I recently read an article in a digital publication called “Ladders, Inc.,” an information/news source focusing on a wide range of work, career and management-related issues. What piqued my interest is that it shared missteps to avoid in developing a comprehensive growth plan, obviously a topic that warrants a read by a planning consultant.
There were five key missteps in planning that in my experience with strategic planning with Catholic schools over the years capture what can quickly derail or unravel even the “best laid schemes of mice and men” as Robert Burns once shared. For consideration:
- Not including the right people in the planning process. Engagement is the key to success so those most impacted by a plan should have an opportunity to share their insights and concerns and ultimately, take ownership for their future. For us in our Catholic world, subsidiarity is incredibly important so those in our school communities believe they are heard and taken seriously. In our work, this includes faculty and staff, parents, students, pastors, alumni, community leaders, supporters and friends.
- Failing to consider the people and their culture early in the process. We often share what we refer to as our unofficial tagline – “if you’ve seen one Catholic school, you’ve seen….one Catholic school.” Understanding that each school community has its own history, traditions, culture, and interpersonal dynamics (and yes, even politics) is an essential first step in any planning process. Tailoring a planning process to that distinctive culture and life of a school warrants adaptability over a template-based planning process.
- Making bold statements and eye-catching goals without essential data. One of the hallmarks of a good plan is the data that provides its foundation and from which wise decisions can be made. Understanding community and Catholic demographics, enrollment and financial trends and projections, sources of students and enrollment management data are all critical in assessing the vitality and sustainability of our schools. It’s one thing to be bold, it’s another to be well-informed.
- Opting for big-picture, ambiguous goals and objectives rather than more tactical ones. We were once challenged that some planning goals we presented were “not aspirational enough.” In our experience, aspiration is important, but most school leaders are looking to address challenges they are facing and sometimes being tactical and more focused is the right call.
- Not allowing enough time to have a plan develop. There are times when we are asked to lead a planning process where school administration and board members will develop the plan during a weekend retreat or in a month of meetings. Building a comprehensive three- to five-year plan takes time – time to gather and analyze the necessary data (#3 above), engage the right people (#1 above), and better understand the culture and hopes of the school community (#2 above). As we tell folks – we can do it fast, or we can do it right.
Effective planning is an art and a skill that takes time, patience and a willingness to envision how our schools can be more focused and innovative in their academic efforts and allows schools to achieve their mission – to bring the children closer to God in holiness, wisdom and understanding.