May 12, 2022: What Does it Mean to Make a Strategic Plan

12 May 2022
President Alison Byerly headshot dressed in Carleton colored rugby shirt

With the release last month of the final Community Plan for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity, we have moved from a planning stage to the implementation stage in our efforts to build a more equitable community. Much of the conversation around these issues has shifted from what should we do, to how will we do it? It is perhaps not surprising to find that there is a bit more anxiety associated with the kind of change envisioned once we start picturing it actually happening.

At a staff meeting the other day, a good question was asked about how the IDE plan relates to the upcoming strategic planning process. Though the IDE plan will flow into the strategic planning process, and will form a central pillar of a broader strategic plan, I realize that the underlying question really is, what does it mean to make a “strategic” plan? Why do we need one?

It may seem tempting, at this busy moment in particular, to question why an exercise in strategic planning is needed. We all have more than enough work to do; do we really need to define more goals? It may be helpful to recognize that if goals are truly strategic, they are not about adding work; they are about doing some of the work we have differently. This is true of many of the goals in the IDE plan. We already admit students, we already hire faculty and staff, we already design programs. The IDE plan asks us to do those same things, but do them differently to achieve different outcomes. A truly strategic plan will help us to define a shared vision for Carleton and shape our work to meet our collective goals.

In fact, an effective plan would not increase workload or intensify burnout; it would optimize and direct the energy we are spending in ways that should feel more purposeful and rewarding. For that reason, I think it is especially critical that we undertake a community planning process beginning this fall. We are already expending tremendous energy in a world that has less definition and fewer boundaries than it did two years ago. Providing a more coherent shape and structure for our mission will help us to avoid the overwhelming pressure to do everything that can make a high functioning community like Carleton both exhilarating and exhausting.

I am pleased that many of you have signed up for the strategic planning discussions and open meetings that are planned for the coming weeks. I know how busy everyone is, as the spring term hurtles towards its conclusion and we prepare to celebrate Commencement. I do believe that time we invest now in thoughtful conversation and planning will benefit us, and Carleton, in the years to come. Thanks to all of you for your continued good will and energy at this busy time.

Alison Byerly electronic signature in blue ink