In my last post, I introduced SWOT analysis and discussed how we are using this method in our strategic planning process. We took a look at the general strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that were inferred from your answers to our Strategic Planning Questions. (You can read the full Part 1 post here.) Today, I'd like to share with you a few connections between some of our strengths and opportunities and between some of our weaknesses and threats, and the bigger picture implications of these findings.
Matching Strengths with Opportunities
One intersection between McNeese's strengths and opportunities is located where the strong McNeese motto ("Excellence with a Personal Touch") might be used to foster innovative academic methods; e.g. the new Innovation Engineering™ curriculum, clicker technology, custom-designed certificate training programs, and distance learning initiatives. A second intersection can be found where the establishment of the SEED Center and McNeese's strong relationships with regional partners might be expanded through new collaborative ventures with the SWLA Alliance (including all of its business, civic, and governmental members), Sowela Technical and Community College, the Fort Polk community, and K-12 schools in the five-parish region. A third intersection-again drawing upon the McNeese motto-occurs with regard to opportunities you mentioned in areas relating to student success, such as service learning, undergraduate research, internships, and study abroad opportunities.
Matching Weaknesses with Threats
Two important vulnerabilities can be identified when looking for areas where the list of weaknesses and threats intersect. Both vulnerabilities occur as a result of the same threat: reduction of financial resources due to declining state appropriations and/or enrollment. The first vulnerability involves the fear of further damage to an aging physical plant in the face of declining public resources. The second involves the unhealthy prospect of McNeese attempting to use budget cutbacks as an excuse to reduce marketing efforts at the very moment when marketing needs to be expanded (to counter loss of enrollment). According to your input and comments, McNeese should take steps to reduce or eliminate both vulnerabilities.
According to best-selling business author Jim Collins, organizations are more likely to succeed when they focus their strategic efforts at the intersection of what their constituents are most passionate about, what the organization does best, and what drives the organization's economic engine. (The hedgehog concept is discussed in Collins' bestselling book, Good to Great, published by Harper Collins in 2001.) To illustrate the concept, Collins draws three circles intersecting at a central point. He calls that point-where all three circles intersect-the "hedgehog concept," perhaps based upon ancient fables in which a hedgehog outwits a fox by focusing on one unified strategy: rolling up into a spiny ball. The point is for an organization to avoid the loss of energy, morale, and focus that can occur when decision-makers become distracted (like the fox) by a never-ending series of opportunities lying outside the organization's primary mission. The second and third brainstorming questions-What do you love most about McNeese?-and-Whether you love it or not, what do you believe is McNeese's greatest strength?-address two of these three circles. The economic circle requires reference to the McNeese operating and capital outlay budgets.
Attributes relating to McNeese's culture and values, and their impact on the geographic region, were most commonly mentioned in response to the "love" question. You've told us that you love our size ("not too big, not too small"), the caring people, the family atmosphere, the university's interaction with the community. These same attributes were also mentioned in response to the "strength" question; however, references to academic excellence were usually mentioned first. Note how the McNeese motto-Excellence with a Personal Touch-fits the great preponderance of responses we received with respect to both questions.
Over the past 10 years, the source of revenues has shifted substantially. Student tuition dollars now constitute the majority of McNeese operating revenues, with projections indicating that receipts from tuition could approach 75 percent of the McNeese operating budget prior to the end of the five-year time horizon of this strategic plan. Over two-thirds of the McNeese operating budget is spent on its employees through salary and related benefits. In short, both the revenue and the expense side of the McNeese operating budget now focus on people; or, to use the language of Jim Collins, the "economic engine" driving the McNeese budget is the provision of academic services by an excellent faculty and staff to a paying clientele, including our students and an increasing variety of regional constituents.
Our hedgehog concept can therefore be restated as follows: McNeese should continue to use its unique "personal touch" to provide excellent university-related services to its students and regional constituents. What products and services fall outside the McNeese hedgehog concept? We should avoid moving into areas that do not allow for the McNeese brand of "personal touch," and we should avoid the temptation to lower the quality of our services in any area. For example, in the offering of online courses, we must ensure that each of our courses includes a "McNeese-style" personal connection between student and professor, and we must ensure that quality of instruction (i.e. excellence) is never sacrificed.