Strategic Leadership

High Stakes, Huge Challenges

America’s economic and social future depend heavily on the ability of colleges and universities to transform themselves in unprecedented ways. The nation needs millions more college graduates to power an innovative, knowledge-based economy and to participate as thoughtful, ethical, analytical citizens and problem-solvers. The dilemmas for higher education, the forces that demand transformation, are twofold. First, a growing proportion of potential students is ill-equipped to attend or succeed due to factors such as poverty, English language skills, and inadequate schooling. Second, the economic downturn that began in 2008 has crippled state and federal funding ability to support enrollment, financial aid, and infrastructure even for existing students, let alone the millions more who are needed.

The initial responses of many institutions focused on cutting programs, services, staff, and faculty. Cost saving initiatives such as joint purchasing are also on most action plans. Now, a growing number of institutions understand that they cannot cut their way to a viable solution. The trend lines of revenue and expense have been out of whack for decades, and pinching the edges to balance the budget is no longer enough.

Courageous Leadership

Boards and executive leaders are stepping up to the challenge through more engaged governance, more purposeful strategy, and alignment of resources with mission and strategy. They consider all resources – financial, physical, human, intellectual – and put them on the same path as the institution’s mission, vision, and strategic plan. With this approach, universities are finding ways not only to survive these challenging times, but to thrive. Some of the key ingredients are commitment, long-term thinking, analysis, evidence, openness, innovation, and creativity. They understand that all revenue sources are stressed, so they place new emphasis on optimizing the use of the resources they already have.

Some readings:

Game Plan: New Directions in Strategic Thinking and Planning – Article in AGB’s Trusteeship magazine (November/December 2017) where five leaders “share their thoughts on the importance of strategic thinking and planning in this period of volatility.”

Eight Ways to See Higher Education Management Differently – short article on where leaders need to focus strategic thinking in 2014 and beyond

Successful Strategic Management in Colleges – a report on the turnaround management research

The Concept of Strategy – different experts’ definitions of strategy and how they relate in both business and higher education (for theory buffs and abstract thinkers)

Three Models of Strategy – a more digestible and often-cited version of the Concept of Strategy, published in the Academy of Management Review

Five Models of Organizational Decisionmaking – a few tables from a book I wrote for the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems showing five different ways organizations make decisions

On Track for the Future A Case Study in Strategic FinanceArticle in AGB’s Trusteeship magazine (Nov/Dec 2010) on Youngstown State University. I am their consultant and helped write the article

Strategic Finance – Article from Trusteeship magazine, a discussion among higher education consultants on strategic finance

Coming to a Boil – Blog entry, Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, June 2010

Mind the Gap – Blog entry, Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, August 2010

PowerPoint Presentations:

Better Cheaper Faster: Board-CEO Partnership for Change – slides from a half-day workshop at the National Conference on Trusteeship; the first half is more strategy, the second half is more finance

Create the Future: Facing Up to the Need for Change – slides from a webinar for trustees and executives in 2009

Coping with the Lost Decade – a presentation on strategic finance with more emphasis on “strategy” than on “finance”

Models of Strategic Change – a short presentation with one slide each on several different approaches to organizational change

Introduction to Balanced Scorecards – Kaplan and Norton of Harvard came up with the concept of Balanced Scorecards. It is playing very well in the private sector, and many institutional leaders and trustees are finding that some version of the scorecard approach is now crucial to their ability to monitor and lead.

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