Universities are facing growing pressures to be spending money effectively and to be delivering good outcomes. Following the government’s recent $2.2 billion cuts in university funding, signalling the end of a demand-driven system, now more than ever, universities are having to reduce inefficiency, maximise revenue and drive agile improvement in the face of change.
The team at Criterion interviewed Omer Yezdani, Director of Planning & Strategic Management at the Australian Catholic University to understand the nuts and bolts of how ACU is working towards their 2020 goals, Here is what he had to say:
What is the strategic journey that Australian Catholic University is working towards?
We have a 2020 plan at the moment, that is what we are working towards. It was launched at the end of 2014. It has a range of targets and goals.
Key highlights from 2015 to present is that the university experienced a significant transformation. It preceded the strategic plan while following its course. The University has doubled in size and also became more significant in the Australian education landscape, mainly in the areas of research.
Now, it has a well established research capability. During the life of the plan, we have also commenced offshore operations. We have a campus now in Italy. We are working towards being multinational as well as multijurisdictional. Lots of change towards the positive!
What in your experience are the key services that universities need to start measuring to achieve a streamlined strategic plan?
The key services that universities should be measuring depends on the imperatives of the strategic plan. Large universities can’t necessarily measure everything, it’s important to be focused on KPIs which are directly linked and provide an appropriate proxy for what the strategic goals are.
Different questions are formulated for different universities, so really the question would be, ‘what is the institution really trying to achieve? Which would then trickle down to what are we then measuring linked to what we are trying to achieve?’
What are the measuring strategies that Australian Catholic University uses?
We have a broad suite of KPIs across the university that fall into 5 main strategic goal areas with 60 KPI’s. The 5 strategic goals are service excellence, education, research, vision and mission and the academic profile of the university.
The strategic goals inform how we plan for the year, the activities we undertake, leadership development and capabilities. We have an annual planning process that is linked to individual performance plans which is then linked to all the staff in the uni. We try and achieve a good level of line of sight. Linkage between the areas encourage the staff to see where they fit into the strategic plan as much as possible.
There is logic for anyone in the university, say they are doing property management for example they should be able to understand the fact that property management looks to having a quality aesthetic in the built environment to support student experience, in the same way that a researcher needs to exhibit a high quality of learning and teaching to support the student experience.
How do you think universities need to plan around the Commonwealth budget cuts?
I guess every university has some level of diversification in its revenue from operations and also sources of revenue which are non commonwealth. It makes the other sources of revenue all the more important when there is a cap on the system so there is a capped system that has plateaued.
It is not necessarily a cut, it’s just a curbing of growth.
It’s important to think about diversification of revenue sources in those circumstances. As a large encompassing business the university undertakes investing opportunities as well to help with revenue generation activities, that is important to make sure that we have a strategic view of that.
The strategic plan itself and the planning process should be durable enough to withstand unexpected eventualities, either in the funding environment or the market.
It is not necessarily something that makes people go back to the drawing board it is something that strategic plans need to allow for a level of agility to cope with unexpected change.
What are some tips & tricks from your experience on working with the ACU 2020 plan?
Each university is different, there is not really a one size fits all approach. What works for ACU might not work for someone else. It needs to be a bespoke approach that takes into consideration the universities needs.
I would say strategic planning is quite an abstract process to give expression to an idea for the future and to apply logic and a systematic methodology for that abstract idea of the future.
So understanding what the key themes are through consultations with staff members, senior execs operating under the board.
A good starting point is to identify the key themes and challenges for that university and have a conversation about “what is the tomorrow version of the institution”. I think a strategic plan is all the more compelling if the vision is a clear future state that people can understand simply and aspire to, that then pushes the organisation forward.
A good strategic plan should make people feel uncomfortable to an extent, because it challenges the status quo. If it’s too comfortable it probably means that it is caught a bit too much in the current state, a strategic plan is very much a future state document.
Strategic planning is not just a plan, a plan is an artefact of a conversation and not the vision, the other imp bit is the process, the planning process. The dialogue that comes with it. Thinking about the environment, thinking about opportunities, challenging commonly held beliefs on what people think is possible and not possible, working together are all important aspects to factor in.
Don’t miss Omer Yezdani’s presentation on “Measuring what matters – the new tools of strategic planning” at the University Strategic Planning & Resource Management Conference on the 27th & 28th March 2019 in Melbourne.
He will be sharing his insights on:
- Myths and misconceptions of strategic planning
- Tools, approaches and strategy superpowers
- Large, complex, multifaceted, agile and resilient