Schools tend to think of strategic planning as a periodic, monolithic process that seeds a capital campaign—but we think of strategy as one of three primary sources of alignment in your organization. Alignment in strategy, culture, and brand brings advantage to the organization.
Good strategic plans paint a vision of the future and help individual employees identify how their own daily actions can drive toward that Vision. (Campaigns don’t define these actions, but instead finance them.) Vision can be a product of school wide ideation, board fiat, or executive inspiration—and is usually a combination of all three of those factors. Unfortunately, most school planning efforts fall short in four major areas:
Strategic plans should benefit from an awareness of the outside world.
Market dynamics, competition, and demographic trends are just a few of the major external factors that must be considered. We emphasize the speed and value of small scale, actionable research.
Schools should focus on realignment, rather than expansion.
A century-long pattern of accretion and expansion has led to out-of-control tuition increases, too-broad programs, vast campuses filled with deferred maintenance—and customers who question the value of it all. Strategic plans today must emphasis the reorganization and optimization of resources, bringing more sustainable finances and business models to education. At Aptonym, we apply first principles thinking to interrupt the momentum of accretion, ask central questions, and bring new ideas to old schools.
Strategic plans should be organized for action.
A beautiful planning document, written in the finest prose, does little to affect the changes in process, policy, and program that might bring that vision to life. Careful attention must be paid to the translation of the plan to on-the-ground changes in the organization. This process of connecting abstract strategic concepts to on-the-ground changes—through an emphasis on access, usability, and the creation of institutional memory—is a particular strength of Aptonym.
Strategic plans should establish a framework for short-cycle or continuous planning.
The classic pattern of ten-year planning cycles is too slow in this era of change. Instead, we help our clients shift from the idea of developing “a strategic plan” to the development of sustainable, continuous strategic framework, closely linked to the administrative and programmatic structures of the school, focused on long term goals while maintaining short-term agility. Such a framework increases organizational cadence, improving the school’s ability to respond to challenges—and opportunities—even as it pursues its long-term vision.
There’s an old saw that says “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We find this phrase often repeated and rarely understood—and we contest its wisdom: culture is a powerful force of alignment and should be part of the planning process. Our approach considers the unique sources of incentive and cultural motivation within your organization; we identify sources of leverage and inspiration and then work to align them with your strategy and mission.
We think of brand as the third, critical leg of the stool when helping organizations gain greater alignment. While strategy plans and culture reacts, brand expresses— serving as a tool to help all your stakeholders, internal and external, pull together in support of the strategy, the culture, and the mission of the school.
Strategic planning can take many forms, ranging from processes which are “exhaustively inclusive” to those which are driven nearly exclusively by administration. While it’s usually the case that neither of these extremes is ideal, we can help you find the right balance between these two poles.
We’d love to chat with you about your goals. Contact us today to get the process started.