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What is Strategic Planning for the Preferred Future?

In my work with educators and administrators across the country, I often find that the busyness of day-to-day operations can crowd out the intensive strategic planning that can propel an organization from good to great. Today I want to share a case study of how one organization took the initiative to define its preferred future and develop a plan to get there. It was my privilege to work with Moore Norman Technology Center of Oklahoma in this process and watch as their success unfolded. Our team interviewed Karla Marshall, Executive Director of Quality at Moore Norman, to talk about their experience and share some of their best practices.

First off, what is strategic planning? It’s an organization-wide, long-term planning process encompassing all operations and functions to create fundamental change. It’s also been defined by Dr. Steve Barone as a process by which a human system discerns its core values, declares its core purpose, and designs the means to achieve that purpose. At TFS, our strategic planning structure can be broken down into four main phases under the acronym PLAN: Preparation, Learning, Action, and Navigation.

In our eagerness to promote good and necessary changes, it’s important to remember that transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Marshall says, “We are now in our fourth year of the strategic plan, and we have implemented 34 out of the 41 end results (action plans) within the first three years.” Long-term change will come as we transform our thinking and identify the best practices that work for our individual organizations.

A strong strategic planning team will have many diverse individuals contributing their time and talents. At Moore Norman, we selected 12 community members alongside our 14 internal staff members to form the core planning team. But we didn’t stop there. Marshall says, “From the beginning of our strategic planning, all employees were given the opportunity to participate in the process through involvement on an implementation team. We have had approximately 50% of our staff who volunteered to be on one of these teams. Having this many employees actively involved has assisted in spreading the word about our strategic planning efforts.”

In addition, Internal Coordinators were designated to keep things on track, as well as Champions to promote positivity and excitement. Because of the many different personalities involved, each team member made the following commitments:

  • I will treat each person as a peer.
  • I will communicate openly and honestly.
  • I will reveal my interests but work toward the common good.
  • I will present my view and my points of view only.
  • I will contribute but not dominate.
  • We will make decisions by consensus.

When we asked Karla what made the plan successful at Moore Norman, she pointed to three main factors. “The first factor that attributes to our success is a superintendent that is absolutely committed to the strategic planning process. It is critical for an organization that this be directed and supported by the CEO. The second success factor is a structured, well-defined strategic planning process that includes accountability factors. This prevents the plan from being an annual event instead of the organizational driver it must be. The third factor that has made this a success is the employee participation. Staff members who have given their time and talents to make this a priority, even on top of their already busy schedules, were a critical component for success. Strategic planning cannot be accomplished by a management committee; it takes interaction and commitment from employees to make this a true success. ”

In the modern educational landscape, it’s no longer enough to focus only on daily challenges. We all want to succeed, but all too often we leave that success to chance. Strategic planning takes the guesswork out of future success by defining it, creating a plan to reach it, and implementing that plan. I can’t say it any better than Karla:

“Strategic planning drives the direction of the organization, and developing and updating the ‘map’ for this can take time and efforts. However, without this ‘map,’ how does your organization know where it is going and how it will get there? Strategic planning does not have to be overwhelming. It is simply a process in which an organization identifies and documents its key components including vision, mission, core values, strategies, strategic goals, and action plans. Identifying these key components in a systematic method, combined with a logical process to achieve the plan, is much simpler than many think — and well worth the time and effort.”

About the Author
Tom Schultz As a former superintendent of an internationally recognized career-technical center, Tom has over 38 years of experience in education leadership and has devoted the last seven years to educational consulting. In his work with TFS, Tom is recognized as a leader in strategic planning and implementation of organizational change and cultural transformation.

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