How Does Stakeholder Input Fit Into Strategic Planning?

Large group planning kitkat3756 ccWe often work with leaders who are looking for ways to integrate stakeholder input into the process of strategic planning in a way that is productive for all involved. This post looks at a planning process I co-facilitated that is designed to integrate multiple stakeholder groups.

Founded in 1850, Urbana University is a private university offering a liberal arts education that emphasizes student learning through individual attention, excellence in instruction, career-oriented programs, and critical thinking. The University has the feel of a small college environment that is small enough to foster close connections between faculty and students, and large enough to provide cutting-edge programs.

The planning committee determined that they wanted input from several stakeholder groups including: students, parents, faculty, administrators, the community, local employers, and board members. Each group was represented with total attendance being approximately 100 participants.

The first half of the session was designed to capture input from these groups broken into tables to promote conversation across constituent groups. Each table answered the following questions in 30- minute discussions:

  • Who do we serve?
  • What do they want from us?
  • What are we willing and able to do for them?
  • What is important?

Next, participants moved to new tables of their choice. They reviewed the answers from the prior conversations  and answered a second set of questions:

  • What are we doing well that we should continue to do?
  • What are we doing that we should either improve upon or discontinue?
  • What are we recognized for in the community?
  •  What community/student/parent perception of Urbana University is the most negative and damaging to our image?
  • What differentiates Urbana University from other universities in the local area?

During these discussions, participants wrote on large sheets of paper to be shared with the entire group. During break everyone was encouraged to walk around and read the comments from other groups.

The next exercise involved getting recommendations for change based on key topics. This activity was based on the “open space” idea where people stand up and invite conversation on a topic they find compelling. Each group discussed the topic in detail. We had twelve topics, including:

  •   Communications
  •   Academic Standards
  •   Liberal Arts Perspective
  •   Life and Career Planning
  •   Thriving in Global Society
  •   Air/Drone Technology of the Future
  •   Maximizing Use of Physical Facility
  •   Relationships with Industry
  •   Branding
  •   Retention
  •   Student Services
  •   What Differentiates the University?

Each participant then had five stick-on-dots with which they voted for the topics they thought were most important. After reading the recommendations from each group and voting, participants from each group gathered in a large circle and discussed their thoughts and reflections on what they learned from the process.

After the group discussions and voting, everyone joined in a larger group to discuss what they were taking away from the discussion. The observations were very insightful from all stakeholder groups and promoted a greater level of communication across the multiple groups—something that does not happen organically on a daily basis.

If you are conducting a planning session, or trying to gather information and promote engagement in an important process, you may want to consider large group activities to gather input from the many people who have a stake in your success. While stakeholder input is critical for many organizations, note that the job of the planning committee and leaders is to distill the many points of view into a single cohesive plan that will best serve the organization.

This input will be integrated into the second step of planning that involves crafting/refining the current mission, defining strategic goals,  and developing actionable plans to accomplish strategic goals. By understanding the stakeholder expectations, we can create a plan that is most effective in balancing the needs of a large group of stakeholders.

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photo credit: www.flickr.com kittykat3756

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