Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mission, Strategy and Development Planning

One of the most important roles of any leadership team is to plan for the future and set a direction of travel for the organisation so that it can thrive and not just survive. Most School Leadership Teams and Governing Bodies have little problem generating a whole range of ideas about how they would like the school to develop in the future. However, in my experience there are three important factors which differentiate those schools who are successful at future planning from those who are disastrous:
  1. Successful schools know what they are about; 
  2. Successful schools plan for the future strategically; 
  3. Successful schools get the most out of the limited resources available. 
These three concepts are at the heart of future planning.

Mission – The Why?

Mission is really about explaining why the organisation exists (See Simon Sinek’s The Importance of Why). Often this is embedded deep in the past, in the very foundation of the organisation. For most independent schools this will be found in the ‘charitable object’. Mission Statements are perhaps less fashionable than they were a decade ago, but the starting point for all future planning has to be some sort of overarching aim or purpose which reflects the core values of the organisation. 
The key mission questions are: 
  • What are our core values? 
  • What do we stand for? 
  • What are we trying to achieve? 
JESS Dubai’s Mission Statement is founded on its core value of ‘making a difference’: 
JESS Dubai aims to be a school that has a global reputation for a distinctive brand of education that challenges young people to make a difference. 
Berkhamsted School developed its mission by having 10 aims (6 Educational Aims and 4 Operational Aims) and all future planning was expected to contribute to at least one of these aims. 

Strategic Planning – The How? 

Strategy is concerned with defining how the organisation fulfils its mission. It does this by deciding how the organisation fits into the wider marketplace and by determining its shape and extent. The most important strategic questions is: 

  • What is our market niche? 

The role of the strategist is to plot the course for the organisation within the terms of the its mission adapting to changing external conditions. Strategic plans should never be fixed – they are provisional. The strategist therefore needs high quality information to be able to analyse market changes. There are a whole number of tools to facilitate this: 

  • PESTEL Analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal) is a tool for determining external business environmental factors. 
  • SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is a self-evaluative tool for determining the organisations priorities for development and investment. 
  • Porter’s Five Forces Model is a tool that sets out to identify the attractiveness of an industry in terms of five competitive forces: the threat of entry, the threat of substitutes, the power of buyers, the power of suppliers and the extent of the rivalry between the companies. 
  • Resourced Based Analysis is a tool that identifies those resources within an organisation which can bring it a sustained competitive advantage. Rare, Valuable, Inimitable and Organizational Process. 
  • Key Success Factor Competitor Analysis is a tool that examines four key areas (price, product quality, service and reassurance) which differentiate market leaders from their competitors. 

These and other similar tools enable School leaders to determine where the school sits in the marketplace and to answer the following fundamental strategic questions: 

  • What is the optimum size of the school? 
  • What is the optimum structure of the school? 
  • Co-ed v Single Sex? 
  • Curriculum type? 
  • Boarding v Day? 
  • What is the Pastoral Care Structure? 

These are questions of policy and should be determined by Governors.
The answers to these fundamental questions will change over time as the marketplace in which it is operating changes. The past twenty years has seen most independent schools in the UK shift on at least one of these fundamental strategic questions: boarding schools have taken day pupils, single sex schools have embraced coeducation, prep schools have opened pre-preps and nurseries; senior schools have opened tied junior schools; schools have merged and have grown size, schools now provide year-round wrap-around care for working parents. The Berkhamsted Schools Group today is a product of all of these changes – it is structurally a different school in nearly every respect to the school that it was in 1997. 

Development Planning – The What? 

Development Planning is concerned with what the organisation is going to do to enable it to adapt and improve – within the strategic parameters. Development planning plots how we are going to get from where we are (A) to where we want to be (B). Development Planning is really about the allocation of scarce resources: 

  • Time – in school terms this means the shape of the school day and the curriculum allocation; 
  • People – teaching and support staff; 
  • Space – classrooms and meeting rooms ; 
  • Skills – training, CPD and INSET days; 
  • Money – capital expenditure, fit-outs, staffing and other running costs. 

Planning is where vision meets reality. It is about how a school is going to spend time and money and how it is going to use its people, space and skills. These are questions of process and should be determined at an executive level within a budget determined by Governors.
Poor development planning happens when it is not tied to the school strategy and when schools mindless follow what other schools are doing on the principle of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Too many schools invested in Interactive Whiteboards and iPads to impress prospective parents without having any training or idea of where they fitted into a teaching and learning pedagogy for the school. The result is a lost opportunity and a waste of money. 

Final Thoughts 

Future planning requires an enormous amount of work. It is not simply the generation of a list of ‘nice-to-have’ projects. It is about striking a balance between the internal (self-knowledge of what the school in essence is about and its priorities) and the external (understanding of the wider operational environment). Above all, it requires striking a balance between strong traditional core values and an open-mindedness as to how these can be applied for the benefit of the next generation of pupils.

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