Ten Traps in Schools’ Strategic Planning

Having endured all the trauma and additional work that Covid-19 has imposed on the education sector, many schools are now reviewing their current strategic plan and crafting a new strategic direction.

We recently completed four strategic plans for schools in Australia and New Zealand, so I am keenly aware of some of the pitfalls and traps specific to schools post Covid-19. We have come up with 10 that you need to be conscious of as you frame your strategy.

We hope that you find the following 10 observations both informative and helpful. If we can assist you with your planning, please contact me at markvincent@insightplus.com.au or call +61 409 544 297.

1. Consult Carefully. The amount of consultation impacts on the budget. You can derive a relatively strong indication of the current situation and possible future initiatives simply by surveying or interviewing the Leadership Team and Chair. However, schools have numerous stakeholders who demand a voice, so you need to be circumspect. It is our experience that the more angst in the school, the greater the need for wider consultation.

2. Know what you, as the Principal, want in the plan. As the leader, the buck stops with you, so you need to know very clearly the five strategic priorities – big picture, long term, significant educational or financial impact – that need most need attention if the school is to move forward in a positive direction.

3. Avoid function-based planning. There is a temptation to have strategic initiatives in place for every aspect of a school’s operations. Resources in schools are limited. Avoid this temptation. Focus on the four or five areas or strategic domains (as we call them at Insight Plus) that will most move the school forward.

4. Watch your terminology. When people hear and see words like ‘Vision’, ‘Mission’ or ‘Competitive Advantage’ their eyes glaze over. Too many people have had unfortunate experiences in participating in planning workshops and when they see these words they become cynical. Find alternative expressions like ‘Purpose Statement’, ‘Collective Ambition’ and ‘Distinctives’.

5. Avoid words like ‘Continue’, ‘Preserve’ and ‘Foster’. Such words indicate you are just maintaining the status quo. You’ll know your strategies and actions are providing forward momentum if they start with action words like ‘build’, ‘create’ or ‘develop’. You’ll be surprised how many projects or actions in a plan use words that depict the status quo.

6. Apply the 3P test for each strategy. If a strategy is already in Progress, Policy, or someone’s Position description there is no need for it to be included in a plan – it’s under control. But…if it is a Prompt to ensure it receives attention at a governance, level then it should be included.

7. Not all strategies are equal. As a precaution, to ensure appropriate resourcing and attention categories your strategies as ‘critical’, ‘significant’ or ‘valuable’.

8. Don’t take every idea that is suggested into your plan. The simplest way to determine the validity and practicality of an idea is to apply the effort and effect test. How much effort, expense, risk, and resistance are associated with each idea and how much effect or return will be generated. A simple matrix on which ideas are plotted works best.

9. Don’t do surveys before the planning process. You are much better off to conduct a survey of stakeholders once the draft plan is prepared because you can test reactions to your strategy and projects. A survey conducted before the planning process most often just provides an assessment of the current situation and gives no indication as to the extent of support for where you are moving the school to.

10. Don’t put your photo into the plan. Your strategic plan is about the future of the school, not an opportunity for self-aggrandisement. Leave that for your website or the prospectus. My experience is that when the plan includes a photo of the Principal, the content is really just public relations content. A cruel observation I know, but I am happy for that comment to be put to the test.

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