This, too, shall pass.
The old adage is getting a bit worn out these days as we hope that it remains true.
Yet, we are here in the midst of an event that hit our world so quickly and so far out of left field that there was no way that anyone could have predicted the predicament or the impacts.
We still do not know the full effect and downstream impacts of canceling games, championships, and seasons.
For example, with additional eligibility granted for spring athletes, what are the impacts of future playing time on today’s underclassmen? Will this lead to additional transfers? How might this be impacted by new transfer rules?
There are many effects and potential effects that need to be anticipated, analyzed, and addressed.
But… this, too, shall pass.
When it does, how will this derailment affect what you are doing within your athletic department?
Looking into the future to a time when COVID-19 concerns are in the rear-view mirror, have your task lists changed? Where should your focus be? What was the impact on your current roadmap?
Strategic Plan Overview
The need to focus on academic and competitive success, student-athlete development, compliance, and resource generation are still there, and they must still be a priority. This is where a strategic plan is most valuable by serving as a guide to decision making in both calm and turbulent times.
A strategic plan is a high-level set of initiatives that is driven by priorities. These initiatives align the athletic department and institution’s strategic objectives and vision, and they address risks and opportunities that your department is facing.
Issues and distractions requiring immediate attention, such as NIL, new transfer rules, and COVID-19, will periodically arise with differing impacts and priorities. These firefights might dictate that your timelines adjust as you reallocate resources to address these new issues. However, when you have a well-defined strategic roadmap, you can make those adjustments without losing the focus of what your true goals and initiatives are to improve your athletic department.
An important place to start is understanding the strategic vision for your athletic department and ensuring that it aligns with the vision of the institution. For any strategic plan to be effective, it must gain the support of the institution’s leadership. Then, follow a methodology to assess the current state, visualize initiatives to address issues and achieve your vision, and finally, lay out a plan to execute those initiatives.
The assessment continues the theme of gaining support from key people across the institution. Ask university senior administrators and faculty leadership for their perspectives on what is working in the athletic department and what can be improved. Senior administrators may share perspectives on the importance of athletics as a means to unite the campus community and alumni, while faculty may have concerns of athletic demands conflicting with classroom instruction. Probing questions should also certainly be asked of key athletic department personnel, student-athletes, donors, fans, and community leaders to uncover issues, opportunities, risks, and constraints. Themes will naturally arise from the differing perspectives of a wide array of stakeholders.
From those themes, determine initiatives that will move you toward your vision. These initiatives may address issues, alleviate risks, and/or capitalize on opportunities. They could include improvements to a tutoring program, marketing initiatives to improve local visibility and support, or the establishment of a program to monitor and improve athletes’ mental health. At this point, keep those initiatives at a strategic level. Getting too deep into tactical details at this stage can get you wrapped around the axle and stall the strategic planning process. Those details will be hashed out during the execution of the strategy.
Finally, prioritize initiatives based on factors such as time sensitivity, visibility, risk relief, and cost-benefit analysis. Be sure to factor dependencies on other initiatives into the chronological order. Break down cost estimates by labor, capital, and operational expenses to determine funding needs and budget requirements. Also, determine high-level resource plans and potential team needs. Incorporating these considerations will shape the plan into an executable roadmap.
Having a strategic plan in place with alignment from across the institution will serve as a rudder that will keep you steering toward your vision – even as competing factors arise. As those factors may force you to adjust priorities and reallocate resources, you can do so without losing sight of your ultimate vision for success. When this situation does indeed pass, you will be ready to continue driving forward toward your goals.