Friday, June 25, 2010

Don't do Strategic planning on tactical timescales

Most Universities conduct strategic plans with a five year time horizon. This is too short. Most degrees take three or four years (allowing for repeats, long medical degrees, interminable PhDs etc) so five years is a little bit longer than one 'product cycle'. A car takes, perhaps, a few weeks at most including components. Could you imagine Ford or Toyota having a 3 month strategic planning horizon? No. It would be ridiculous. You would argue that the analogy is false, that what Universities produce is much less tangible, and more embedded in society than a mere car. Correct. So our planning needs to be even longer term.

As I have argued in previous posts, the time steps in education are long. A University reputation takes decades to built or destroy - witness the long march of Ireland's newer universities, DCU and UL to credibility, and the mixed outcomes of the UK former polytechnics. A good research department takes years to mature, building the capacity and credibility to attract lead researchers and fat grants. Technological shifts are, in practice, marginal over 5 years. Public policy fashions take that long to go from the catwalks of the OECD to the statute books of the Dail.

Strategic planning is about vision, it's about where you want to be in the long term. It needs to encompass an idea of where you want to be in the long term. That means hard thinking about the long term, and where you want to be, not just making a to do list for staying put, wrapping in the pseudo corporate language of the day.

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