One of my goals as President of Cedarville University during the 2014-2015 school year is to implement a new strategic planning process. I have finished the first semester of research, and I will be blogging about what I am learning and the process we implement.

Why? Blogging about our process demonstrates 21st century transparency to all our constituents and might also benefit other leaders. I have also found that writing clarifies my own thinking and ability to communicate clearly to others. At the very least, the Cedarville University family will have the opportunity to know what is happening and why.

Starting out, I perceive that a good strategic planning process allows team members to know that I value their opinion while also communicating that I understand my obligation to cast the vision and make necessary decisions. A good process understands who we are, realizes where we are, identifies future opportunities or threats, allows the best ideas to rise to the top, remains faithful to our mission, and positions resources to take advantage of future opportunities. A good process also must adjust to the institution and its needs. We will see if this working description develops along the way. What follows are the initial steps we have taken at Cedarville?

Step One – Solicit feedback from faculty and staff.

The Faculty Committee to the President (FCP) initiated several town hall discussions which were open to all faculty members. They gathered the questions and comments from those meetings and delivered them to me in written format.

The Staff Committee to the President (SCP) determined that an electronic survey would work better. They relayed my primary questions about the structure and process to the entire staff and returned the feedback to me.

One might ask, “Why use two committees?” First, utilizing committees like the FCP and SCP allows faculty and staff to feel the freedom to provide brutally honest feedback, which in turn allows me to know exactly what members of our team think. While there are certainly venues where anonymity is inappropriate, in this instance, it allows me to have candid input that is vital to the strategic planning process. Second, the FCP and SCP are already fixtures within Cedarville’s structure, both of which aid in communication to and from the President to faculty and staff. Using these existing committees demonstrates a willingness to work within the established systems and a desire for honest feedback. Finally, it involves more people in the process while increasing transparency. So far, I would say using the committees was a wise decision.

Step Two – Research, research, research.

In some ways, this happened simultaneously with my first step. I began researching, May 2014, and I am still reading. Since this step is still ongoing, I list it as second. I have talked with several members of our Cedarville family who have experience in strategic planning. I have talked with current and former presidents at other institutions. I have had multiple discussions with Dr. Paul Dixon and read his dissertation on the subject. I have also consulted or read the following books:

Surviving to Thriving: A Planning Framework for Leaders of Private Colleges & Universities – This book includes much more than strategic planning, but it says a great deal about strategic planning. I created an outline of this book and went over it (along with several other books) in August of 2014 at our executive leadership team retreat.

Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A Guide for Leaders (2014) – I liked this book because I could get it on Kindle for my iPad, and it specifically addresses higher education. A strategic planning process at a University has unique challenges not present in all non-profits or businesses.

Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (2011) – The table of contents sold me on this book. Its sections on the 10 step strategic planning process and tailoring the process to specific circumstances is the reason I bought it.

60 Minute Strategic Plan (2011) – The “How to Use this Book” section in the Kindle preview sold me. Chapters 1-3 comment on why to plan and the importance of planning; chapters 4-15 discuss on the 12 step process it recommends and the last chapter addresses implementation of the plan in your organization.

Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies (2011) – Yes, I did order it. After all, what could it hurt? I read the preview on the definitions for strategy and identifying the part of a strategic plan and from those two sections, I thought it might be helpful.

10 Steps to Successful Strategic Planning (2006) – I like that it had 10 clear steps which provide clear direction for a strategic planning committee. It also has a chapter dedicated to “Stating Mission, Vision, and Values” which I think will be helpful.

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Practical Guide and Workbook (2003) – While a bit older, it’s now in its second edition, has 4.3 of 5 stars with 27 reviews on Amazon, and includes the workbook.

Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning People, Performance, and Payoffs (2003) – This hardcover book has 416 pages making it a thorough work. Thorough enough to qualify as an academic resource and it’s thickness alone adds credibility to any planning process…it takes a plan just to make it through it. But I didn’t buy it just to have an instant earthquake shelter, and I am still working my way through this monster.

Team-Based Strategic Planning: A Complete Guide to Structuring, Facilitating and Implementing the Process (1994) – This one is a little old, but I like that it included structure and implementation as a major focus.

For better or worse, we began with these two steps. If you know of a good book that I have yet to consult, please let me know. I suspect the research phase will never end as each planning process needs to be reviewed to ensure effectiveness.

The next step is determining the structure which will best work for Cedarville and selecting the people who will participate in the process which I plan to do in January. As with everything, we do at Cedarville, we have and continue to pray for God to grant wisdom and guide us to a process that will result in clear leadership that glorifies God.

If you’ve stayed with this post until the end, thanks for your perseverance in reading. I hope you found it helpful. I’m back to research…there’s a 416 page book calling my name.