Looking ahead Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

JoAnne Boyle is constantly

evaluating Seton Hill

University’s strategic plan.

She says that a good plan lets

you know where you are headed, but sometimes, you have to

remind people of their role in it

and be open to new ideas.

“It doesn’t hurt to let people

know — often — that their

ideas are in the plan and we

value those,” the president

says. “Communicating the plan

is essential by making frequent

references to it and reminding

people that the plan is available

to review.”

Seton Hill’s plan helps guide

its 421 employees and allows

Boyle to oversee the Catholic

liberal art school’s $31 million


Smart Business spoke with

Boyle about the keys to developing a successful plan for


Q. How do you create a

growth plan?

There are several steps, and

one big step is scanning the

environment — what’s out

there, what’s changing, what’s

new. If you skip that step, when

you get to the second step,

which is to go to everybody and

ask what they would do and

what ideas they have, you don’t

have informed suggestions.

Read, read, read, and listen,

listen, listen. Do it yourself, but

encourage colleagues to do the

same and to share what they

are thinking about and what

they learn. You can’t plan for

growth unless you know and

study and stay current with

what is out there and coming.

Then the hard part happens,

and that’s organizing the actual

structure for doing a plan.

Break down into small groups,

have leaders and teams, and

they wrestle with the practical

and applicable and feed into a

central place.

Very important is also the

environment that you let people do this work in, that people are encouraged. They have

to be realistic, and that’s

where not every good idea

gets adopted because the

financial realities have to rule

and guide the day.

You don’t want to get yourself

into overcommitments more

than you can afford, but

you do want to encourage risk-taking. If you

don’t do that and don’t

let people know you do

that, you’re not going to

have great growth.

Q. How do you encourage risk-taking?

Continually ask the

question, ‘What are you

doing today? What are

you doing that’s new

and exciting? What are

you trying now?’ We

have a forum of faculty

and staff members that

meets monthly. They

share a problem, a challenge — how do you

teach this better; how do you

create a better learning?

People take on risky ideas,

and they know that that’s OK,

that my colleagues are going

to listen to and respect me.

It has to be modeled by

every person. If you don’t have

every person respecting everyone else, you’re never going to

win in this game. There are

too many opportunities for

changes, exchanges, misperceptions, bad news to interrupt into all kinds of disputes,

which can lead to low morale.

The buy-in to these efforts is

terrific. People have the sense

they are working on problems

and solving them together.

They see the benefits in their

everyday situations.

Q. How do you monitor and

update the plan?

You have to have discipline.

Nobody wants to do it, but

you have to say, ‘OK, it’s that

time of year, we have to sit

down and look at the plan.’

Instinct or intuition plays a role here. Although we pay

attention to facts, data, information, sometimes, you go

with your gut feeling. This

doesn’t sound like discipline at all, and it isn’t, but after many

years, you get to trust the


Have the willingness to

throw out what isn’t working.

It might be your favorite idea,

it might be one you’ve invested a lot in, but you have to be

willing to be critical and disciplined about, ‘It’s time to go.’

Maybe things can be changed,

altered and improved, but

you’ve tried and they can’t,

then it’s time to go, it’s time to


If you’ve established the

rules, i.e., ‘We’ll give this three

years to make a return on the

investment or else it goes,’ and

you’ve done this once or

twice, everyone starts to see

that’s how we thrive and move

ahead. Sometimes, though, an

idea that isn’t working as

planned can be shaped into

something else.

Actually looking at the plan

every few weeks is a good

idea, reading it over and asking if the same conditions pertain that led to the goals

selected in the plan.

Q. What are the benefits of

having a good plan in place?

It keeps the odd idea out.

You can put them on a list and

say, ‘OK, when we get to our

annual review, we’ll look at all

of these.’ But it is good to be

able to say, ‘Is it in the plan?’

Having that plan as your reference point is invaluable to

keep you focused, moving and

saying, ‘OK, this is what we

said we’re going to do, and

we’re going to persist on this.’

And if the indicators that it

was successful are not there,

that’s when you make the


HOW TO REACH: Seton Hill University, (724) 838-4255 or www.setonhill.edu