The holidays are behind us. Families have returned home. It's another New Year and now this may be the perfect time to create an action plan in order to achieve the short and long term goals you set for yourself and your institution. I'm not talking about a list of New Year's resolutions here as those tend to come and go. I am talking about intentional and focused planning for the future which is an integral component of any successful and functional higher education institution. First, planning must always be grounded in a carefully articulated vision. Unless everyone within the institution understands the shared vision for the organization, planning and implementing strategies for improvement will run the risk of losing focus. The following are five characteristics that are present in effective institutional visions.
- Awareness of your Surroundings. It’s important to keep up-to-date in any industry, but if your industry is education it’s critical. It is impossible to develop a clear vision if you are unsure of the changing landscape or are out-of-touch with current trends. Under these circumstances, developing a clear vision will be challenging. A comprehensive understanding of current and future trends that affect the organization will lead to establishing an effective vision that will guide the institution. It should energize staff, faculty, and students and provide insight as to the future growth and strategic plan of the institution.
- Health Check. Vision is best created when things are going well. Developing a vision is not the same as problem solving. A vision is preparing for the future and how the institution can continue to meet the needs of its students. All institutions face challenges and problems that need to be solved. This is a part of daily operations, but it is not a way to measure the achievement of the vision. An effective vision statement communicates the institution’s proactive culture to perform at a higher level and continuing to offer quality academic programs while acknowledging future changes. The vision discloses how the institution sees itself contributing to the changes in education instead of simply reacting to them.
- You Can’t Ever Go Back. An effective vision never decreases its performance expectations of an institution. A vision propels the institution to strive for more and set itself apart from its peers. This may be particularly difficult to do when an institution is faced with difficult or challenging times. At times like these, it is easier for the vision to become that nice statement published on the website and meanwhile, everyone is reacting to challenges and struggling to create solutions to problems. During these times, institutions need to re-establish their commitment to the vision, but should never lessen the vision because of current circumstances. In doing this, institutions can limit their potential and miss tremendous opportunities.
- Different is Good. Sometimes implementing a vision can be isolating and risky. Sometimes it can be difficult to garner support and this can cause you to question your commitment. An effective vision never wavers. As a leader, this is when your personal resolve and optimism will serve you well. Not everyone will be able to understand the purpose, direction, or end result of the vision. It’s a leader’s responsibility to explain the purpose by unfolding the roadmap for the vision and allow skeptics their opinions. A vision by definition means to imagine. Getting from A to B will not be inherently clear and that is where goals and objectives will support the vision. Once forward movement is made, everyone will start to see the progress and join in sharing a common purpose.
- The End of the Rainbow. An effective vision communicates commitment. A vision is a little like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ve been told it’s out there, you may never find it, but you keep believing it’s there and every time you see a rainbow you’re reminded of it. A vision is a statement of what your institution aspires to do, be, or achieve. You know it’s there, it may never be fully realized, but the more you believe in it, the more you are reminded of where you should be headed and the closer you get to being what you envisioned.
Every higher education institution strives to be the change that the U.S. education system needs; however, in order to make a positive effect we must start with a positive forward-thinking vision.
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” ~ Jonathan Swift
As you enter into this New Year, how can you strengthen the focus and resolve to your institutional vision?