Few organizations today can afford to plow ahead without thoughtful planning and strategic thinking. Today’s daunting economic climate, growth in technology and student-centered learning compels many schools to deeply scrutinize and reassess their goals and priorities.
Concentrics consultants have developed a reputation for their skill at guiding independent schools through this process of developing long-term, strategic planning for survival and growth. Concentrics works with school boards, heads of school and other stakeholders to provide a logical process that examines, weighs and selects all the options that vie for a place on each school’s agenda. The objective is to develop goals and strategies that will allow a school to weather its environment and thrive over a five-year time frame.
By organizing a procedure for coordinated input from each stakeholder group, the elements of a vision and a five-year plan are worked out step, by step. The process provides balanced input from every major interest group, and yields a written, agreed-upon set of goals, and a course of action for future growth. Concentrics has the experience and the methodology to help schools organize and implement the steps required to create a plan that will sharpen its vision and clarify its mission. Concentrics’ tested approach is highly customized and may be modified to meet each school’s distinctiveness. While each engagement is tailored to meet the constraints of time and budget of the institution, the following elements are generally employed.
Formation of a Strategic Planning Committee
The process begins with the development of a Board Strategic Planning Committee to work closely with the consultant defining the scope and sequence of all planning activities. Comprised of 3 – 5 board members and school administrators, it will have oversight responsibility for Plan development and communication and partner with the consultant on drafting the Plan and selecting a Plan Steering Committee
The Plan Steering Committee
The Plan Steering Committee is a microcosm of the entire school community. Ranging from 16 to 30 members, it includes the entire Strategic Planning Committee and representatives of faculty, administrators, alumni and students. This Committee works with the consultant to prepare Conference materials, debrief Conference outcomes and confirm the shared vision and themes that the consultant identifies in his final report.
Marshaling the Required Data
Data gathering includes:
- developing survey questionnaires for Internet distribution and tabulation
- conducting personal interviews
- facilitating stakeholder focus groups and/or group forums
Concentrics’ user-friendly Internet-Based Surveys can rapidly survey a selected group of parents, students, faculty or other constituents on a range of topics to obtain valid opinions on constituent satisfaction, evaluations and suggestions. Results are anonymous and participation rates usually higher than paper and pencil surveys. Results can rapidly be cross-tabulated to extract maximum insight from the numbers.
The consultant usually conducts 20-35 private, Individual Interviews with key individuals whose perspectives are important to the future direction of the school. Interviewees often include board members, parents, alumni, community partners, donors/benefactors and thought leaders in independent and public school education. Along with individual interviews, the consultant also conducts Stakeholder Forums or focus groups for Parents, Faculty and Staff, Alumni and Students.
The Briefing Book
Upon completion of data-gathering, the consultant produces a Briefing Book that summarizes the data, together with financials, comparative analysis with benchmarked schools, enrollment history, demographics and other vital information. The Briefing Book is distributed to participants selected by the school in preparation for a Strategic Planning Conference.
The Strategic Planning Conference
Typically, 50 to 80 invitees meet from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon to hammer out the elements of the Plan. The consultants lead the group to, first, examine the past to determine the school’s bedrock strengths that it wants to retain. Next, participants review the present, i.e., the educational, social, economic and technical environments in which the school unavoidably operates. Finally, the group generates a vision of the school’s ideal future, one that can realistically be achieved in the next half-decade or so.
The technique used by Concentrics during this meeting puts participants together in small, hard-working groups that are sometimes homogeneous—e.g., all board members, all parents, all faculty—but mostly consist of mixed stakeholder groups. The small groups are self-managed, with specific tasks and defined roles. Large group dialog is always facilitated by the consultants.
This design is one that looks to build agreement and consensus on issues. The goal is to establish common ground, and work towards shared agreement. The outcome of the Conference is agreement regarding a shared vision and some valuable ideas for generating Strategic Goals and Objectives.
Formation of the Plan
The consultant works closely with the Strategic Planning Committee in sorting through all data, including the conference summary, and developing a draft of Strategic Goals and Strategies. In a final conference with the Board and key administrators, the Plan is refined and completed for distribution. Concrete action steps to implement the Strategic Plan are put into operation throughout the following year.
After the Conference, the Strategic Planning Committee refines the Plan and completes two versions, one for public consumption and one for internal use. This Plan, which will include strategic goals and objectives, will be approved by the Board. Operational planning will occur throughout the following fiscal year as concrete action steps are developed by those who are responsible for their implementation. Concentrics also provides schools with an implementation planning toolbox and consulting support to ensure the Strategic Plan is prioritized, executed and monitored.
The complete process of developing the Strategic Plan takes place over a one-year period involving 20 days of consulting time. (Two consultants are required to facilitate the Strategic Planning Conference which typically takes place over 11 hours on a Friday afternoon or evening and all day Saturday.)