by Renata Opoczynski, Assistant Dean for Student Success Assessment and Strategic Initiatives

It’s an exciting time at MSU as we start to think about the implementation of the strategic plan! Last week the Provost Office had a Strategic Plan Implementation Summit to begin thinking about how we would move forward with implementation.  At the last Campus Student Success Group meeting, half of the participants said that their unit has already started to move toward implementing the strategic plan and the other half said their leader had encouraged them to read it and that they would be meeting soon to begin discussing implementation. People are eager to engage and think about how the strategic plan can guide our work.

Yet, we need to also recognize the context and environment we are implementing the strategic plan within. Folks are tired from 20 months of the COVID pandemic and related struggles. Many offices are still understaffed, and people are working the equivalent of multiples roles. I firmly believe that if we want to be successful in the implementation of our strategic plan, we need to recognize how our faculty and staff are currently feeling and move forward in the implementation with their experiences at the core of the work. With this in mind, I have been thinking about how we move our student success work forward in the current environment. Asking already exhausted folks to take on even more work strains my ethics, so I want to be intentional in what work we engage in and how we engage in that work. To that end, we have used the following principles to guide how we plan to move forward.

 

Slow down

First and foremost, we are slowing down. If we normally budgeted 1 month for benchmarking, we are extending that timeline to 3 months.  We recognize that asking folks to take on additional duties adds to the "overwhelmed" feeling, so we want to be mindful to make the tasks and requests reasonable (an hour or two a week). This goes double when reaching out to folks at different campuses. If it is a lot to ask our own staff to add to their plate, it is even more to ask of a colleague at another institution.

 

Increasing numbers

We are expanding the number of folks we invite to workgroups. While we normally try to keep project groups small and nimble, we recognize that this means that everyone on the group must frequently engage in large amounts of work. Instead, we are trying to spread the work around to larger groups so that no-one feels overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done. We are also encouraging doubling up, where units have two representatives connected to the work (often one as primary and one as secondary) so that if one person gets overwhelmed there is another person fully up to speed who can step in and engage. We have also been intentional for all our projects and workstreams to have co-leads for this same reason.  We have heard (and I have personally experienced) the benefit this provides of not feeling like you are dropping the ball because when you need to step back there is a co-lead there to step in.

 

Shifting work teams

Similarly, we are shifting away from the idea of one project team that engages in all aspects of the project throughout the year or two the project is active. Instead, we are focusing on smaller work teams that engage in a specific workstream or project subpart and when the work of their focus area is done, they shift off the active work of the project as well. They will remain engaged in the Teams Channel and informational updates, but their role will shift to a lesser time commitment of staying informed instead of actively doing. We will still have a few folks that engage throughout the project’s life cycle, but most participants will move on and off the project as needed. 

 

Strategic Doing

We have been fighting against the slow pace of change in higher education for years with design thinking and design sprints but have recently also started to use "strategic doing." This way of working helps teams make big changes in small amounts of time by making the way we work more intentional and strategic. Strategic doing helps us be intentional in who is engaged in the work and aware that their time commitment is limited to an hour or two a week.  I hope that this is an amount of time that most of us can still manage to find in our overwhelmed and busy calendars.

I am hopeful that these principles help the folks we ask to engage in strategic student success work feel able to commit and that the work does not lead to feelings of frustration or being overwhelmed. I want all my colleagues who engage with us in this work to feel valued, appreciated for what they contribute, and that their time was well spent in improving MSU for our students.

What else could we be doing to make sure we can begin the work of the student success focus area of the strategic plan while being mindful of what our faculty and staff are experiencing and feeling? I am eager to hear your suggestions.