3 steps to create real change by cascading strategic goals

Expert Insight

3 steps to create real change by cascading strategic goals

The success of a vision often relies on the buy-in and action of those not directly involved in strategy-setting. When developing strategy, leaders frequently set admirable goals and even include clear progress metrics to measure performance. However, not connecting these goals to individuals at all levels of the organization can cause initiative fatigue for the few who carry the torch or can fail to motivate key stakeholders—ultimately causing the strategic vision to fall short.

Cabinet members—who both are the voice of their departments in setting strategy and also oversee departmental operations—play a critical role in cascading strategic vision throughout campus. To best leverage this role, cabinet leaders should:

Tie campus efforts to strategic goals

Cascade authority to strengthen or sunset projects

Embed accountability for success at all levels of the institution

Cascade strategic goals through strict, accountable project management

Most institutions have difficulty translating lofty, strategic goals into daily actions that affect the regular work of campus. Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) overcomes this challenge with its college action projects (CAP) approval, monitoring, and project closure process. GRCC’s CAP system provides the following lessons for how to make strategic goals meaningful to your campus:


Number of times per year GRCC's CAP team reports on progress of strategic projects
Number of times per year GRCC’s CAP team reports on progress of strategic projects

1. Start with intended outcomes that directly impact strategic goals

First, any faculty or staff member that wants to launch a new strategic initiative must receive approval from the strategic leadership team, an 80-member representative body. These projects must demonstrate how they will directly impact GRCC’s indicators of success. If the project is approved, the strategic leadership team creates a CAP team that must report four times per year on its progress.

2. Embed the authority to integrate projects into campus life

Next, GRCC integrates projects into campus life by giving project closure authority to the deans’ council—a body consisting of various academic and student services administrators and staff. This body has the authority to make projects part of an administrator’s regular job description.

For example, a proposed initiative to improve course completion may involve the CAP team recommending faculty adoption of eight best pedagogical practices. The deans’ council can then embed project implementation and accountability in the dean of instruction’s duties (e.g., requirements for practice implementation action plans at the division level, term-by-term evaluations on division performance). This step guarantees senior leadership attention and ensures project continuity.

3. Structure accountability by evaluating project performance for staff at all levels

Finally, GRCC incorporates project leadership for CAP initiatives into performance evaluations for staff at all levels. This chain of accountability runs all the way up through the board of trustees, which reviews all college action projects.

Accountability at all levels of the organization promotes progress

Create a cascaded vision on your campus

As the connecting link between the institution’s vision and operations, cabinet members determine whether strategy sits on a shelf or transforms day-to-day actions. However, cascading a high-level vision to all relevant parts of the college is no simple task.

Use the Embedding Strategy Tool from the Community College Executive Forum to translate strategic priorities into goals that connect staff’s roles with vision success. The toolkit provides frameworks and templates to guide leaders and staff through the strategy-embedding process, from outlining each element of a strategic goal for individual staff to cascading responsibilities that guide the vision down an administrative or academic department.

To make a visionary idea a reality, community college leaders must translate strategy from something that is lofty or vague to something that is more operational and implementation-focused. Use this toolkit to translate strategic priorities into S.M.A.R.T. goals and make strategy impactful to staff at all levels, boosting staff engagement in institutional strategy.

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