Report on the Global Change Strategic Management Seminar
Sponsored by On the Horizon

July 27-31, 1995 St. Andrews, Scotland David R. Hornfischer
Dean of Administration,
Berklee College of Music

As a subscriber and contributor to On the Horizon, I was most interested when the theme of the 5th annual summer seminar was announced as scenario planning. James Morrison, editor of On the Horizon, and Ian Wilson, a corporate consultant wanted to hear more about the Berklee experience with scenario planning and encouraged me to present a paper on this topic.

The seminar brought together about 25 planning professionals from higher educational institutions around the world in Hong Kong, Ireland, Brazil, and Canada as well as several US institutions and a representative from TIAA/CREF (the higher education pension firm that is considering using scenario planning in their strategic planning approach). Following are my notes from the seminar, which I hope might be of value to those not able to attend.

Strategic Planning. Since this was a planning seminar, an overview of strategic planning was the first step. While straightforward, some insights were provided. Following are some thoughts and key concepts from Wilson's lectures on Scenario Planning:

  • "running with vision" vs. mere planning
  • periodically "re-perceive " organization
  • planning is not a staff function
  • real planners are vice presidents, deans, directors, chairs
  • strategic visioning encapsulates and communicates strategy and can motivate and drive execution of the strategy
  • the management feedback component needs to have a reward structure built into it.

Three critical internal issues which organizations need to consider as they plan are:

  • how to deal with change in culture
  • paradigm shifts needed to see challenges
  • form (organization) follows function (strategy).

At present, the impact of technology is a critical issue almost everywhere.

Strategic decisions are those impacting 5-10 years ahead. Tactical (current) needs should be linked in implementation. Planners should focus strategy on 5/6 key issues that will make or break the future of the organization. Strategic management needs to emphasize insight, intent, innovation, and implementation.

Scenario Planning. While much of the seminar focused on the scenario planning process, what was interesting to me as a user was the discussion of what do you do once you have the scenarios done.

The first use of scenarios might be as "test beds" for the strategy that is eventually developed by the planning process. Then, strategies and objectives can be tested against various external threats, as outlined in the scenarios. This process tests the resilience or flexibility of the strategies and perhaps identifies areas where contingency plans are needed. In other words, it can serve as a basis for "assessing" the strategy.

A related use is to stimulate discussion of new strategy options as we see how various scenarios are playing out in real life. To quote the presenters, "In an age of incremental change, it is safe to say that incremental changes in our strategies will suffice. However, an age of discontinuities and massive uncertainties requires discontinuous strategies, sometimes radical changes from past practices."

Some key insights about scenario planning:

  • Scenarios provide a framework for strategic thinking.
  • Monitoring tracks trends, guides operations, and gives feedback to scenarios.
  • Scanning for new trends provides early warning input to scenarios, to the monitoring process, and to strategic planning.
  • Scenarios should be used during each phase of the planning process: developing a strategic vision; contingency planning; evaluating options; macro/ micro analysis: and in operational reviews.
  • Scenarios need to be updated every three to four years. Scenarios may be utilized to assess decisions in a general manner.

Strategic Vision. The discussion of the concept and process of strategic visioning was the best part of the seminar. It focused on what happens in the later stages of a strategic planning process. Key aspects of this presentation were:

  • A strategic vision is a coherent, realistic statement of what our organization can be in ten years.
  • Key elements include scope, scale, competitive focus, culture, image, relationships, and product/market focus.
  • A strategic vision is often helpful in defining vision in one word (e.g., "irresistible", or as we have done at Berklee, "music-city")
  • Strategic vision can be helpful in implementing strategy by giving focus to leadership action.
  • Strategic vision can foster a view of leadership as "building an organization that is capable of moving forward."

Using the vision. Departmental plans should be developed within the framework of the strategy. Some strategies are cross-departmental and require new organizational teams. Budgeting usually happens about two-thirds of the way into the process. The operating plan is one year's increment of the strategic plan. The plan often requires reorganization, communications, management education, measurement, and rewards. Process needs to consider contingencies. Environmental scanning is important. Have periodic management workshops to evaluate how the plan is doing, identify challenges, and update scenarios.

The Georgia Center for Continuing Education is a good source for external scanning. Their Outlook newsletter is well done. They have a staff of about 60 working on this issue.

On the Horizon is another good source, of course, as is Horizon Home Page.

Notes from Presented Papers

I particularly enjoyed the paper by Betty Taylor, Dean of the University of San Francisco College of Professional Studies, on using technology. This presentation focused on alternative educational delivery systems. She noted some examples of schools who are doing this now: National Technology University (an engineering school); and Jones Communications (Denver), who have created and who are applying for accreditation for Mind University (1-800-777-6463). Mind University uses faculty from other schools. It is competitive, venture capital financed, and currently has about 300 courses. They use electronic registration, cable TV from a satellite, and have a contract with the League of Innovation of Community Colleges. Corporations such as Motorola, Intel, Hewlett Packard, and AT&T are starting their own schools.

Other notes from presented papers. Conflicts often arise in budgeting for technology and in linking planning and budget cycles. A reserve for initiatives was suggested as a way to address this in highly bureaucratic state institutions. George Mason University reviews all open positions to see if they can be changed by technology. Teams are provided a contract to implement a project which includes a budget, a mission, and a timetable. Graduate students are often hired for such initiatives.

Michael Dolance and Donald have a new book out, Transforming Higher Education: a Vision for Learning in the 21st Century. It can be ordered from the Society for College and University Planning central office a(313 998-7832, or

University of Montreal (28,000 students) spent $6,000,000 for a budget system partially funded by $600,000 in reductions per year.

The Seminar Case Study. The University of St. Andrews was used as a case study to illustrate the scenario planning approach. Scenarios were created using a three axis model: the extent to which information technology is implemented; the Scottish public/private sector balance; and the overall global political/economic environment. In doing so, conference participants developed a list of uncertainties facing this institution, and used the concepts presented in the scenario handbook to develop recommended strategies for the university to pursue.

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