Strategy = what you don’t do and what you do first.

I am a regular contributor to the mStoner blog. My post there is cross-posted here.

The word strategy is all the rage these days. There’s web strategy, content strategy, and social media strategy. More than once I’ve even seen this job title: director of strategic communications. Are we also doing communications that are…wait for it…not strategic? Really?

Now widely used in business, the word strategy has a military origin. I took a quick look at Wikipedia and found this, “In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked. How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics: the terms and conditions that it is fought on and whether it should be fought at all is a matter of strategy.”

Much has been written about strategy and I make no attempt to summarize it all here. But when I read the bit from Wikipedia, I had higher education as my frame of reference, and this phrase stood out for me: “whether it should be fought at all.” In my view, strategy is as much about what you don’t do as it is about what you do. Strategy is also about what you do first.

During a time when financial resources for higher education are shrinking, I think strategy is more important than ever. Without strategy to guide your decision making about what to spend time on, anything seems like a reasonable option. Back when more funding and more staffing were available on our campuses, many institutions could perhaps be less strategic—they just did it all with the hope that something would stick. Now, this approach is simply too expensive. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

  • It certainly makes sense for your communication strategy to include social media channels. However, because of limited resources (maybe you’re a web team of one), you might decide that your tactics will include Facebook and Twitter but not Foursquare specials.
  • If the current strategy is to increase alumni engagement, then a new web feature can do that. Yes, you could spend weeks producing a four-minute video highlighting some of your school’s most popular professors. Or, a Flickr photo set with shots of faculty in well-known campus spots with crowd sourced captions might also do the trick.

Once in place, following your own strategy takes discipline. Because so many communication tools and platforms are “free,” there is no barrier to entry and it’s easy to get sidetracked by the whiz bang. When all else fails, go back to the plan. Strategic priorities can help you decide what to do first. For instance:

  • If your strategy calls for a focus on recruiting students in a particular geographic area, then managing a microsite project for admission has to take priority over a request to customize a blogging platform for student affairs.
  • Yes, it would be fun to redesign your portal. But if your institution is in the midst of a campaign, then a web design for the president’s annual report has to happen first.

At the end of the day, strategy is about making choices. Some battles won’t make the cut. Insist on strategy to guide your way.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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