March 1, 2004

Strategic planning process ready to begin

By Michael Terrazas

The Board of Trustees has approved the basic structure of Emory's comprehensive strategic planning process, and preliminary elements of the plan are about to get under way, according to the president's office.

Expected to take some 13-15 months in development, the strategic plan will look out over a seven- to 10-year time horizon and identify the University's strengths, opportunities and priorities, and the resources it will take to address all three. The strategic plan is the second in a three-stage process for Emory: The first involved creating the Vision Statement that was finalized last fall, and the final piece will be a comprehensive fund raising campaign that likely will dovetail with the completion of the strategic plan.

"This is a process for the entire institution," President Jim Wagner said. "We expect it to be a clear and visible way to provide input and insights into the steps for advancing Emory toward its vision."

Many elements of the process--certainly all of the academic components--must wait until the University hires its next provost. To guide the planning, Wagner will appoint a 15- to 18-member steering committee that will be chaired by the provost and Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs.

But some 150 faculty already have been asked to serve on a series of "opportunity committees" that will set the tone for the planning's early stages. Consisting of about 12 faculty members apiece, the committees will be chaired by the deans of Emory's nine schools, along with John Ford, senior vice president for Campus Life; John Fox, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare; John Hardman, executive director of the Carter Center; and Stuart Zola, director of Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

"These committees will brainstorm and propose some priorities, identifying perhaps half a dozen academic opportunities from each committee that the University should consider focusing on over the next five to 10 years," said University Secretary Gary Hauk.

Much time was spent in the President's Cabinet and the Council of Deans deliberating over whether to involve staff and students in this earliest stage of agenda-setting, Hauk said. "But the cabinet and deans felt that, at this point, it was the academic priorities that really needed to push the planning enterprise, so that's why, with just a few exceptions, all the committee members are faculty," he said.

After these early committees complete their work, the planning process will decentralize, fanning out into "modular" components, as Wagner has described them. These components not only will focus on individual schools and units, they also will be dedicated to cross-cutting initiatives such as internationalization, information technology, infrastructure, transportation, etc. Finally, there also will be dedicated groups for student-centered activities such as campus life.

All these modular groups will report to the central steering committee. This structure enables the University to take advantage of strategic planning initiatives already under way, such as those in the schools of business, medicine and theology, and also the broader effort undertaken in recent years by the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Indeed, in this undertaking Emory is blessed with senior administrators who know how a successful strategic plan is built.

"A vision, without implementing strategies and necessary resources, is only a wish list," said Johns, who has helped guide strategic planning efforts both at Emory and previously at Johns Hopkins University. "It must all be preceded by careful analysis of problems, opportunities and financials before the process begins. Perhaps the most significant preparation required is to pose the right questions."

"I have been involved with three strategic planning processes; two were successful, and one was not," said Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, who will play a central role on the steering committee. "The two that were successful had the following common elements: first, the initiatives and priorities were developed both from 'bottom up' and 'top down' leadership; second, broad-based faculty involvement was critical, with simultaneous leadership from the center.

"Third, choices and priorities were established and resources were identified up front so the strategic investments could begin as soon as the planning process was completed; and fourth, the planning initiatives were defined at a level of detail that they could be partially financed via the fund raising campaign."

Wagner, Johns and Mandl all said another key is to clearly identify benchmarks to measure Emory's progress. The plan's design calls for both annual and five-year targets. Hauk said in practice the 10-year plan is a combination of two five-year plans; the first half will set goals to be addressed during the beginning of the comprehensive campaign, and the second half will address Emory's position toward the campaign's end.

Finally, Wagner said he will encourage broad community involvement in the planning process through a website forum ( similar to what was used to develop the Vision Statement last semester. Once the opportunity committees identify some potential priorities (probably in May), these will be posted on the website for public review and feedback.

"The strategic plan is the 'how to' part of our efforts to move forward--to move toward our vision," Wagner said. "Those most directly involved in making that happen are really not in the president's office. The power to move us is largely with the faculty, staff and in some aspects our students, alumni, trustees and supportive friends."