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Five years in, strategic planning part of W&M’s culture

Review of plan identifies successes, results in new challenge

A new financial operating model that provides more revenue to preserve W&M as a public ivy, greater emphasis on lifelong connections, new residence and dining options including Tribe Square, One Tribe Place and the fraternity houses, and a review of what it means to be a liberal arts university: These are just a few of the things that William & Mary’s strategic planning process has made possible in the five years since its initial unveiling.

However, the planning process never stops, and the university recently conducted a review of the plan to not only identify its successes but make sure that it continues to meet the evolving needs of William & Mary over the next five years.

“We make a real effort to involve all of our various constituencies in the strategic planning process,” said Provost Michael R. Halleran. “This is a real collaboration involving the Board of Visitors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. So in a very real sense the plan reflects our common aspirations.”

Aspirations and a new challenge

Adopted in 2009, the university’s strategic plan originally included six challenges, which focused on: being a leader among liberal arts universities, creating and supporting a diverse community, inspiring lifelong connections to the university, developing a new financial model to maximize revenue, providing 21st-century administrative resources and infrastructure and increasing the effectiveness of communications efforts.

In 2012, President Taylor Reveley asked the Planning Steering Committee, co-chaired by Halleran and Jim Golden, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, to conduct a comprehensive review of those challenges, which they completed in December. The revised plan was brought before the Board of Visitors in April 2013.

The review noted that while progress had been made in many areas, faculty and staff salaries were dangerously low compared to peer institutions.  That was addressed last spring through the William & Mary Promise and its emphasis on more earned income, greater philanthropy and continuing efforts to become even more efficient.  The review put even more emphasis on innovation, interdisciplinary connections and global perspectives.  In fact, the committee felt that international connections were so important that it raised them to the level of a seventh challenge: “foster stronger global perspectives and connections.” Previously, internationalization was a part of the liberal arts challenge.

“We highlighted that because global connections cut across so much of what the university does including encouraging students to have international experiences, facilitating international research collaborations and increasing the international students in our student body,” said Halleran. “Global perspectives are now a central part of William & Mary.”

The implementation portion of the plan -- which assigns responsibility for each of the goals – was also updated to include a longer-term outlook.

“In the past, we had more emphasis on many specific things to be done each year that would move us toward our longer-term goals,” said Golden.  ”Now we are taking a longer-term view, focusing on a few things that will take more time, but will have a really significant impact.  We are also placing even more emphasis on developing clear measures to track our progress in each area.”   

The committee itself, which includes 26 faculty, staff, student and alumni representatives from across the university, has also seen some changes in the last five years. In the first year, the committee had over 40 members, but that was scaled back over time. It also used to have six subcommittees – one for each challenge area. However, during that period, in part because of the emphasis in the strategic plan, several standing committees had emerged in key areas– including the diversity committee, the president’s communications group and the international affairs committee.  Those standing committees have now taken the place of the former subcommittees in those areas, reducing duplication of effort.

“We’re trying to streamline every year to save time and still get broad participation in the strategic planning process,” said Golden.

Strategic planning at work

William & Mary’s strategic plan is linked directly to the budget. The steering committee updates the plan every year, identifying priorities that will inform the annual budget process. The plan also informs the six-year financial planning process.

“Some strategic plans may be beautifully written and record aspirations, but they are not connected to the budget so they just sit there,” said Sam Jones, vice president for finance. “Our strategic plan defines priorities that actually guide our financial decisions.”

That connection helped the university devise and implement a new operating model, “The William & Mary Promise,” in the spring of 2013. The new model -- along with increased philanthropy and innovation and efficiency savings -- has helped the university generate revenue that is being used to increase faculty and staff salaries.

“The strategic plan has highlighted that if you’re going to be this public ivy and perform at that level, you need outstanding staff and faculty to sustain that,” said Halleran. “Our salary levels were very low compared to our peers, and we thought that was a strategic challenge for us. That led to the development of the Promise, which is a direct outgrowth of the planning for the last five years for the new financial foundation.”

The implementation of the W&M Promise is but one of several successes that those involved in the strategic planning process may tout. Other achievements listed in the update plan include: the renovation of several buildings including Small Hall and acquisition or construction or others such as the Fraternity Complex and One Tribe Place, a record fundraising year, the introduction of the Creative Adaptation Fund, the establishment of the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme and the Confucius Institute, the recasting of Charter Day as a student event, the launch of the Lemon Project and an increase in national media coverage.

With five years behind them and a plan in place for the next five, Golden says that he is very pleased with how the strategic planning process is going.

“It is now an embedded part of our culture,” he said. “We have developed the habit of continuously upgrading the strategic plan. We have involved our various constituencies in the process. We have linked the plan to both the annual budget and our longer, six-year financial plans, and we have achieved some real successes, particularly in the focus on bringing our salaries up to more competitive levels.

“Our people are the core of the university, and if we’re going to maintain our prestigious position as a public ivy, we need to continue to invest in our people,” he said.

More about the strategic planning process – including its history, process, implementation and more -- may be found on the university’s strategic planning website.