In their seminal business management tome, Alignment, Robert Kaplan and David Norton argue: “Understanding how to create alignment in organizations is a big deal” (Kaplan and Norton, 2006). This seemingly obvious and somewhat innocuous statement is surprisingly hard, especially for K-12 schools to achieve. Many heads of school complain about the lack of agreement and consensus between their boards, faculty, parents and alumni, particularly as it relates to controversial topics of the day and the future direction of their schools. They also acknowledge the radical disruption to education that was brought about by the pandemic and wonder what the future will hold as the spread of the virus subsides. Getting back to normal, hardly seems like a realistic ideal; so, how do we move forward with everyone on the same page?
Effective strategic planning provides a light at the end of the dark and twisting tunnel. School leadership can use strategic planning to align the various school constituencies around specific areas for growth and improvement in the school. Using proven processes to gather feedback from these groups on topics that the school leadership develops, provide insight and buy-in to the plan. David Davenport former President of Pepperdine University, once described his method of leading focus groups as a way to actively listen to questions or concerns from key individuals while at the same time dispelling rumors, correcting misinformation and teaching them about how the school plans to focus its efforts as it moves forward. If done effectively, everyone can feel part of the solution and communicate back to their constituencies that the school leadership listened and has a plan going forward.
By using a strategic planning process, schools can limit the seemingly endless feedback loop of complaints and concerns that can paralyze schools. Instead, developing key areas for improvement either from reflection, opportunity or more formal review processes like accreditation or a CESA Standards Review provides direction to the focus group process. Collecting the feedback and ranking the order of importance of the key areas for each constituency group provides valuable insight for school leadership as they craft the plan.
Communicating the results of the process to the key constituencies is very, very important. Validating their participation and thanking them for helping to develop the plan will engender support. Typically, plans will have costs associated with them, and the need to align fundraising efforts with campaigns to fund the plan will be imperative. Effective plans will direct fundraising efforts of the variety of groups on campus if they feel ownership of the plan.
Embedded in the process should be a review of the school’s mission and core values. Alignment between the plan and the school’s mission and values is paramount to protect against mission drift. It is also a periodic opportunity to breathe life into the mission and reaffirm the core values.
Finally, it is best to remember that strategic planning is just a tool, not the goal. The goal is organizational health made better by having everyone in agreement on the future direction of your school. Patrick Lencioni states in his valuable book, The Advantage, “Organizational health will one day surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage” (Lencioni, 2012). If your school needs help with your next strategic planning process, NextEd is here to serve you.
Tom Konjoyan is a Founding Partner of NextEd. He also serves as the Head of School at Village Christian School in Los Angeles, CA and as the Treasurer of the Council for Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA).