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What Is Strategic Planning
and Why Do We Do It?

Howard Cohen
Purdue University Calumet Convocation
September 7, 2001


Greetings and welcome to the Fall 2001 Faculty and Professional Staff Convocation.

I want to thank those of you who have made a special effort to join us today at this rescheduled event, and I want to express my apologies to those who would have joined us but for schedule conflicts.

I also want to acknowledge the loss of one of our Professional Staff members, Cheryl Berry, whose death saddens us all.

I am proud to join the new faculty and staff at my first Purdue University Calumet Convocation.

  • I share your excitement for the adventure that we have just begun;
  • I share your pride in being associated with Purdue University;
  • I share your commitment to build quality university education in northwest Indiana.

As those who have been on campus over the last six months are surely aware, Purdue University - including the Calumet campus - is engaged in strategic planning.

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We are working out our ideas about how to take ourselves to "the next level."

A Strategic Planning Task Force has been meeting all spring and summer - twice/week - to develop a plan.

Strategic planning does not have a long tradition in higher education - its concepts and vocabulary are more rooted in the business world. Consequently, it may feel somewhat alien to the academic environment.

Because of this lack of familiarity with strategic planning, we sometimes identify strategic planning with the strategic plan - that is, with the document.

The goal of strategic planning is not to produce a document. When that becomes the goal, the document generally ends up on a shelf somewhere. It becomes what one of our colleagues calls "credenzaware"

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Strategic planning is more properly thought of as a process.

And when we think of it that way, we begin to understand that the work of strategic planning is relational. It is the work of creating a relationship between what the organization wishes to become and the ongoing structures within the organization through which it conducts its daily business.

This point is the key to understanding strategic planning. Strategic planning is not a new process superimposed on the university to do the things that are otherwise not being done.

Strategic planning committees are not substitutes for governance and administrative structures. An organization that plans strategically cannot implement its plans outside the normal ways it does business. Governance groups must still review and recommend programs. Administrators must still make resource and personnel decisions.

The Strategic Planning Task Force cannot and will not replace either governance or administration.

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Purdue Calumet is a university on a journey to our next level of excellence.

The most important thing that happens in strategic planning is the drawing of a road map to guide us on that journey from where we are to where we want to be.

This requires that we clarify who and where we are - we need an accurate picture of our own profile and an accurate picture of our environment - both our regional environment (our service area) and the higher educational environment in Indiana.

It also requires that we understand what we can become. What are our real options? Which of all the possible options are desirable? And, can we commit to a future that will be best for us and for our constituencies?

Once we know where we are and where we want to be, the work of strategic planning is to draw the bridge between the two.

The bridge is an artist's rendering - not a blueprint. The blueprint will come later.

Once the rendering has been accepted and endorsed by the larger university community, it is up to us - through our normal structures (academic departments, administrative offices, governance groups)- to create the blueprint.

I am pleased to report that the Strategic Planning Task Force has successfully completed the first phase of its work.

It has looked at where we are, it has considered the realistic range of possibilities regarding what we might become, and it has articulated a VISION of where we want to be.

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That vision has three main components:

  • We will retain and graduate more students
  • We will be preferred as the quality university experience in northwest Indiana
  • We will intensify our engagement in regional and economic development.

These components address the major concerns of the public and their government representatives who fund and support us in our work. Our vision frames our future from the "outside" perspective and helps justify our need for competitive salaries, support for our scholarly work, additional faculty and staff, up-to-date technology and more financial aid for students.

To accomplish this vision, the Task Force identified four main goals with five associated key strategies. These are being described in some detail at meetings the Task Force members are holding with campus and community constituencies. Many of you have already attended such meetings. For those who have not, I urge you to attend one of the open meetings we will be holding this month.

Before describing the communication phase of the Task Force's work, I want to say a word about all of the good ideas that are not in the strategic plan.

A strategic plan must focus on a few main efforts. They are certainly not all of the activities that would or could help achieve the goals of the plan. Nor are they the only activities we will be engaged in over the next 3 to 5 years.

They are, however, the key efforts in the sense that they are the things we will need to do, whatever else we do. They are the efforts that we will track and measure, and they are the efforts by which we will judge our success.

You have probably all heard the old 80/20 rule - 80% of your progress comes from 20% of your activities. That rule encourages us to set priorities - but it does not imply that we need only do 20% of our business. The other 80% of our activities are important - and we will do them - and many of them support the strategic plan. But we will measure our progress by the key activities that are spotlighted in the strategic plan.

We will, of course, do more along the way - and much of what we do will be significant for helping us achieve our vision (even though it is not specifically mentioned in the plan).

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The campus must "own" the strategic vision that guides the
strategic plan.

Consequently, it is the responsibility of the Strategic Planning Task Force to communicate its vision and its artist's rendering to the campus community and the external community.

This is being done in a series of meetings and presentations that the Task Force scheduled for August and September. At these meetings, you and your colleagues will be taken through the plan and invited to discuss it with Task Force members. We will ask every participant in these meetings to complete a questionnaire regarding the plan.

We think we have done a careful job of planning, but there is always room for improvement. We know that there are things we have omitted and things we might have done better. We have already learned what some of those things are, more emphasis on faculty research and scholarship as a strategy to support our goals, for example. We continue to need your eyes and your ideas to help improve the plan.

Once the Task Force has digested the comments of campus and community, it will revise the plan, as appropriate, and report back to the campus and to our external constituents on the revisions it made and the revisions it did not make.

The plan will then go forward to the President and the Board of Trustees in October for the November Board of Trustees agenda.

Between now and October, the Task Force has additional work to do. It needs to provide more detail for its key strategies - enough detail to stimulate discussion about how successful each strategy is likely to be in meeting our goals, and enough detail to put a price tag on each strategy.

Our strategic plan will cost money, and it will help us set priorities for action and for deciding how to spend our resources over the next couple of years. It will also serve as a guide to help us decide whether other, new, ideas will further our goals.

The most important thing that our strategic plan will do is guide us to the next level of excellence.

It will help us understand the progress we are making in helping our students to be successful, in defining ourselves as the preferred provider of university level bachelors and masters degree programs in our region, and as a key player in regional and economic development in northwest Indiana.

If we can do these things, our future will be long and bright. I'm excited to be joining you as a participant in that future.

Welcome to the Fall 2001 academic year.

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