Management literature suggests that high-performing institutions are comfortable with paradox, ambiguity, and change. What creates this comfort level? What releases an organization from the fear of change?
By teaching people at all levels to think strategically, organizations develop the competence to deal with change without panic or fear. Strategic thinking, according to Dick Alfred and Pat Carter, professors at the University of Michigan, involves learning how to analyze data, information and trends. Through this analysis, strategic thinkers identify and isolate significant themes. These themes support the thinker’s development of organizational strategic direction, but strategic thinking doesn’t stop there. Those who think strategically continue to question, assess, and challenge. Like Bernard Shaw, these people don’t simply look at today and ask "why?" They dream about tomorrow’s possibilities and ask, "why not?"
This month, Illinois Central College begins a process designed to help people throughout our organization learn to think strategically. In formal terms, we are going through a strategic planning process, facilitated by Professors Alfred and Carter. During this exercise we will work through nine specific steps or stages. These stages provide a structure to develop our strategic thinking. They will help us organize our thoughts so we’re prepared to think and plan. They will show us how and where to find information—internally and externally—and what to do with that information when we get it. The steps will help us think about the gap between what we could be and what we are now. From these exercises we will create a strategic plan or a comprehensive report on where we want to go in the future. This plan will help us develop actions and activities in which all faculty and staff can participate.
While there is always the potential to create a plan and ignore it, the broadness of our approach will help us avoid this trap. Building on work we did two years ago in our visioning process, we will expand the inclusiveness of the process.
Already our steering committee consists of 24 college people. This group represents a wide variety—faculty, staff, a retiree, a student, a trustee. The work of the process will be accomplished by people not just of our steering committee, but throughout ICC. Our findings will be communicated expansively to our college and community, educators, business and industry leaders, and anyone who is interested. This participation contributes to creating strategic thinkers in our organization.
What should our community expect? In the next several weeks, we’ll be asking many people like you to talk with us, individually or in groups.
We’ll want to hear honestly and openly what’s on your mind, what you think about ICC, and what kinds of challenges you see for the future of our community. The information you provide will help us create more than a strategic plan. It will help develop the collective strategic thinking capabilities of our college, and for that, we thank you. IBI