Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Human Side of the Strategic Planning Process in Higher Education: Chapter 3: The Challenges of Change as Part of Strategic Planning

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Human Side of the Strategic Planning Process in Higher Education: Chapter 3: The Challenges of Change as Part of Strategic Planning

Article excerpt

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

--Woodrow Wilson, Address at the Salesmanship Congress, Detroit MI, July 10, 1916.

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.

--Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks, 1508-1518

THERE MAY BE COUNTLESS REASONS from both an individual and organizational perspective why various groups will resist the strategic planning process on campus and the change it may require. It appears to be just part of the process that cannot be avoided. You will be dammed if you do and dammed if you don't. Rowley, Lujan, and Dolence (2001) make this point in reference to the development of a vision statement by the president of an institution. Some will criticize the president for a lack of leadership if no vision is provided. If a vision is provided, it will be criticized unless, as the authors state, it is an "inclusive Christmas tree" (p. 270) on which each constituency gets to hang a glittery ornament that may be more show than substance.

Strategic planning that is more than just a show will challenge the current way of doing things on campus. As indicated in figure 3.1, on one hand, the strategic management process provides an institution with a direction that can lead to a positive outcome but, on the other, propels the institution onto an uncharted and potentially perilous course (Taylor and Machado 2006). Given that perspective, some resistance is inevitable. In strategic planning, the goal may not be to avoid the resistance people have to the process; rather, a more realistic goal may be to anticipate the resistance, identify its source, and manage it the best you can. It can be tricky to get those involved to focus on the potential positive outcomes rather than fixate on the possible negatives.


There may be some unexpected benefits realized and lessons learned from challenges to the strategic planning process, such as exposing the vulnerabilities of the process. Challenges can also clarify issues that different groups may have and foster the process of identifying remedies. A faculty member shared a story of the challenge faced by his institution in refurbishing a central and historical building on campus. The building had a great deal of significant and sentimental value to alumni as well as to faculty who had served on the campus for many years. The building included a beautiful arched walkway that led up to its entrance. However, after many years of neglect, the building was beyond repair. The investment needed to restore it was greater than that to tear it down and just build a new building in its place. Although the building had become an eye sore as well as a potential hazard, there was a great deal of resistance from alumni, faculty, and the current student body to losing such a treasured symbol. This building was part of the character of the institution. Dealing with this challenge resulted in an important lesson for the newer administration as to how powerful traditions were on that campus; although this was a necessary change, it still seemed to displease the majority. The solution developed by the administration and some insightful architects involved integrating parts of the old symbol with a new tradition.

The arched walkway could be saved and refinished. While there was much grumbling from stakeholders during the construction process, many members of the college community joined in the procession led by bagpipers as they marched under the arched walkway for the opening of the new building. This procession under the archway has now become a tradition at the opening of each new academic year and at spring commencement. This example demonstrates how even necessary and sensible change can be viewed as a disturbance. Each institution has its own traditions and character. Changes, especially strategic changes, ought to be undertaken with careful consideration given to the institution's strengths, traditions, and character. …

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