Stephen Blum, whose quote serves as the title of this blog, understood that the purpose of a plan, any plan, is to help achieve a goal.

Experience has taught us that the clearer the goal, and the more widely it’s shared within an organization, the more likely a plan will succeed.

The great thing about a clear goal is that it provides immediate direction and insight into what you should do. And by extension, what you should quit doing.

This is why, first and foremost, planning is the organization of hope.

While there is no universal agreement on the number of steps in writing and executing a plan (some say five, others eight, 10, or 12), all planning processes follow the same basic steps:

  1. Conduct an environmental scan
  2. Identify sub-goals
  3. Create and assign action plans
  4. Execute, evaluate, and modify the plan

In Part 1 of this blog, I’ll first review steps one and two, leaving steps two and three for Part 2.

 

Step 1: Conduct an environmental scan

With the goal identified, the first step in the planning process is to conduct an environmental scan (or sometimes a situational analysis). While some might immediately think of S-W-O-T, a simpler approach is to answer two basic questions:

  • What internal and external factors will impede our ability to achieve our goal?
  • What internal and external resources/opportunities will help us accomplish our goal?

Let’s say, for example, that the goal of the plan is to recruit and enroll 250 new students.

Some internal and external factors that might impede achieving the goal could include:

  • Unfavorable cost and program comparisons with competitors (i.e., you are more expensive and they offer more in-demand programs)
  • Young, inexperienced recruiting staff
  • Local and/or regional job and demographic trends
  • Unfavorable image/perception/brand
  • Current academic programs misaligned with student interests and/or the job market

Internal and external resources/opportunities that might help achieve the goal could include

  • Favorable competitor cost and program analysis
  • Relocation of a major employer to your area
  • The launch of a new high-demand academic program
  • Significant growth in the number of prospective students (positive demographic trends)
  • Favorable image/perception/brand

An essential part of the environmental scan is the collection of quantifiable data that help clarify issues and options. Data, rather than intuition, hope, or even fear, is the foundation of a great planning process. Proceeding without data is almost always fatal.

It’s crucial for the environmental scan to identify a handful of issues that can be reasonably addressed in the plan. Too many issues will cause the plan to flounder. Intractable issues will cause the planning effort to stall.

 

Step 2: Identify sub-goals

Step 2 is the creation of sub-goals to help make the overarching goal more approachable. While the large goal of recruiting and enrolling 250 new students can be overwhelming, look at what happens when you break that larger goal into a handful of sub-goals:

  • Create a demographic profile of persisting students
  • Identify secondary and tertiary markets to be developed
  • Create a high school recruiting strategy
  • Create a transfer recruiting strategy
  • Create an alumni recruiting strategy
  • Conduct comprehensive staff training

Almost immediately, you can sense how tackling these sub-goals can help roll up to the larger goal. You can also begin to get a handle on the action plans—what you need to do—necessary to accomplish each of the associated sub-goals.

When identifying potential sub-goals, don’t forget to sequence them. This helps prioritize what needs to be accomplished first so executing the plan proceeds smoothly.

Stay tuned for more planning advice…Blog Part 2 continues with a look at creating and assigning action plans.

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