Advice on Forming a Strategic Plan

strategic plan

Vision and mission drive your department, but a strategic plan makes them a reality.

“Our plan is a document that outlines, defines, strategizes, and ultimately commits our department to a vision and mission,” said Laura Hall, the senior director of Campus Recreation at Penn State. “It’s a formal philosophical foundation, values and a set of goals with strategies by which we will achieve those goals.”

When it came to creating the department’s strategic plan, Hall said she brought every professional staff member onboard. Relatively a newly established department, she explained it was key for everyone to have a voice. “The hope was we would build consensus and our staff would buy into and believe in the plan from the jump,” she said.

At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire), the staff of Recreation and Sports Operations were asked to list their top five priorities during the strategic plan’s creation. Then Andy Jepsen, the director of Recreation and Sport Operations, wrote the plan with the assistant directors. It was based on the team’s feedback, and they presented it to the rest of the staff for discussion and approval.

“With the goals clearly stated and everyone onboard and supporting them, we see progress and share updates at the bi-monthly staff meetings,” said Jepsen. “With everyone having had a part in creating the goals, support is easy and progress toward these goals progresses naturally.”

So, it seems giving every staff member an active voice is critical in creating your strategic plan. But, Hall said you need to be aware giving staff a voice can look very different depending on the individual. For example, some staff might be comfortable speaking up in front of the group. Others might need to provide written feedback, participate in smaller group or one-on-one conversations, etc. Ultimately, you need to give your staff various avenues for feedback.

Beyond staff buy-in, Hall said a successful plan needs to take into account all of the resources available at hand. Asking what partnerships or resources are necessary and how to get those is key.

In terms of leadership of the plan’s goals, Sheryl Poirier, the assistant director of programs at UW-Eau Claire, said it depends. For some goals like professional development, a staff member will take the lead. But for facility goals, both the Facilities Department and upper administration are aware of and supporting them.

And like any good plan, you have to be willing to let it evolve. Poirier shared instead of hashing it out in one sitting, let it grow and change. “Revisit the plan annually to ensure alignment with the university and adjust as priorities change,” she said. “Recognize and celebrate accomplishments, and keep open communication and transparency a priority.”

Ultimately, your strategic plan needs to not just be something your team follows, but rather something it believes in. Keep it clear, simple and part of regular conversation. That is the key to a successful strategic plan. “Make the plan part of the culture of your department, not something you revisit once a year, but rather a guide in all you do,” said Jepsen. 

Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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