Career Threads is a micro-blog series that offers quick insights into trending topics in career services, jointly composed by the Consulting Team at The Career Leadership Collective, out of their experiences interacting with hundreds of career professionals and senior campus leaders.
Most of us think we're strategic thinkers, but getting out of the weeds of our hectic daily task lists can be challenging when leading or collaborating on a strategic plan. This Career Thread offers three common mistakes to avoid.
1. Confusing Tactics for Strategy:
One of the most common mistakes in strategic planning is a fundamental confusion between strategy and tactics. To keep it simple, think of strategy as what you want to accomplish; tactics are the how. But how do we decide what our goals are?
Generally, strategic planning starts with mapping out and honing in on your mission (the overall purpose of your work), values (your guiding beliefs), and vision (where you are headed).
Now, we're at a challenging point in the process. You know where you want to be in the next 3 to 5 years, but how do you get there? This is often where over-eager strategic planners skip strategy and go straight into tactics. "What if we created a first-year experience focused on career exploration, targeting liberal arts majors during spring break?!" Before moving to the tactic stage, we must map out long-term strategic objectives aligning with our environment - our strengths, obstacles, and opportunities.
2. Failing to Create Measurable Metrics (KPIs):
Does everything have to be measurable? Yes, but with flexibility. Strategic planning and enacting a strategic plan can take a lot of time. You will only know how your plans succeed or move the needle by pre-establishing measurable outcomes.
Example: If your long-term goal is to see internship participation reach 50% of all students, you must design a plan to motivate students to report this information, like an optional zero-credit transcript notation.
Regardless of your campus environment, it's essential to go beyond the "butts in seats" approach to measuring the impact of your work. One of the best practices we recommend is to create specific learning outcomes for events and advising sessions so we can evaluate the impact beyond attendance. These learning outcomes should tie back to your overall strategic priorities as well.
3. Not Building In Flexibility:
A successful strategic plan will continuously measure its success and allow the career center to leverage new or shifting opportunities. The overall objectives stay the same, but the tactics can be swapped in and out as you observe and measure what initiatives and partnerships get campus buy-in or have unexpected results.
Higher education can be guilty of the sunk cost fallacy. We sometimes think, "I put so much thought and effort into this. I can make it work." An agile strategic planning process, specific and measurable KPIs, and short and long-term objectives will be more impactful over time. It can also create an environment of reflection and continuous improvement. Be willing to adapt, pivot, or sunset efforts as you adapt to new strategic needs.