When Planning Can Be Too Much of a Good Thing

Submitted by: Shannon Cross, USA Funds account executive

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” is an oft-repeated modern take on a bit of Ben Franklin wisdom. But sometimes, having too many plans can risk failure – especially if you’re not aware of how they interact and where they overlap.

Most schools spend a lot of time thinking about how they can support student success. These noble intentions are often memorialized in retention plans, financial literacy plans and default prevention plans. Some or all of what is covered in these may also be addressed in broader, strategic plans or duplicated in the plans of adjacent departments. Do you know what’s in your school’s versions of them?

Many hardworking, highly committed faculty and administrators do not. Amid the day-to-day demands of meeting students’ needs, they gradually lose awareness of the details. This is reflected in a recent survey of more than 200 senior administrators at private and public two- and four-year institutions. 63 percent of the responders indicated “initiative fatigue” as the biggest impediment to student success at their institutions.

This reduces a plan’s ability to be a unifying resource that enable staff to be more effective in the service of students. This is especially true when they don’t have a role that directly and regularly correlates with a specific objective or process outlined in the plans. Without an integrated perspective applied to them, one or more of the plans can become outdated or even contradictory. As a result, there are missed opportunities related to synergies and efficiency in helping students be successful.

Some things to consider:

1. If you are charged with developing a new plan, check to see if it would make sense to include those strategies in an existing plan. For example, many schools consider money management education a retention tool, so perhaps those strategies should be included in an update rather than used to create a new, separate plan.

2. If a plan is developed by a particular office, for example a debt management plan by the financial aid office, are there opportunities to gain feedback from the broader community so that activities conducted elsewhere can be included?

3. How are plans shared with everyone on campus? Are they available online? Are there communication strategies in place to raise awareness of individuals’ roles related to the plans?

4. Do the various plans include specific measures and timelines and are they regularly reviewed with results communicated to appropriate audiences?

5. Do the chairs of committees responsible for the various plans ever get together to discuss overlapping goals and objectives?

6. Sometimes, less is more. If your review of plans shows that your practice is not including all the aspects of the theory behind it yet you’re still meeting or exceeding your goals, it’s ok to pare down the theoretical to reflect the practical. Nothing that doesn’t add value should be in your plan.

Does your institution have a good process for sharing information and identifying synergies?