By Aimee Regoso, University Registrar at Andrews University.
"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When one gazes on the spectacular views of the Grand Canyon or the rock formations of Zion National Park, one can only marvel at how these natural wonders have weathered the rigors of history. What about when it comes to strategic planning? Are there strategic planning elements that stand the test of time for operational units? In the past year, we have all been impacted in one way or another by the global pandemic. What has been its impact on strategic planning for you in your operational unit and as an institution? Has it vastly changed your focus? Whether you are new to strategic planning or whether it is old hat to you, there are five strategic initiatives that have steered our team pre-COVID and have continued to guide even during COVID and as we look to the future.
Professional Development: Enhance the skillset of staff through engagement in relevant professional development activities.
An organization’s greatest resource is our people. How are we investing in our teams? We hire individuals because we believe they have the skillset and will meet the expectations of the job. In strategic planning, we need to ensure we have properly equipped individuals and that there are opportunities for growth personally and professionally. Professional development is not only important for the individual, it is critical to ensure your organization is sustainable into the future. Regardless of environmental changes, a well-equipped team where key skills have been developed can withstand whatever may come—including a pandemic.
Practical tip:AACRAO’s core competencies and professional proficiencies are a great resource for guiding your strategic plan in the arena of professional development.
Constituent’s Experience: Enhance the constituent experience through technology or infrastructure changes by increasing access to information and improving the efficiency of processes.
With a well-equipped team, the focus can shift to the purpose of who we are here to serve. Depending on your role in an organization, your constituent may be primarily students. For some operational units like ours, our constituents may include students, parents, faculty, staff, partner institutions, and other public and private organizations. What is the experience of these key constituents you serve and what are the needs in the current environment? Pre- or post-COVID this is a critical question to guide your strategic planning. Moreover, the emphasis on the constituent experience can then be looked at with a systems perspective in mind considering the organization’s infrastructure and technology.
Practical tip: Consider the following questions in addition to conducting a needs assessment and SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats).
Do the roles defined within your area coupled with the structure of the office and organization adequately support the needs of those you serve?
Does the change in environment require a change in your infrastructure?
How has technology changed in your industry?
Are you making the most out of the technology available to you?
Quality Standards: Establish quality standards for all services. Incorporate definitions, workflow, assessment, and tangible outcomes as key components.
While people are key, one cannot ignore the need to ensure expectations are clearly identified. In an educational setting, especially in a Registrar’s office, quality standards are essential to fulfill our role and the purpose for the existence of the office—quality assurance in the integrity of our degrees. The formation of quality standards can be guided by keeping the following elements in mind:
Use the same language (data dictionary) while taking into account the various definitions of the federal government, state, accrediting bodies, and the general higher education population.
Understanding process is crucial when defining standards. This involves not only outlining a workflow but conducting an analysis to identify bottlenecks and unnecessary handoffs to name a few.
Use of data is key in guiding assessment practices. How do we know our standards are being met? How do we know that the sought-after outcomes relating to the constituent experience are met?
What are the tangible outcomes being sought after? If the standards in place do not accomplish those outcomes, then they may no longer be relevant and necessary.
The pandemic has certainly highlighted the need for a definition of standards: pass/fail option; class scheduling; adjustments to the academic calendar; service standards in a virtual environment.
Practical application: Benchmark and pay attention to best practices in your industry along with the resources readily available.
Communication: Communicate quality standards using appropriate approaches to all levels within the organization, including training.
A well-equipped team with quality standards would not be enough if we are not intentional in ensuring communication is a part of the strategic plan. With the multiple avenues available to us for communication, it is important to understand the layers of communication:
Communication platforms: Are we using all the avenues available to make information readily available and accessible to all constituents? This may include a website, email, self-service options, knowledge base, artificial intelligence, social media, and the list goes on and on.
Incoming and routing communication: Who are the primary points of contact when inquiries are made? Do you have a communication workflow to escalate more complex problems?
Outgoing communication: With all parties experiencing information overload, we must be intentional in the outgoing communication to ensure the communication is clear, accurate, and timely.
Training is also the sharing of information and encompasses essential knowledge-sharing that should take place to ensure all constituents are equipped. As a result, sustainability is built within the organization.
In addition to looking at the avenues of communication, the content of what is communicated is equally important. Operational units should also ensure information is easily understood by those unfamiliar with the terminology.
Practical tip: Take inventory of all the ways in which communication occurs to all entities providing a practical start to the development of a communication plan.
Relationships: Cultivate relationships with other academic and support offices to define and implement streamlined and simplified cross-functional processes.
In any organization, but especially in academia, relationships across the organization are key. A complex organization with layers of structure, policy, and process require the cultivation of relationships. Whether your organization has a formal structure where the organizational hierarchy or committee structure or faculty governance help to guide conversations, exploring ways to build relationships more organically will aid in any strategic initiative you choose to employ.
Practical tip: Take the time to listen to feedback, positive and negative, and use it as an opportunity to improve and build relationships.
The reality is this: the impact of COVID has compelled higher ed to make paradigm shifts in all aspects of its processes and operations. We are driven to think differently and to become more agile in adapting to change. The pandemic has simply highlighted now, more than ever, strategic initiatives are needing to be made a priority. Therefore, by using the framework above, you can create the building blocks necessary to achieve a “well-oiled machine”; to meet operational expectations as you focus on relationship and skill-building within your team and organization.