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EFL Associates insights on executive recruiting, talent management and succession planning.





April 15, 2020

Bold Strategic Vision or Return to Normalcy

By Steve Waldron

EFL Associates is a top 2% retained Executive Search Firm with a specialty practice in higher education.  Our firm has unique expertise in distance and online learning, technical support requirements, and strategic planning.  

One hundred years ago, Warren G. Harding wrote:

America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment…

Be wary of returning to the comfort of normalcy.  As the recent wave of urgent, reactive change swept across the higher education landscape, colleges and universities found themselves in one of three basic categories: those who were [relatively] prepared; those who were unprepared but able to grind out a short-term solution; those who were neither prepared nor able to respond.  We have already seen institutions in the last category shutter their doors.  There will be more in the coming months.   When summer turns to fall, presidents will review their cabinet’s lessons-learned report and make decisions about future action and change.  Bold strategic vision will drive many schools into the first category.  A return to normalcy will drive others to the last.

Last week, I spent some time speaking with a trusted colleague.  In 2006, Dr. Ken Hartman warned about a pandemic and the need for preparation.  His vision was of robust online curriculum, hardy technical architecture, and student techno-preparedness to combat physical closure.  While all hold true today, there is much more at stake.  With the coming decline in traditional college-aged students, reduced opportunity for in-residence international study, and increased competition for students and resources, colleges and universities must covet agility; they must be prepared to boldly envision, embrace, and operationalize their institution’s future.

Change is not static.  It is an ongoing cycle of needs identification, strategy development, analytical strategy testing, decision, implementation, and review.  It must be collaborative, inclusive, and transparent.  It also requires a dedicated driver with a unique skillset. This position isn’t new outside of higher education.  Business may call it the Chief Strategy Officer; the military calls it Future Operations.  Other titles include Vice President of Transformation, Chief Planning Officer, Vice President of Innovation & Disruption (OK, that one is a little much),  or  even Chief Technology Officer if the position is more focused.  Don’t assume this can be collateral duty of the provost or chief administrative officer.  As one CEO noted years ago, “a fundamental conflict between what is easy to execute and what is right to execute often leads [the CAO] away from the tougher decision.”  Strategy is hard.  Execution is harder.  Acceptance of change is the hardest.  But schools lacking vision and agility are on the road to extinction.     

EFL Associates understands the strategic planning and execution processes.  We have served in boardrooms, cabinets, and on battlefields.  Our team knows technology, digital learning, credential stacking, badging, modular education, contemporary enrollment, student advising and the like.  EFL Associates is uniquely suited to find the leaders with vision across the industry and across the enterprise who are able to chart your future in tomorrow’s higher education landscape.

Steve Waldron has over 35 years of leadership, operations and strategic planning experience in higher education, litigation and the U.S. Marines.  For more information about EFL Associates and how we can recruit to meet your permanent and temporary solutions, please go to https://eflassociates.cbiz.com/.  To read the full article by Dr. Hartman, click here. 




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