Over the past three years, we’ve seen several universities, schools and foundations make the mistake of pausing their multi-year planning projects because of the pandemic – yet a time that multi-year thinking, and preparing for the “next future” was needed most. Yet leaders of other organizations understood that discipline around strategic planning was more vital than ever, and through virtual and in-person planning activities – which clearly required substantial extra effort for administrators, faculty and staff and stakeholders – they stayed the course with momentum to ensure focus and create clear outcomes.

Their approach was in sync with business analysts, who, during the pandemic, produced data showing that companies that use a long-term planning approach consistently outperform their industry peers. Common characteristics included linking current moves to future outcomes, retooling strategies and futures readiness through scenario planning.

Our clients – leaders of universities, independent schools, institutionally-related foundations and advancement organizations – recognize that adapting smart business thinking to their educational mission is ever more vital. We’re pleased to share several of these projects – along with their strategic plans and websites that describe their goals, objectives, process and progress. While features of their projects are custom to their own needs, what they share is a commitment to a multi-year implementation strategy with dashboards, KPIs and other measures that both track progress and enable their teams to reforecast their plans as conditions change:

University of New Mexico – UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined 

Memphis University School – Legacy Forward 2026

St. John’s School of Houston

And, as the University of Tennessee, Martin (UTM) illustrates – continuing to refresh the plan and adjust to new circumstances is essential to long-term success and viability:

UTM, which created its first five-year strategic plan, Prepare for Takeoff, in 2018, was well-positioned to build on this momentum, take into account the pandemic impacts and refresh this plan in spring 2022. Prepare for Takeoff 2.0 continues that focus for the next five years to ensure the university fulfills its mission, keeps its promise and remains viable, As the refreshed plan explains in the introduction: “Since the creation of the ‘Prepare for Takeoff’ in 2018, we have developed and implemented a strategic enrollment plan and experienced the disruptions from more than two years of Covid-19. Through the refresh process, the UT Martin community celebrated what we’ve accomplished since 2018 and explored new opportunities to pursue over the next three years.”

The evidence is clear that employees today want more work-life balance. A Bain study found that 58% of workers across 10 global economies feel the pandemic has forced them to rethink the balance between their work and their personal lives.[1]

Employees are questioning why they work – what is it for? how can we do it better? The result is a “new era of humanity,” according to Korn Ferry. Among the ways organizations will reinvent themselves in response are to become more fluid with flatter, non-hierarchical structures and formalized hybrid models of working.[2] One report suggests that “human relations” will take the place of “human resources.”[3]

McKinsey has laid out 9 themes important to employees in the future workplace:[4]

Supporting employee perspectives about reimagining the workplace experience, a Gartner survey of 52 HR executives in 2020 found that companies were already moving ahead with changes:

  • 94% of companies made significant investments in their well-being programs
  • 85% increased support for mental health benefits
  • 50% increased support for physical well-being
  • 38% increased support for financial well-being[5]

Read more >

For university marketing professionals – and for the presidents for whom they work – the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything.

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Teresa Flannery, who was in the midst of writing her book, How to Market a University, when the pandemic swept over the world and forced instantaneous change on higher education.

“The pandemic has made apparent the value of the work that we do on literally a daily, almost hourly, basis,” she says. “The value of our work has never been greater, [particularly for] the strategic communications area.”

She adds that the pandemic underscored the importance of the marketing tools necessary “in order to do this well, like enterprise customer relations management that makes all of our communications with stakeholders about the pandemic more efficient, accurate and measurable.” Read more >

As more arms get vaccinated and society creaks open its doors to a semblance of normalcy, workers and organizations are considering how, when and if they should return to their shuttered offices and classrooms.

First, there’s no one answer, just as there’s no one type of industry. Clearly, many professions have successfully shifted to a blend of virtual and in-office work to provide for customers; telemedicine being a primary example. Many restaurants, unable to serve customers inside, quickly ramped up online ordering and delivery services to try and weather the emergency until they can safely reopen.

But coaxing office workers back into the office is giving managers some pause as they weigh the advantages of continuing remote work and reducing real estate overhead. These trends have only strengthened the broader trend toward remote work and the rethinking of office space and office real estate as we know it.  The conversation now is moving in the direction of providing a hybrid workplace — one that provides the flexibility and security of virtual work, while preserving the need for office space to safely collaborate, launch new initiatives and mentor coworkers.

This has substantial implications for space utilization in all industries. For our higher education and independent school clients, however, is the era of fundraising campaigns and bond financing for new buildings in the rear view mirror? Such potentially multi-layered reassessment may have widespread impacts on educational costs, budgets and marketing in a post-COVID environment. Read more >

Worldwide, organizations and employees together underwent a major upheaval of routines, management processes and collaboration methods when remote work became the prevailing business model at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly five months in, new routines have taken root and each day at home is now business as usual. But without the critical touchstones of in-person collaboration and celebratory milestones ubiquitous to the workplace, and a daily routine that lacks important structural components such as commutes and lunch breaks and even post-workday beers, many remote employees are feeling the drudge of Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting (or similar online platforms) without social outlets to offset the mundanity.

We’ve culled through the best resources so you don’t have to – use this quick reference guide as you manage your remote and hybrid workplace.

All this time spent on video calls has its problems. We rely on it to connect with people, yet it can leave us feeling tired and empty. It has given us some semblance of normal life during lockdown, but it can make relationships seem unreal. This feeling has spurred talk of a new psychological affliction: ‘Zoom fatigue.’[1]

Employee engagement and strong leadership are inarguably the most critical elements of productivity in business. But how do you keep employees engaged from afar? How do you create equilibrium in the work/life balance if the two are now enmeshed? Read more >

Nearly six decades have passed since the Civil Rights Movement, a bellwether crusade for equal rights that seemed certain to galvanize the long-overdue eradication of racial bias. And yet, right now in 2020, with continuing Black Lives Matter protests across a country still in the throes of a global pandemic, it is apparent that any progress already made toward black equality is vastly overshadowed by the volume of change still needed.

Despite laws in place to prevent overt racial discrimination, biases remain deeply rooted in American society and individual ideologies. The questions are being asked across our institutions and media – What has worked? What hasn’t? What must we do to finally get it right? Read more >

(Updated November, 2020)

This resource guide provides informative and thoughtful articles about the current and future state of higher education as a result of the COVID-19 disruption. Here’s what we’re reading. We will continue to keep it updated with selected material. We trust you will find useful data and insights. (Some of these may require a subscription. If you cannot access them, please contact us for assistance.)


Chronicle of Higher Education (numerous articles – here are key ones to date):

Reopening plans – The Chronicle is tracking more than 1,200 colleges serving primarily undergraduates and not including those that were already 100% online; it includes searchable tracking table to find institutions by name – here is the status of July 31. In the last 10 days, the number of “in-person” institutions has declined noticeably while the “hybrid” model and online have increased. https://bit.ly/2DkQoxa

  • Fully in-person (2.5%), primarily in person (21%) on July 31 versus planning for in-person – 53% (July 20)
  • Hybrid (16%) versus proposing a hybrid model (defined as mix of online, in-person, hybrid or blending learning) – 32% (July 20)
  • Primarily online (24%), fully online (3.8%) on July 31 versus planning for online – 10% (July 20)
  • TBD (27%) versus considering a range of scenarios – 3.5% and waiting to decide – 1.2% (July 20)

Read more >

Updated Fall 2020

These unprecedented times call on all of us to bring our best expertise and insights to lead organizations with resilience and agility through COVID-19 and plan smartly for a sustainable post-pandemic future. Even though the first “crisis response” phase is past, every week brings a blizzard of ideas, perspectives and approaches. We’ve collected our picks among the “best of” resources to assist you as you make critical decisions for the next 6, 12 and 18 months, and plan for the longer term.

Many of these resources have provided open-access to their articles and research, while a few may still require a subscription or membership. If you’d like to discuss the implications for your organization, we’re happy to share our additional insights about turning “best of” to the “best fit” for you.

We know many of you have made very successful adaptations to the ”transition normal” and are ending the year with new innovations and streamlined effectiveness. We wish you continued success as you embrace the coming months and tame the uncertainties ahead.  Read more >

In a crisis, let purpose and strategy be your “go to” pillars.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced organizations to move quickly to redesign work, home and social interactions in real time, choose priorities and accelerate change at warp-speed. This crisis challenges the very pillars on which we’ve built our universities, Advancement organizations, schools, businesses and nonprofits.

As companies and organizations navigate ambiguity and redesign a range of futures, several foundational practices can provide valuable pathways and platforms for re-engineering. Now more than ever, 7 pillars of organizations managing change effectively are driving their decisions as they plan for the next 12-18 months.

Read more >

Ask most college or university presidents or chancellors who have taken the helm in the last 10 years what their most important job is, and they will tell you it is finding ways to finance the operations of the institution through private and public resources. And though they may not often articulate it, the key to successful fundraising through private sources or advocacy for public funding is using a complex set of communications tools to reach prospective students, donors and public officials. Effective leadership communication, more than ever today, may very well be pivotal to the future of our higher education institutions. Leaders must make hard choices, almost on a daily basis, and the scenarios they face may be even tougher in the future.

Read more >