, explained that the three panelists were asked to share their experiences with strategic planning because they had produced well-developed and particularly strong plans during the last cycle of strategic planning. The strength of these plans was their recognition of the context in which the organization operated including internal and external factors, the alignment of goals and strategies, the presence of performance indicators, and the use of data.

Eva Pell, Vice President for Research and Dean of The Graduate School, started off the session by discussing the strategic plan for the Research Office. Pell described the organization as eclectic with numerous departments varying dramatically in their functions, responsibilities, and focuses. One of the initial steps in developing the strategic plan was data gathering from the various units. This helped them to determine where they stood, what everyday activities were and what individual plans needed to focus on. They also listened to faculty and teams across the University to obtain their input.

Implementing the strategic plan focuses on the goal of moving into the upper elite of research universities. The Research Office is working with colleges and units to identify the gaps, by “holding up a mirror” for the colleges to see their research activities. One such initiative involved looking at the research money faculty brought into colleges and benchmarking that with the monies brought in by faculty co-funded by the Research Office and the colleges. Thus, the Research Office provided the colleges with a tool to assess their own performance.

Pell discussed two recent actions that emanated from the strategic plan. One issue identified in the plan was the need for larger grants. To address this, Research staff reviewed unfunded proposals and the reasons why they failed. From this analysis, they identified several solutions, one of which included using a single person to prepare budgets. A second issue in the strategic plan was the need for more industry-sponsored research. Research Office staff developed several steps to address this, including development of master agreements and expedited processes.

Sandmeyer summarized the Research Offices’ actions in implementing their plan as being able to “hold up a mirror” so others could see their outcomes, asking the right questions, providing the right tools to their stakeholders, benchmarking and identifying gaps.

Gail Hurley, Interim Associate Vice President, Auxiliary and Business Services, spoke about the Finance and Business strategic plan. As with Research at Penn State , Finance and Business is a diverse and complex organization. The first step F&B took in developing their strategic plan was to examine their vision, mission and goals, review past strategic plans, review data (including the results of the Faculty/Staff survey), gather input from stakeholders, and analyze internal and external challenges, both current and in the future.

From this review, F&B identified six key initiatives. The strategic plan contained a brief description, a vision, and goals and performance indicators for each initiative. For each key initiative, F&B assigned a manager to spearhead progress and track accomplishment of the initiative. This ensures progress occurs on the initiatives, brings people together to work on initiatives, and results in shared understanding as employees work in committees and subcommittees from all levels across the unit. Committees meet to talk about implementation and identify best practices for implementing the strategic plan.

Jack Burke, Chancellor, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, discussed strategic planning from the College/Campus viewpoint. The College has a long history of strategic planning and use their plans to identify what they are going to do and whether they accomplish it. Twenty individuals from across the College who report to Burke develop departmental plans and additional cross unit plans are also developed. (These cross unit plans address such issues as the environment and computer technology.) The final strategic plan builds on these plans.

Burke pointed out that the plan is action-oriented. It is bulleted, comprehensive, and has 219 action items. Each item identifies what will be done, when it will be done, and who will do it. Since the plan identifies the responsible party for each item, accountability is built-in. Burke uses three types of tracking sheets to measure progress against the goals: these are grouped by goal, by unit, and by high priority items, and he reviews the high priority reports weekly. According to Burke, the biggest enemy to planning is that day-to-day activities drive out planning, but by reviewing the tracking weekly, he is able to keep people’s attention on the priority issues.

From the panelist’s discussion, Sandmeyer saw three major factors in implementing plans:

  • Good plans must be developed through the assessment of where you are and where you want to be.
  • Assigning specific responsibility holds people accountable and helps in tracking progress.
  • Prioritization is important in selecting a few significant goals to focus on.

Several attendees had questions for the panelists. One concerned how to establish accountability for the goals. Burke commented that assigning teams to goals may help because the team is accountable for the progress, rather than a single individual. Hurley also mentioned that because F&B has a long history of data collection, managers know what the performance indicators are and know where they need to be. Progress against the goals will be considered in the merit review process.

Another attendee asked how to best engage rank and file employees in developing and implementing strategic plans. Pell responded that the research strategic plan consists of lots of little plans developed from the bottom up by a range of employees within each unit. Since the units develop their own measures and strategies, they are more vested in them. Hurley commented that the evolution of committees and subcommittees within F&B has created a better sense of team. A range of employees serve on these committees and it connects them to the plan better.

How to obtain external stakeholder input and communicate with them was another question. Burke replied that he meets regularly with business and community leaders to update them and seek input. On the other hand, Hurley pointed out that external stakeholders for F&B are within the university and they receive much feedback voluntarily from employees outside of F&B, but they have also established other mechanisms such as advisory groups and surveys. Pell mentioned one external stakeholder they deal with regularly is the state, especially in the area of economic development. She serves on several boards and through these is able to learn what the expectations are.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.