By their design, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) are siloed. Consequently, communications within them are often stovepiped; opportunities for collaboration, limited. Rivalry rather than cooperation sometimes drives behavior. Turf can reign. Among other things, all of this can make strategic planning extremely difficult.
Align behind a compelling vision, mission & core beliefs
Over the years Prism has experimented with a number of approaches to solve the conundrum of successful strategic planning in a BOCES. The breakthrough came recently while working with the Champlain Valley Education Services, a north country BOCES.
We began from scratch. We started with a white sheet. We addressed the organization’s first principles.
In two days of invigorating, intense work, the team agreed to a compelling new mission, vision and core beliefs.
The planning team was encouraged to unshackle themselves from the status quo, to envision the organization they would love to work for.
And — because mission, vision and core beliefs transcend the silos in the organization — there was plenty of collaboration and consensus building. The process was dynamic and creative. The team emerged strongly aligned and excited to move forward together.
According to District Superintendent Mark Davey:
“Sean Brady’s work with CVES has been outstanding. He successfully brought our many CVES stakeholders together to create and agree to an exciting, dynamic and aspirational plan. Throughout, Sean demonstrated exceptional facilitation skills, procedural expertise and organizational insight. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Agree to targets, priorities and longer-term strategies
With a compelling mission, vision and core beliefs as a strong foundation, the team transitioned to target setting, resource allocation and focus.
Now, rather than seeking commonality across the BOCES, we respected the uniqueness within it. Each division and the central office drafted a set of performance targets and then proposed superordinate targets within the set to be included in the BOCES-wide strategic plan.
Similarly, team members were encouraged to draft BOCES-wide strategies from their unique perspective within their division or central office.
When clustering these draft strategies, we were able simultaneously to generalize for the BOCES-wide plan while retaining specifics for the division and central office action plans.
Two birds with one stone: we recognized and respected the uniqueness within each division while celebrating commonality across the entire system.
Unleash targeted action planning
We now had strong consensus support for the BOCES-wide strategic plan. With this consensus as context, the division teams went to work.
Each team met for a single day to create a succinct plan with division-specific performance targets, key activities, and detailed action plans including who will do what by when with what resources.
They were encouraged both to maintain fidelity to the strategic plan and to exercise their professional judgement. That is, while they were expected to map to the plan’s targets, priorities and strategies, they were given the latitude to address other needs not identified in the plan.
In this way, the plan is first top down and then bottom up, iteratively on an annual, rolling basis.
Facilitating with Prism’s Group decision Support System™
According to Jim McCarthy, Principal, CV-TEC, Champlain Valley Educational Services:
“Compared to other facilitators, Sean Brady’s skills are in a league of their own. He models high standards of professionalism, organizational thinking and written expression. His knowledge of and facility with group dynamics, interpersonal communication, problem resolution, empathic listening and sequential thinking are extraordinary. As a facilitator, he possesses a rich background steeped in best practices from business, industry and education. His capacity to lead large numbers of divergent thinkers toward convergent agreement has been nothing less than inspiring.”
Key to effective multi-stakeholder planning is Prism’s Group Decision Support System™, which is capable of accelerating and improving group decision-making in unprecedented ways.
All meeting participants – not just those who are most vocal – use radio response keypads to assess options. Power and turf are removed from the room. Instant feedback demonstrates clearly where there is agreement and where there is disagreement. Undercurrents within the meeting are exposed and objectively displayed.
In short, the group’s decision-making is ordered, rational and collegial. Consensus is deeper. The whole process is accelerated.
For more information on the strategic planning process and facilitation techniques, see: