Chapter Two


Every organization can benefit from common sense management. Even an organization that is successful and prospering today cannot assume it will succeed and prosper in the future. History is replete with sad examples of organizations--profit and nonprofit--that did not adapt to environmental change and declined or disappeared. Common sense management is important because it helps stakeholders shape an organization that continuously adapts to change.

For colleges and universities, the urgency of initiating common sense management is underscored by specific issues or concerns, such as those listed below.

  1. Are your academic and curriculum programs and services still relevant, given how society is changing? Do they meet your stakeholders' needs and wants? Are you prepared for even more change in society and in stakeholder needs and wants in the future?
  2. Do you understand which of your programs and services are priorities for resource allocation?
  3. Is the scale of your service still appropriate? Should you be providing more or less service? Should you expand or contract your service area?
  4. Have other schools or education providers emerged that provide similar products or services to your customers? How do you relate to these competitors? Must you compete, or can you cooperate?
  5. Are your stakeholders in agreement as to the purpose of your organization and where you are headed in the future? Are they willing to work and contribute toward this goal?
  6. What will be your future funding sources? Will they be the same sources you have today, or should you consider that the capacity of these sources to fund you might change? Are you prepared to deal with the possibilities of severely curtailed or greatly increased funding?
  7. Do you need to make changes with your internal management? Are there signs you need to change your organizational structure, management systems, facility, or staffing?
  8. Are you prepared to respond to an important issue developing outside of your organization that will have major implications for your institution, such as a change in government regulation?

Common sense management prompts such questions to help you identify and deal with changing external and internal conditions.

Planning to Plan

Once you decide to implement common sense management, you should develop a blueprint for planning, or a plan to plan. It is best not to try to invent the process as you go along. Instead, you should formulate a plan that describes the process design you want to use, how long you want to take, what methods you want to use to gather and process information, who you want to participate in the process, what their responsibilities will be, and what resources you will have to devote to the effort.

This plan must be accepted by faculty and staff and should be reviewed and approved by the trustees. The plan to plan can be in the form of an outline, calendar, or PERT chart. Whatever form, it should cover these topics:

Participants. One initial decision in "planning to plan" is to determine who will participate in the process. Faculty? Staff? Trustees? Students? Are there other stakeholders you want to involve (e.g., agencies, other planning groups in the community, or even the general public)? Ideally, stakeholder involvement in development of a plan is very broad. Certainly major criteria in deciding which groups should be represented are the group's importance for process buy-in and implementation support. But the more groups you include, the more time it will take and the more costly the process will become.

Participant Roles. How will the individuals you want to involve in your process actually participate? A few can provide leadership; many can provide information and ideas. Surveys and focus groups provide opportunities to involve a large number of people as information providers. You will also need people to gather, interpret, synthesize, present, and feed back information, keeping alive an organization-wide information loop. This may be done by committees with strong staff support. Individuals charged with decision making also work within committee structures--task forces or a planning committee, for example. Ultimate strategic decision making rests with the organization's top leadership--its Board.

Because so much of the work in colleges and universities is done in committee structures, at the outset you should plan what these committees will be. It helps to have a committee charged to guide the process. A senior faculty person, a senior administrator or a board member should chair this committee. If you have the capacity, you can create task forces or subcommittees that are charged with carrying out specific tasks: market analysis, analysis of critical issues, strategy monitoring and evaluation.

An important point to keep in mind is that planning roles for the organization's stakeholders, especially roles assumed early in the process, build bridges to implementation. People who have contributed during the planning process are more likely to "buy into" the final plan and are more willing to be a part of carrying the plan out if they are kept informed.

A typical organizational structure for carrying out the common sense management process is shown in Figure 2-1 below. The trustees authorize the process, which is the responsibility of the chief executive officer, the president or chancellor. The president establishes a planning committee, which oversees the common sense management process. The trustees review and approve recommendations from the planning committee vis-a-vis mission, vision, and goals, and authorize strategy implementation and the required budget.

Figure 2-1
Figure 2-1 Organizational Structure

The planning committee designs the management process; establishes necessary task forces; develops mission, vision, goals, and objective statements; defines critical issues; and develops the strategic plan with related implementation costs.

We have found that task forces are useful to gather information and to prepare reports and recommendations. We suggest you form a task force for external analysis, another for internal analysis, one for each critical issue identified in the direction setting step, and one to monitor and evaluate strategy implementation.

Process Design. The plan to plan should specify the steps you will go through as you implement common sense management. These steps represent the process model described in Chapter 1 (Figure 1-1). What is most important in using this (or any) process is to understand that what you end up doing may not be as neatly linear or sequential as the process diagram. Common sense management is a flexible process. It may involve starting with direction setting, and then going back to gather information on the environment and organization. You may find you have to repeat a step. Or, the first time through, you may even skip a step or do it in a cursory manner. The important thing is to get started; you will learn by doing. But start with a model in mind--a conceptualization of the series of steps you envision you will go through to manage your organization, using common sense.

Methods. The next thing you should decide in planning to plan is what methods you will use to process information, to make decisions, to present the results of your planning process, and to evaluate the success of your strategies. Processing information involves gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing data. The major data-gathering step is market research. A variety of research methods are available, including content analysis, surveys, statistical analysis, and others. Methods to facilitate decision making are especially important in the direction setting and strategy development steps. In these steps, group process techniques such as the modified nominal group brainstorming technique (described in Appendix 8) are useful.

Another up-front consideration should be presentation methods. At which stages of the process will you develop written reports or visual presentations (regular slides, computer-generated slides, flip charts, etc.)? Do you want to publish your environmental scan? At the end of the process, will you distribute a written strategic plan to stakeholders? Finally, what methods will you use to monitor and evaluate progress on your plan? We suggest and describe methods that are useful in each of the process steps.

Time Frames. Common sense management is an ongoing, timeless system for an organization. It is a system you install just as you install a financial accounting system or a management information system. It is a way of managing an organization attuned to environmental change and to a vision for the future. Once you install this system in your organization, you repeat the process over and over. But as you start the first or a new cycle, you must plan how long you will take to develop and to implement strategies. The development part--the first three direction-setting steps of the process--may be done in a one to two day retreat or workshop where all the information gathering and decision-making is done through group process. Or you may take a year to eighteen months to gather and process information and to formulate strategies. How long you will take depends on how elaborate of a process you decide to implement. The more stakeholder participation you desire, the more information you feel you need for decision-making, and the more involved the methods you use to gather information and to make decisions, the more time it will take. In a six-month period, most organizations should be able to carry out a common sense management process that is based on solid information and that allows for significant stakeholder involvement. Implementation is another matter. Typically, an organization will initially plan for a three- to five-year period to implement its strategies. But with annual updates the process is continuously refreshed and kept evergreen by adding a year for the one just passed.

Resources. What resources will you need? The answer depends on how elaborate your process is. Whatever process design, time frames, and methods you choose, make sure your resources are adequate to get the job done. Plan at the start for use of faculty, administrative, and staff time. This must include the time your top leadership will use to direct the entire process. Also consider the monetary costs the process will entail. Think of costs related to gathering and analyzing data, maintaining participation, producing materials and reports, and disseminating information. If you need a consultant, you must consider this cost as well (unless you are able to secure volunteer consulting). Plan, also, for what you need in terms of information and technology. You may need a computer, or you may need to purchase data-reports, publications, newspapers, or computer software. A budget will be an essential part of your plan to plan.

Criteria for Success

What does it take to succeed? Besides willingness and ability to develop a strategic mind-set and a plan to plan, here are some essentials for starting the process:

Commitment and involvement of the organization's top leadership. Your institution's top leaders must be 100% behind your management process and must be willing to provide leadership. The process itself is not difficult, but it does require that decisions be made. Some of these decisions will no doubt engender controversy. Your leaders must be willing and prepared to see the process through any stakeholder disagreements. They must lead the process visibly and actively, and they must be patient enough to allow differing perspectives to dissolve into agreed-upon directions or decisions.

People to do operational tasks. You will need top quality staff personnel who are willing and able to do the operational tasks the common sense management process requires--gathering, recording, and disseminating information and the results of decision-making sessions. At several points in the process, someone must sit down for a few hours to develop written materials for decision-makers.

A simple process. You should keep your process as simple as possible. Try to keep the steps, language, and reports clear and understandable to those participating in the process. Common sense management really isn't complex and confusing, so there's no reason to make it so.

Flexibility. You must be flexible. As you implement common sense management, be willing to change direction, to add new tasks, to drop planned actions, to reassign responsibility, and to accomplish other about-faces in response to organizational and environmental changes. This may also mean acknowledging mistakes made in earlier process steps (i.e., using inaccurate information).

Because of continuous external and internal environmental change you will probably need to alter your initial tactics and action steps to some extent (the average institution alters about 25% of its implementation steps during the first year). Strategies are much less vulnerable to change, unless, of course, there are major changes in the external environment. Institutional vision and mission are least likely to be affected by external or internal change.

Participation/Ownership. Identify those stakeholders--individuals or organizations--who are most important to the development of your institution and its future. Provide ample opportunity for their participation, emphasizing higher levels of involvement for your most important stakeholders in order to garner their support for the plan. People affected by the decisions should be given the opportunity to influence their outcomes. There are a number of points in the process where faculty, staff, alumni, and even the general public may be involved. Remember that providing feedback to those providing input is equally important to building ownership.

Communication. The importance of communication cannot be overemphasized. Effective management requires two-way communication that actively solicits questions about formulated strategy, issues to be considered, and potential problems, and that provides regular feedback about the progress of the process. Good, timely feedback is vital because participants in the process want to know the outcomes of their efforts and need to feel they are part of the ongoing process. By meeting their need for feedback, you keep participants motivated, and they will respond the next time you need their input.

Adequate implementation resources. Without providing appropriate resources, you cannot expect to implement your new strategies. Strategy implementation requires the necessary person power with the right mix of skills and knowledge, tools and materials, organizational support, and the necessary funds to do the job. These resources must be available when they are needed--timing is critical.

Sensitivity to organizational politics. Excessive competition or "turfism" within the institution can undermine any management process. You need to be sensitive to inter-group politics. Structure the process in a manner that seeks to balance competing interests, recognizing that it will be a rare occasion when process participants reach a perfect, integrative solution.

Good information systems. Systems that quickly and accurately communicate information are needed for documentation, for communication with stakeholders and with the public, and to control the organization's plans and operations.

Good and concise written plans. Your strategic and annual operational plans should clearly outline specific steps--programs, budgets, and procedures--for implementation. Plans should be neither too vague nor too detailed. A vague plan offers insufficient information about what you hope to accomplish. A plan that is too detailed can become inflexible, preventing the organization from capitalizing on unexpected opportunities. The plan need not be lengthy. Three or four pages should be sufficient to outline broad strategy. Operational plans should focus on measurable results. Keep in mind the specific things you want to accomplish and find ways to measure their accomplishment. Operational plans should clearly state the individuals or departments responsible for carrying out strategies, time frames for strategy implementation, and resources that will be required.

These criteria for success make possible the formulation of good strategies, which are critical. It is difficult for good management to make up for poor strategies. (Note: criteria to help evaluate the quality of strategies is described in Chapter 5.)

Beginning the Process

Once you have developed your plan to plan and have lined up the resources you need to start your common sense management process, you are ready to begin the process steps. Chapters 3 through 8 describe how you will go through these planning and implementation steps.

Most organizations start the planning process with the information gathering steps involved with market research. Market research, direction setting, and strategy development are the strategic planning part of the common sense management process. It helps to think of them as a compass--an instrument that helps the organization find its direction. Gathering information to find your direction (market research), determining the direction you want to go in (direction setting) and then deciding what courses will get you there (strategy development) are all related to using a compass.

The last two steps of the process--strategy implementation and outcome assessment--involve actually moving in the direction you want to pursue by carrying out the tasks and activities that will get you there and by assessing the possible deviations from the desired direction.

In the following chapters we tell you how to implement each step of the common sense management process.