Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Reflections on a Strategy Lacking a Strategy

The most salient brush with organizational leadership and strategic planning I have had occurred in my senior year of college, when I served as the president of my college’s student body. Not only did I get to try and motivate people around ideas, and manage the same people through the implementation of such ideas, but I got to test the impact of, and buy-in for a student government 3-year strategic plan, the planning committee for which I had served on. It was fun, it was stressful, it was instructive, but, maybe most importantly, it felt like a complete mess.
Naturally, reading each one of the assigned articles for this week brought to my mind flashbacks of the experience. My goal here is to reflect and hopefully draw a conclusion or two about how the experience might have gone better.
My first inclination, when assessing my student government experience, is to be cynical about the whole affair. After all, folks are only in college (generally speaking) for roughly 4 years, and most people involved in student government, in my experience, are simply trying to buff up resumes. It’s hard enough to care about accomplishing things on behalf of the students, let alone working towards projects and ideals left behind by those who came before (a la continuing the missions of a strategic plan). Moreover, there is a persistent belief that there isn’t actually much decision making ability within the student government’s power—effectively, the student government acts as a prop through which the administration can demonstrate it communicates with students. After all, transparency is an important component of buy-in to leadership.
For these reasons, I think it might be hard to identify a core ideology within the student government. While it is true that the framework of the organization exists over time, and that the premise of “making student life better for all enrolled” stands as the basic accepted ethos of the organization by all those who seek membership within, turnover of members is generally so great, and cynicism of membership generally so pervasive, that establishing a successful 3-year strategic plan seems, in retrospect, overly-optimistic at best.
However, it strikes me that, over time, the goal of a strategic plan might be reached if, in the short term, the organization were to focus on establishing its core values. After all, whereas membership and sentiment about student government are mutable, core values, per Collins’ and Porras’ articulation, are not.
Therefore, upon reflection, I believe the prudent move would have been to begin the school year with a one-day student government cabinet retreat (cabinet tends to include between 8-10 members—within Kaplan’s and Beinhocker’s range of acceptability for strategy meetings), establishing and reaffirming the values of the organization. Then, to achieve buy-in, forums with each senate class (consisting of 10 senators) could have been held during the beginning of the year.
Given the complications of the kind of organization student government is, I think establishing this easily maintainable framework would have been a smarter way to build toward a consensus core ideology, and then, eventually, to the development of a strategic plan based on big, hairy, audacious goals (the time-frame of which would have to be modified down from 10-30 years, to accommodate the scope and turnover of student government). As it stood when we established our strategic plan when I was in college, however, we lacked the core to bolster our initial convictions, and we unraveled.
In some key ways, our strategy lacked a strategy.

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