Quality Endeavors Issue No. 115

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December 2008

The Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment offers a module about planning in Penn State’s Management Institute certificate program. One of the highlights of the session is time to talk with University leaders about their planning, improvement, and decision making approaches. Recently, Gail Hurley, Associate Vice President for Auxiliary and Business Services, shared her experiences.

Units within Auxiliary and Business Services include the Bryce Jordan Center, Hospitality Services, Housing and Food Services, Transportation Services, the University Park Airport, Purchasing, and the Multimedia and Print Center. In preparation for the Management Institute session, Gail asked all of her direct reports for their inputs about what made strategic planning most effective. Despite the differences in functions of the units and differences in leadership and management styles across the units, the responses from the unit managers identified seven key points for successful planning that Gail shared with the attendees.

1) Reinforce the connections.
Help the staff understand the connections between the processes of planning, improvement, assessment, staff review and development, and the budget. Gail recalled challenging times in Residence Life in 1984 when goals and an annual report were not connected to budget or measurement of progress toward those goals, and it was difficult to accomplish those goals.Shared goals, developed through an inclusive process, with a common idea of where the organization is going, could help the individual to understand they are part of something greater than themselves.

2) Be mission centric.
Know the core values of the University, and keep the University’s and unit’s mission and goals in front of your staff. Auxiliary and Business Services’ mission is to provide services, not make money (although they do need to generate enough income to cover their expenses). As a result of this clear view, they have decided not to pursue some business opportunities.Once you have determined your mission, stick to it.

3) Connect the Staff Review and Development Process (SRDP) to the planning process and strategic plan and goals.
A strategic plan is a living, dynamic document. It takes individual contributions to accomplish the specific strategies in the plan. Look, and encourage staff to look, for opportunities to link operational and personal goals to items in your unit plan. Reward what it is you want to grow.

4) Continually look for, find, and use appropriate benchmarks and best practices.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you, and recognize ideas for improvement initiatives. Save time, energy, and money by adapting what others are doing rather than developing your own approach.

5) Feedback is critical.
Look for and provide timely and continuous feedback. Pay attention to issues raised in e-mail and letters to the editor. In response to an e-mail from a dissatisfied parent, Housing set up a process where students who had to move off campus as a result of the housing lottery were offered the opportunity to reenter the lottery the following year. The cost was minimal and the new process generated noticeable good will.Seek internal and external feedback from students, customers, staff, and stakeholders. Look at a complaint as an improvement opportunity.

6) Use planning, assessment and improvement to help you identify what you should keep doing, start doing, and stop doing.
It’s hard to stop doing things and end traditions. But with limited resources, units can’t do everything for everyone. Sometimes units have to stop something or say ‘No’. An assessment and planning process based on data can provide a foundation for identifying functions or tasks that do not fit with the core mission and roles and/or are not the best use of resources.

7) Managers are the traction to keep the plan moving.
It’s too easy to get caught up in the ‘tyranny of the In box’. Finance and Business has identified a manager for each of its key initiatives, to keep the initiatives moving. To track progress, key initiative managers have quarterly meetings with upper management.As a manager, it’s your responsibility to drive the planning process and persevere. Don’t let the goals for the future be overtaken by daily events.

Gail noted that change is always happening in the environment and in expectations. For those reasons, leaders and managers need to plan, but be flexible in their planning. Within Auxiliary and Business Services, the question asked of those served is “What can we do for you?” Gail closed with a quote she heard from the Penn State Federal Credit Union 2008 strategic plan: “It is not necessary for a company to grow bigger. It is necessary for it to grow better.”