Transforming Strategic Planning

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In early 2005, Macquarie University Sport and Recreation (MUSR) decided that it was fed up with the usual approach to developing strategic planning.  What the unit wanted was an approach that would develop enthusiasm among the board, staff and external stakeholders; what it discovered was an approach called "Future Search".

Pre Planning

The Future Search approach is based on over 60 years of management theory and practice and recognises that the best way to effect change is a large group meeting of a cross section of all relevant stakeholder groups (known as the ‘whole system’).

1.    Purpose –

Unlike some other situations, the purpose was clear; to develop a strategic plan for MUSR.

2.    Outcomes –

  • Desired outcomes were agreed as:
  • An abundance of new ideas and initiatives
  • Total agreement on the key areas requiring attention
  • Working teams and a driver around each area
  • A vision for each area
  • Action plans for each area and the initiative as a whole
  • Engagement and enthusiasm
  • Fast implementation

3.    Planning Group Members –

It was agreed that a Planning Group should be formed representing a microcosm of the ‘whole         system’ and including representation from MUSR Board, MUSR staff, Club representatives, students, University staff and external partners.


The Planning Group met over two half days and settled on -

1.   Stakeholders:
      Brainstorming of all possible stakeholders

2.   Categorisation of possible stakeholders:
      Essential, Desirable or Optional  

3.   Invitees:
      About 80 people representing all relevant stakeholder groups

4.   Needs of Individual Stakeholder Groups:
      So that those needs could be the focus of marketing so as to maximise the chances of attendance

5.   Length of the Event
      Eight hours

6.   Timing:
      April 2005

7.   Other logistical issues

8.   An agenda as follows:

  • Key Highlights and Milestones in MUSR (the Past)
  • Current Trends of Significance to MUSR (the Present)
  • Imagining the Future Desired By All (the Future)
  • Agreeing on the Key Components (the Common Ground)
  • How We’re Going To Get There (the Action Planning)

Forum and Outcomes

About 60 people met in April 2005 for one full day. By the end of the session, the group had reached agreement on the key strategic areas, including Governance, Branding, Student Engagement, Sports Relevance, Facilities, Technology and Building Collaboration with External Stakeholders.

Although these reflected the areas that management would have come up with anyway, what was significant was that they were agreed on by all the people present, thus leading to engagement and commitment to action.

What’s Happened Since?

The measure of the success of any change initiative is not how people feel at the end of it but whether it results in positive action.  Three years down the track, MUSR CEO, Deidre Anderson, says the achievements have been extraordinary. These include:

  • Macquarie University wins the 2006 University Games for the first time in its history
  • Commencement of construction of a $22 million state of the art aquatic and leisure centre
  • Commencement of a unique sports fields master plan including an innovative water management system
  • Development of a World Class Sports Management Academic Program with involvement of more than 50 of Australia’s leading sports professionals and academics from higher education, TAFE and secondary colleges
  • Development of an innovative sports service model that is already on the way to achieving an increase in the participation target from 10% to 50% by 2010
  • Engagement of the Sydney Football Club to use the University’s facilities
  • Development of collaborative partnerships with local schools and local sporting clubs (eg Eastwood Rugby and Gordon Cricket Club)
  • Creation of a broader University organisation (U@MQ) to support students in all aspects (with Deidre Anderson as the CEO of the new organisation).

CEO, Deidre Anderson, recently said, “There is no way we could have got to where we have without the Future Search approach. Community and organisational leaders need to have the courage to let go of command and control and take this step.”

Learnings for Small Businesses

1.   Although MUSR was a not for profit, the Future Search approach has been used with equal success by thousands of profit and not  for profit organisations worldwide.

2.   The same principles apply to all organisations irrespective of size work with the whole system. What can be different is the implementation.

3.   The focus need not be strategic planning. It can be any systemic issue including implementing an existing plan, creating a vision, culture reform, sustainability, etc.

4.   This approach involves leaders letting go of command and control. If you are not willing to do that, then you are better off not using this approach.

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