Until very recently, every senior leadership team meeting at Augustana College – even those called upon to address a particular issue – began with a COVID-19 update. The President will ask our Kovid Jar, the Dean of Student Life, for an update, “How are we coexisting with Kovid?”
The questions were often the same. How many cases? How is the testing protocol going? What is the accommodation capacity of our quarantine? How are students doing (mentally, academically, with policy compliance)? How is the workforce? Can we keep people working and fully employed? What are we hearing from public health officials, disease control and prevention centers and governors? How are other colleges doing this or that, and so are the area’s high schools? Are we consistently working with our values?
We were wondering if the college should buy high quality masks for the whole community, or whether we need a different public information campaign on campus. We’ve spent an incredible amount of time thinking about communication efforts — posters, social media, live briefings, weekly email updates, and more.
This was the pattern and rhythm for more than two years. It has been endless. It’s been tiring. But it hasn’t been boring. Most importantly, this laser-sharp focus has enabled our organization to effectively co-exist with COVID and become even stronger for the future.
For many college leaders, the work we have done is not significant and is perhaps worth further study. This brings me to some important questions:
- Should colleges approach the overall institutional strategy as we have coexisted with Kovid?
- What if each leadership team meeting begins with an update on how well we are implementing our strategic plan, including a strategic focus on how our students and staff are working?
- What if we actively practiced environmental scanning about what competitors were doing?
- If we were in full listening mode, what would be the focus of the creditors and what would be the needs of the community?
- What if we communicate regularly about the implementation of our strategy and everyone brings with them the same curiosity about Covid-19?
Some may be thinking, “Wait, Kovid is a health and safety issue. It’s about community survival. “True. Coexistence with Covid is a matter of existence, and many of us have managed very well. In fact, many of us will get very high scores from our stakeholders. We are all board members, faculty members, staff, students.” , Alumni and parents াম we came together with our purpose to survive as an academic community and an institution. Everyone wanted to make our efforts work.
We can similarly go to the post-Covid world. We can make institutional strategies central and sensitive to what we do effectively for the health of our organization. Here’s how:
- Start everything with strategy. Everyone knew what we needed to do to protect our community during the depths of the epidemic, and we had a simple question. Institutional strategies should be equally clear. Campus leaders should be equipped to ask similar questions about strategy at the beginning of any meeting or stakeholder conversation.
- Empower a strategy jar. When everyone is responsible, no one can be held accountable. Like Covid, colleges need someone who can tell everyone how good the organization is at implementing its strategy. While sharing the responsibility of making everything happen during Covid, we always knew we could go to Dean Wes Brooks of Student Life to get the latest information. A Chief Strategy Officer should have the same level of comfort as we got out of Covid.
- Look at the values and needs of the larger community outside of your organization. One of the most interesting things about Kovid is that the so-called Ivory Tower was not impenetrable. We needed guidance from public health officials and public policy makers. Even when it was vague or contradictory, we valued this external perspective, focused on the needs of our community, and tried to be good partners. Emerging from the epidemic, we need to have more in common with what our communities need from us and how they expect us to prepare our graduates.
- Ask regularly, how are our students doing not only academically, but also emotionally and emotionally? I am proud of how many times we have focused our work on keeping our students safe and employed. The entire campus community has rallied around what our students need. Honestly, we should always focus more on this question and it should guide our strategy.
- Similarly, ask regularly, how is our workforce doing? During the epidemic we were more concerned about our workforce than ever before. Don’t stop now. We need to think more about the workforce and those conversations should be central.
- Find resources to spend with intent for impact. We’ve found resources for more financial help, an unknown amount of Plexiglass, good face masks, face guards, more community-guidance posters than we’ve ever printed in college. Yes, federal money has helped. But we have led with a willingness to invest rather than the hand-jump that usually happens when spending strategically. As we emerge from Kovid, we need to follow our smart and strategic spending practices, as college survival depends on it.
These things have equipped colleges to live with covid. Simply put, we relentlessly focused on managing a complex problem with multiple effects in a changing environment and we did. Institutional strategy and sustainability are no different. If colleges and universities want to improve in the years ahead, it will be because they will communicate institutional strategies the way they coexisted with Covid.
I can’t wait for our leadership team to start each meeting with the question “How are we doing with our college strategic plan?”