Faculty Handbook 2017-2018

I.1.d. Defining and implementing a departmental vision-plan

Goals are the building blocks for a departmental vision/plan, providing a department direction towards a course of action. Sometimes goals for a departmental vision/plan develop intentionally as part of departmental self-studies, departmental assessments, proposals for new faculty, etc., whereas sometimes goals develop almost organically as a result of conversations in departmental meetings, offices, and hallways. The best goals are practical, meaningful, and above all, doable. They need to address important outcomes while being realistically attainable by the department. That is, overly ambitious goals may be so complex that they rarely get finished, whereas simple/ordinary goals rarely accomplish anything significant. Striking this balance requires careful thought and hard work but can ultimately lead to positive advances for the department.

The hard work is not over after you have defined the goals for the vision/plan. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the planning process is not the creation of the plan, but rather its implementation. That is, as concisely described by Holterhoff (2014), the challenge that faces you as chair is in “...transforming carefully crafted phrases and lofty aspirations [of the plan] into tangible results.” Failure to do so typically results in plans that soon become inactive and forgotten in our day-to-day routines, causing the work invested in creating, discussing/debating, and writing the goals/vision/plan to be wasted. 

Defining goals

  • Analyze factors affecting your department. Goals commonly build on department strengths, address department weaknesses, etc. Consider creating a list of factors affecting your department using the SWOT technique (modified from the SWOT analysis for schools|education|colleges| universities website):
    • Strengths – Factors that are likely to have a positive effect on (or be an enabler to) achieving the department’s objectives.
    • Weaknesses – Factors that are likely to have a negative effect on (or be a barrier to) achieving the department’s objectives.
    • Opportunities – External factors that are likely to have a positive effect on achieving or exceeding the department’s objectives, or goals not previously considered.
    • Threats – External factors and conditions that are likely to have an adverse effect on achieving the department’s objectives or making the objective redundant or un-achievable. 
  • Identify problems/opportunities to be addressed. Create a list of issues/opportunities affecting your department (leveraging results from a SWOT analysis). Discuss potential solutions and/or desired outcomes for items on this list as a department.
  • Develop goals that make positive steps towards addressing your list of issues/opportunities. Note that goals can be incremental and can evolve over time. Don’t fall in the trap of thinking that every goal must completely solve or address the issue/opportunity. Developing a plan that makes small positive steps can lead to significant change over time.
  • Make sure that outcomes focus on improving the student learning experience. Ultimately, students are your “customers”. Given this, one of the most objective “litmus tests” for evaluating the worthiness of a vision/plan is whether the outcomes will benefit and improve student learning.
  • Secure buy-in from departmental faculty members. Acknowledge that not everyone will buy-in to the entire list of goals developed during departmental brainstorming sessions. However, the chair should strive to reach consensus by listening to concerns, evaluating their merits, and trying to reach common ground whereby all/most departmental faculty members agree that the goals have the potential to positively benefit the department and its students/faculty/staff. 

Facilitating the implementation of the vision/plan

  • Write out each objective/goal for the vision/plan. Annotate each objective/goal with five crucial points: who, what, why, when, and resources needed. By writing this information down, you begin the implementation process by delegating responsibilities, developing rationales, setting deadlines, and determining if funding is needed.
  • Prioritize the initiatives and set a realistic timetable. Few things exert more inertia on completing plan objectives than trying to do everything at once. That is, if your department is working on a multi-year plan, don't try to tackle everything in the first year. Plan to address some of your plan's initiatives in each of the years that it will be in effect, thus helping everyone avoid becoming overloaded/ overwhelmed, burned out, and/or frustrated with an overly ambitious timetable for what your department can realistically accomplish. Consider dividing goals into 1 year (short-term), 2-3 year (intermediate-term), & 3-5+ year (long-term) time intervals. Short-term goals probably will be the most specific and detailed and should be doable in an academic year. Intermediate-term goals tend to be those goals that are on the immediate horizon, but which likely will take a bit longer than an academic year to be accomplished. Long-term goals look towards the future and tend to represent plans that will take a longer, more sustained effort. In fact, long-term goals might be further scrutinized to determine if there are smaller, tractable goals that can be accomplished in the near term that will ultimately help fulfill these longer-term goals.
  • Communicate and motivate...keep your strategic plan on everyone's radar screen. Reprint it in your newsletter, post it on your website, provide updates in department meetings, and refer to it as often as possible in various ways. Whenever possible, use the goals you've stated in the plan as a reference point for everyday decision-making and/or as a context for regular ongoing activities of your group. This will help you build and maintain momentum.
  • Have a backup plan. Not every initiative will work out as you had hoped. You may have to try alternative approaches to accomplish what is needed. Stay focused on your destination but be flexible about the path you take to get there.
  • Monitor progress and set up milestones. Some tasks will be completed ahead of schedule, whereas others will be on time or even fall behind. Develop a mechanism for tracking the progress for accomplishing the plan objectives. Recognize and celebrate completed tasks, encourage ongoing efforts, and highlight initiatives that need more attention.