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Things You MUST Think About: Shortening Your Horizon on StrategicThinking


This is the tenth (and penultimate) in a promised gloss on each of the 11 THINGS INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS MUST BE THINKING ABOUT featured in an earlier post. (I recap the entire list below the body of this post.)

#10. Shortening your horizon on strategic thinking

In the past couple of weeks I have looked at several school websites that showcase 10-year strategic plans. Now, I’m a guy who has seen more than a few decades come and go, but planning for a ten-year window just seems a little long. So, in our rapidly changing world, does five years.

Perhaps a shorter window—three or maybe four years seems about right—will encourage some behaviors that can convert strategic thinking processes (and their results) from being monstrosities of over-ambition likely to be crushed under their own weight into tightly focused, action-oriented institutional agendas based on current conditions and more immediate needs in the fluid educational and technological world in which we live. Program and advancement goals, for example, need to be designed for contexts that can be at least generally forecast, and even facilities master planning can staged to at least begin with near(er)-term goals. (Note also: A building program, a strategic plan, and a capital campaign do not have to be of equal length—especially in a time where capital fundraising is becoming a kind of regular cycle in many schools, even when the school is not promoting specific goals.)

One reason that so many strategic plans crawl into file cabinets to die is that the cast of characters involved in their creation has changed by the time of their scheduled end; awareness and investment—the edge of excitement needed to keep any kind of plan vital—dissipate. Try this rule of thumb: no plan should be made with an operational life longer than one board term.

UPDATE, December 9, 2011: Our school has just released our “Strategic Priorities, 2011-2014,” which is the product of an amazingly inclusive, visionary, and efficient process–and an example of the 3-year model I heartily endorse. The document can be found here.

So, who is thinking about shortening the horizon on strategic thinking at your school?

The 11 Things:

  1. Design Thinking. What-ing? DONE HERE
  2. Data-informed decision-making DONE HERE
  3. Collaborative learning and (related issue) project design DONE HERE
  4. Smart assessment of student learning DONE HERE
  5. Social media—for advancement DONE HERE
  6. Social media—in the classroom DONE HERE
  7. New directions for your library DONE HERE
  8. Online learning DONE HERE
  9. Strategic professional development learning DONE HERE
  10. Shorter horizons for strategic thinking DONE
  11. Being Green
  1. I agree that having a long period of strategic plans seems a little long. A student will not benefit from it if he or she is ready to graduate or transfer to another school. In this fast phased world a 10 year plan is a waste of labor and time.

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