This autumn, I had the privilege of taking part in the launch of the University of Alberta’s Shape: The University Strategic Plan 2023-2033. The 10-year plan builds on the U of A’s success over its 115-year history and charts a course for action across the three pillars of our mission: education, research and community engagement.
I know strategic plans are not the most exciting topic, but they can have a real impact — and not just on your bottom line.
A strategic plan is not the icing on a stale, bureaucratic cake. When it’s done right, it’s the unifying foundation of an organization. It sets the vision and tone for an optimistic future and gets people on board and contributing to that future.
For the U of A, Shape doesn’t uproot or take the university in a totally novel direction. Rather, it leverages our strengths and sharpens our focus for the next 10 years. Based on widespread consultation, we emphasized the things that are most important to us, including the prioritization of people, the focus on the impact and goals of our work, and making a real difference in the lives of Albertans and people around the world. As a result, Shape reflects the university’s values and its path forward.
Wondering how you can do the same for your organization? As I reflect on my recent experience at the U of A, I see a few key ingredients to a successful strategic plan.
- Take the time to plan and get the process right. It is more important to do good work than to do quick work.
- Create a plan using inclusive and consultative practices. You may choose to consult on the consultation process itself. Test it, adapt it, and make sure it works for everyone in your community.
- Create opportunities for participants to contribute in a way that works best for them. Not everybody is comfortable in a town hall meeting, so creating multiple opportunities for written submissions, online surveys and interviews is important. Even more important is listening when people contribute. As a result, they will see themselves in your strategic plan, giving them a good reason to invest in it alongside you.
At the U of A, Shape doesn’t just help raise general awareness of what we’re doing, it helps others — our partners, potential partners and fellow community members — see our priorities and where they might align best with us.
The opportunity I had to observe, contribute to, and learn from the University of Alberta’s strategic planning process proved the value of a strong, unified vision for our institution — and for any organization. If you are bold and aspirational and put stakes in the ground to position your organization, your community will have the confidence and clarity to engage, learn and grow with you for many years to come.