Dan Myers, director of the South Central Regional Information Center (SCRIC), needed to initiate strategic planning. “The rate of change in the IT world is unprecedented,” he told me. “Our customers’ needs are changing rapidly. For example, in 2008 our SCRIC team provided comprehensive managed information technology services to just two school districts. This year that number has increased to 22 districts. Over the same period, we went from managing not a single end user device to managing 36,000 today.”
What were Dan’s requirements for the planning process?
“We need a clear purpose — something to anchor to — and a new horizon line,” he told me. “The SCRIC needs to know where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to be by 2020. And I need the entire organization’s buy-in and engagement.”
The power of first principals
Over two very intense days, 26 members of the SCRIC team engaged in a high energy, collaborative process. They diverged broadly and then converged on a mission, vision and set of core beliefs. There were 50 or more iterations of both the mission and vision; hundreds of the core beliefs. Deep engagement meant the team parsed words carefully. There were spirited, sometimes emotional exchanges and hard challenges. In each case, the group worked collegially to achieve strong consensus support for the final product (see inset right).
With strong agreement on purpose (mission), shared beliefs and a new horizon line (vision), the team reconvened for two more intense days where they agreed to a set of strategic performance targets, immediate priorities and long-term strategies.
No dust is collecting on this plan
Months later Dan reports, “We are very excited about the impact of the planning process. We’ve established work groups comprised of representatives of all departments and all levels to address our four priority areas. We’ve empowered each group to recommend specifically what we can do in the next two and six months.”
He continues: “We’ve got great feedback from each work group and we’re nailing it, absolutely hammering on our immediate priorities. It’s been an awesome experience for the whole SCRIC team and for me. I’ve realized that as a leader, I need to follow from the front.”
Why bother with strategic planning?
A lot of organizations treat strategic planning skeptically. After investing days of their time, they see their hard work collect dust on a shelf or be submitted perfunctorily to meet a regulatory or legislative mandate. But there’s a reason the world’s premier companies — Google, Amazon, Microsoft — invest in strategic planning.
Amazon, for example, spends a half day immersing new employees in the fourteen leadership principals that comprise the Amazon Way. As the company says, “Our Leadership Principles aren’t just a pretty inspirational wall hanging. These Principles work hard, just like we do. Amazonians use them, every day, whether they’re discussing ideas for new projects, deciding on the best solution for a customer’s problem, or interviewing candidates.”
Indeed, as the SCRIC’s experience demonstrates, a dynamic strategic planning process can energize an organization around shared purpose, vision and core beliefs. Clearly communicated performance targets, priorities and longer-term strategies help focus resources, attention, creativity and effort.
The SCRIC provides the following shared administrative application and technology infrastructure services to 50 school districts and 68,000 students in the south central region of New York State:
- Student Management Services
- Data Collection and Testing Services
- Regional Telecommunications Service
- Network Support Services
- Financial Application Services
- Cafeteria Management Services
- Building Information Services
- Professional Development Tracking