As a University Planner, how can I become more strategic?


As a University Planner, how can I become more strategic?


Against the backdrop of change, particularly in the form of structural change with the Office of Students, a new Education Minister and of course Brexit, University Planners are acknowledging the subtle increasing need to be more strategic. HESPA’s 2018 annual conference, “Strategy in a changing world”, focused on ways for Planners to increase their understanding of the bigger picture and become more of a focal point for strategic business thinking.

This need to look at things from a different perspective, so they can plan for the future, calls for greater insight. But how do Planners get that insight, rather than simply more data? And how do they then use that to implement effective strategy?

On the first day of the HESPA 2018 Conference Professor Andrea Nolan (OBE), Edinburgh Napier University, spoke of the need to develop strategy through three crucial elements: evidence, analysis and engagement, the latter being all about winning hearts and minds; the former being reliant upon a single version of the truth. This sentiment was echoed by many of the speakers through the first day. Planners and their colleagues are not short on ideas to tackle their changing landscape. However, implementation of the strategy and tactics can often be the challenge, hence the underlying mantra of “engage staff, re-engage staff, build evidence, evaluate and adjust.”

Professor Pietro Micheli from Warwick Business School added to this saying successful strategy is about getting people to work with it, otherwise the vision is simply an hallucination. Planners need to articulate personal and organisational benefits, be clear that their engagement matters, demonstrate how the new approach is making a difference and use external consultants to validate.

For our own part, Tribal very much subscribe to that same mantra. We work with Planners, Heads of Strategy and Finance professionals to inform and validate their plans using benchmarking and analysis. We show how their university is performing against sector-wide benchmarks using the most accurate and longest-established benchmarking service in Higher Education. However, the success of benchmarking in universities is down to the analysis and insight we provide. Strategic Planners don’t need another set of data – they’ve got data in abundance; but to gain objective and validated strategic insight that enables them to drive organisational improvement – now that’s a completely different matter entirely!

Equally as important is the process we apply to arrive at that insight, involving key stakeholders from across the university from the onset we promote ownership of the analysis. When we present the detailed feedback to executive management, wider management and governors we make sure the findings are correctly interpreted and fully understood. Any subsequent strategic implementation is therefore already validated, supported by evidence and understood across the organisation. Engagement levels are enhanced and staff can more readily work with the strategy.

Our standard analysis is a full academic years’ worth of income, pay cost and non-pay cost, covering over 750 measurements, and over 13 functional areas. When it comes to HE analysis, we’re thorough to say the least. Whether you’re looking for insight to shape your cost-base for better student outcomes; or to identify specific investment needs; or to assess the quality of Professional Services relative to the investment in each area, we can provide you with the objective evidence to inform your strategic thinking.

We won’t claim to have all the answers but having worked with over half the universities in the UK, we’ve definitely got the data and the expertise to present Planners with the analysis and insight so they can take a more strategic stance and navigate these tricky times with confidence.

Download the Benchmarking overview