Strategy: point a, point b, and the line between

A strategy is a plan to achieve a goal that will provide the organisation with a competitive advantage. Generating a strategic plan begins with identifying the organisation’s purpose through a mission statement, a vision of the future, and a set of objectives as performance targets. 

Once the direction is decided, the internal and external environments are analysed to assess the current strengths, weaknesses, and competitive environment. Tools like Porter’s five forces model, PEST analysis, and Resource-based view (RBV) support the generation of this internal and external map. 

A clear picture of the environment allows the organisation to make choices about creating value and achieving a competitive advantage. Areas in which a company can choose to find an advantage include:

  • Undercutting competitors on price through economies of scale or reducing costs.
  • Differentiating products to make them more attractive to specific market segments. 

The final strategic stage in how the organisation can achieve the identified competitive advantage is an implementation plan. The tactics of how the strategy will be carried out are created and documented. The means to carry out the tactics will be listed, and milestones draw up to measure progress.  

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

Yogi Berra

Many companies do not take the time to think through these stages. Simply documenting where they want to go, where they are now, and a plan to move from point a to point b can dramatically improve performance. 

Strategic management process

  1. Mission & Objectives
  2. Analysis
    1. Internal
    2. External
  3. Strategic Choice
  4. Strategic Implementation
  5. Competitive Advantage 

Mission, vision, and strategy

I am currently working on an updated plan for how the university will move forward with flexible learning. The last fourteen months have dramatically accelerated the plans I drew up in 2019, and so it is time to be more creative and ambitious. 

Thankfully we put into place three separate statements to help generate an online learning strategy: 

  1. Mission Statement – Who my team are, what we provide, who we serve, the benefits we deliver, and what is important to us.
  2. Vision Statement – A previously ambitious and unique idea of the university we want to create.
  3. Value Statement: Our beliefs about how work should be done, our standards, culture, and aspirations.

The mission statement has remained the same; we exist to move the university to a hyper-flexible delivery model that uses technology to redefine the student experience. The vision statement, however, like most universities strategies, has changed dramatically. The forced move to online learning has moved us past ambitious five-year plans and started creating conversations about what is possible, what is desirable, what works, and what future we want to make. 

The external work has moved forward too. Suppliers like Microsoft and the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) vendors have developed the tools available to universities, making them easier to use and adding functions to support emerging practice. The demand for online learning has grown as people have spent more time at home and working and collaborating via a computer screen; their views on learning have changed.

There are three main tasks for the vision statement:

  • Consolidate the existing flexible delivery.
  • Build on that good practice to make it better; more interactive, personalised, and accessible.
  • Think up what game changers might look like in the new university landscape.

Writing a strategy is about creating a plan for how we deliver a mission and a vision. If you have not updated these three documents recently, it might be time to start designing the new normal.

Leardership and management 101

I believe there are three keys to strong leadership and management:

  1. Vision
  2. Wellbeing
  3. Productivity

First, you have to have a clear and ambitious vision for the future your team is creating and communicate it so that they believe it. Next, you need to look after the individual team members and promote psychological safety. Finally, you need to break your vision down into clear goals and let each team member know what they are responsible for, then let them get on with it.  

Vision: the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

Oxford Languages

Wellbeing: the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.

Oxford Languages

Productivity: the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.

Oxford Languages

A new manager can start with simple steps for each of the three elements and then gradually built upon them to spiral out their capabilities as a manager and leader. For example, once you have written a vision, you are holding regular open and honest 1:1 meetings with each team member, and everyone is clear on what they should be working on, you could turn your vision into a strategy, You could add a daily stand each morning to build community in the team, and you can start to have more control over the flow of work by identifying and removing constraints.

If you want some ideas on how to spiral out your vision and productivity, Jim Collins’s Level 5 leadership and the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) are an excellent place to start. For wellbeing, begin by learning about creating a psychologically safe workplace and then take the lessons of Self-determination theory to encourage your team to develop autonomy, competence, and relatedness in their work.

Point A to Point B

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Archimedes

Much of the work we do in educational technology helps people understand where they are, where they want to be, and then support them to achieve it. In the book Intervention, Dan John‘s process working with athletes has many parallels with our work with academics.

Some teams, departments, or universities know precisely where they want to be-Point B, but they are not clear on where they are now, Point A. In this situation, our job is to identify their current position, then create a plan to reach their goal. Others know exactly where they are but need help to see a realistic goal, requiring ideas, standards, and progressions. A third more common group is unrealistic about their Point A and/or Point B and needs help to identify both before making a plan and starting work. We need to know both point A and point B to draw the line between them.

There are things that everyone we work with needs; ideas of innovative practice to improving student experience, more straightforward and better-integrated technology, comprehensive training and support, and a clear development process. We also need effective project management and a schedule that takes into account the academic calendar. But some tools can help assess where a team is on their journey and the next step in their progression, such as the Quality Matters Standards, the OLC’s Quality Scorecard, and the SAMR learning model

But,

  • If people know the goal, assess where they are and connect the dots.
  • If people know where they are now, but either want an unrealistic goal or do not know what they want, show them the next step and connect them.
  • With everyone, always focus on the process and the keys to success. 

If you are currently working on your service offer, spend some time on a set of questions and a collection of principles to find Point A, Point B, and the most direct route. A systematic approach to educational developments will help you find the straight line.