January 29 , 2007
Emory leaders reflect on Strategic Planning process
As Emory enters the first full year of implementation of the strategic plan, Emory Report joined three of the plan’s principal stewards for a conversation regarding what they’ve learned about the University community during the early phase of the process.
The participants included:
Michael M.E. Johns, executive
vice president, health affairs and CEO, Woodruff Health Sciences
Center; Earl Lewis, provost and
executive vice president for academic affairs; and Mike Mandl, executive vice president, finance and administration.
Emory Report: What have you learned about Emory that you did not know before we started the strategic planning process?
Earl Lewis: For me, coming in brand new, the strategic plan process offered a great opportunity to learn the institution. To have an analysis from each of the schools and colleges within one month of my arrival generated some honest conversations about where there are strengths at the faculty level, the school and college level and at the institutional level. Oftentimes it takes several months if not several years of engagement and trust building before you actually can get to that kind of candid assessment.
ER: Did you have stereotypes about Emory in mind when you first arrived?
Lewis: Sure. Some of those weren’t dispelled by analysis to be honest, but confirmed. The one word that has been associated with Emory in higher education was the word “potential.” And that word was still out there when I arrived. If anything, the strategic plan has forced us to confront the limitations of potential and to talk about what we have to achieve rather than framing it in the context of what we have potential to achieve.
ER: By limitations you mean the idea of having high potential only takes you so far? You have to do something about it.
Lewis: Right. When I took the job I actually had colleagues around the country say, “Okay, your image forever has been that you’re poised to do something. So are you guys now going to do it?”
Mike Mandl: For me, I was surprised about how difficult it was to convey the notion that identifying cross-cutting strategic themes was not about usurping the strategic plans of the schools and taking activity away from them. In fact, faculty drive our reputation and our activities. Having said that, I think that the community and faculty leaders have responded wonderfully to the call.
ER: Any sense outside of Emory that we are beginning to realize our potential here?
Mandl: While many of the initiatives haven’t been implemented yet, there’s a fairly widespread buzz in higher education that there is deliberate intention and ambition here, not just about the plan, but about where Emory is in its history. Something’s going on here, and it’s a wonderful place to be.
Michael Johns: A great illustration is what one of our recent recruits from a Big Ten school said. His colleagues asked, “Why would you leave to go to Emory?” His answer was because not only does Emory talk about being a top ten institution, but we have a plan and the resources to get there. We’re embracing the fact that we have a plan that we can revisit regularly. We can adjust it and track the results. And we have an opportunity to do that at both the school and institutional level. In fact, there already have been adjustments to some of the themes.
Lewis: And we’ll continue to do so. Religion, for example, started out in six broad areas and has now refined them to three to concentrate resources. Each of the plans is going through a continual examination process, including how to bring in people currently on the sidelines.
Johns: Fundamentally the plan is about what’s going on at the faculty level and the schools and the colleges. Cross-cutting themes and initiatives are bridges across those schools and colleges. By having plans visible to all, it means that every other dean is aware of what his or her colleagues are doing too, which is reinforcing and beneficial — in particular as we look toward the comprehensive campaign, but also for other projects across the institution.
ER: Have these bridges helped campus conversation and understanding among the individual schools, both university and health sciences?
Mandl: Intellectual pursuit has brought together faculty in the health sciences and the other schools for decades, an example being Dennis Liotta (professor of chemistry, Emory College) and Ray Schinazi (professor of pediatrics, School of Medicine) — co-inventors of leading anti-HIV/AIDS drugs. But bureaucratic barriers can and do exist and must be broken down. We all need to be committed to working with deans and department chairs to do so.
Johns: My observation would be that I think the interaction (between health sciences and other schools) is already there, and that there is much more interaction happening than people give themselves credit for. And there’s an opportunity for a whole lot more.
ER: So if somebody’s out there, as an individual, in a department, who hasn’t been part of the strategic plan process to date but wants to, how would they plug in?
Lewis: Each school and college has its own strategic plan so I would start there. There are people who are hankering for others to come in and shoulder some of the responsibility of seeing these things through. There’s still work to be done.
Mandl: There’s a role for all staff as well. When I’m asked how to get involved, I suggest looking at the Creating Community strategic theme and thinking about the variety of ways sustainability touches our lives in terms of our habits, use of energy and transportation choices. Every single individual can contribute to the advancement of these initiatives that benefit the greater community.
Johns: I remember way back when I first heard about the notion of a strategic plan, I looked up the definition. Well, strategic is all about war. This is not about war. I was annoyed by this whole concept… I did get religion after awhile (laughter). But you know, I think there’s still some of that feeling out there. People think, “Someone’s going to chart my life for me. They’re going to make me go in a particular direction where I may or may not want to go.” Many of us may think that way early on, but what I really learned over time is that strategic planning is really an opportunity to sit down and ask ourselves where we want to go and how we want to get there. And so, it’s an opportunity to start mapping out for ourselves what it is going to take, and to be a little bit more thoughtful about it. Sometimes the words of the process get in the way of people’s thinking because their first emotional response is “Oh, they’re going to do that to me.” But then, I think, we get away from that and think of it more as an opportunity to revisit where we are and where we want to go.
Mandl: I think about it as an energizing mechanism. It enables you to be proactive instead of just sort of sitting back waiting for things to happen to you. It gives us deliberate direction. We’ll be changing and moving the plan as it rolls along.
Lewis: When thinking about all the college plans and overall themes, at the top it’s about strengthening faculty distinction. How do we continue to assist the faculty we have to realize their full potential, to identify new faculty who will come in and continue to push and pull the institution
forward, and then how do we think of faculty over the course of their careers from assistant to associate to full? If there’s one thing that I’ve heard in some quarters, it’s that as an institution we may not have been as deliberate in working on faculty development. So the strategic plan becomes an opportunity for us to step back and to figure out, across the institution, how do we assist faculty, what things do we need to do.
ER: Ten years from now when Emory needs to write a successor to “where courageous inquiry leads,” where will we be?
Johns: We’ll be at a different spot. We’ll reevaluate what has changed in our environment, then reset our direction again.
One day I was walking across campus and I saw a woman carrying a blue tote bag. I looked down at the bag and it read, “Emory Department of English, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads.” And I was really taken by that. I thought “Wow, that’s great.” The English department has picked it up and they are running with it. I would love to know how they interpret where courageous inquiry leads, as departments. There’s nothing more important than the English department wanting to be where courageous inquiry is leading. Because it is at these departmental levels that we ultimately will be known as the greatest university, that’s the exciting part about it. To me when you put that phrase on the table it is who we are, who we are striving to be, and what our future is.