On behalf of the entire AGB board of directors and staff, I thank you for your ongoing commitment to effective board leadership and strategic governance as you have collaboratively navigated many demanding and unexpected challenges during 2020. As your board and leadership team plan for 2021 and beyond, I hope that you and your colleagues will agree that it is imperative to consider how your institution—in consultation with leaders across your campus community—can adapt and thrive in this new environment.
Your institution’s success may very well depend on your board’s ability to think strategically about and prepare for a future that will likely be far different from what we viewed as normal less than a year ago. Therefore, as you initiate conversations to reimagine your organizational future, I suggest you emphasize these three areas:
- Strategic planning
- Crisis planning and communications
- Inclusion of diverse perspectives and insights as a critical component of #1 and #2
Developing strategies requires data-informed, inclusive, and collaborative planning. Successful strategy development is always a team effort in which the entire board, leadership team, and faculty have essential responsibilities. My AGB colleagues and I advocate that as the strategic planning process begins, the board should establish clear expectations regarding timing, responsibilities, and communication as key ingredients to identify strategic priorities. Boards should require that the strategic planning process begin with a thorough situational and environmental assessment and ask for metrics by which prioritized initiatives are assessed.
We also hope that you and your board will commit to integrating the core values of justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (JDE&I) into your strategies, and that as part of this commitment, will ensure that diverse perspectives are shared and considered. Even though the leadership team recommends strategic priorities to the board, we encourage boards to ask questions about key assumptions, resources required, and priorities, such as:
- Do our vision and mission contain enough specificity to clearly articulate what we do especially well to attract, retain, and graduate students?
- Have we identified our academic and programmatic strengths and how our students benefit from the education we offer?
- Have we made the case for why prospective students should attend our institution rather than others?
- Are we able to differentiate our institution from others because we deliver on our promises of excellence?
- What can we do to better align our students’ outcomes with workforce expectations?
- Is our institution responding to regional, state, and local economic needs?
Informed by faculty, administrators, and industry leaders, boards and leadership teams need to collaboratively consider what areas to emphasize. To assist, AGB has a wealth of resources on strategic planning in the AGB Knowledge Center. Consider watching this AGB on-demand webinar focused on campus planning. Additionally, our blog post about the importance of questioning assumptions is particularly relevant. Further, the summary of our recent Council of Board Chairs meeting is worth reviewing as it includes a number of topics that may be top of mind for your board as well.
Crisis Planning and Communications
Even as we all might hope to start 2021 with a clean slate, all indicators are that the next two to three years will be just as challenging as 2020 has been due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic and social unrest, among other circumstances. Early indicators suggest that higher education will continue to see a decline in enrollment, particularly among underrepresented, low-income, and international students. Some additional challenges include the price and cost of college, social unrest, and the mental and physical health of students, faculty, and staff. Adding to these uncertainties, many campuses are not sure when they will return to in-person learning. All of this can create significant obstacles, financial and otherwise.
Despite these factors, careful planning can help identify opportunities to help prepare for crises that may occur across your campus communities. JDE&I should be prioritized during this process as board members, senior leaders, faculty members, alumni, community leaders, and others can offer important considerations to develop well-informed crisis plans and communications.
Countless crises have occurred this past year, and the common theme among those who struggled to mitigate them is a lack of planning or consistent communication. In this regard, I urge you to discuss and rehearse your crisis communication plans with the full board and leadership team. AGB has resources to assist with this process, including the publication Crisis Leadership for Boards and Presidents, the Trusteeship article “In Crisis, Sustain Trust,” and a blog post examining the four phases of crisis management. More resources can be found in the Crisis Leadership section of the AGB Knowledge Center.
Additional resources, including a blog post on how to engage with faculty in effective shared governance practices through and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and our Ask the Expert sessions on issues such as shared governance and communication or presidential assessment, may be beneficial to your discussions.
Lastly, as AGB approaches its 100th year of service to our members across the higher education community, I look forward to virtually seeing you during our upcoming Foundation Leadership Forum (January 25-27), the Board Professionals Conference (April 6-8), and the National Conference on Trusteeship (April 12-14). These flagship events will provide essential information about how to establish strategic mind-sets, build informed crisis communications and financially sound strategies, and successfully navigate new and ongoing challenges in this era.
Thanks again for your tireless devotion and leadership during the most challenging year in most of our memories. Please know that my door and those of my AGB colleagues are always open for your board, teams, and you.