“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in; put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” – C.S. Lewis.
Photo: Nicole Avagliano, Unsplash
Universities must increasingly make judicious and far-reaching choices about the opportunities and possibilities that present. No longer can universities aspire to be everything to everyone. All universities work within confined resource envelopes. All universities face resource allocation decisions. Whilst universities have many opportunities, for most a relatively modest proportion of those opportunities are likely to contribute the bulk of socio-economic benefits.
Therefore, a major challenge for universities is to focus on the opportunities likely to be most impactful and allocate the majority of resources to them so they have the best chance of success. This is an imposing test for universities globally. These are hard decisions that require clarity of thought about how to use the wealth of resources available to the university.
To maximise impact, universities must be proactive and ensure that resourcing is structured so they can capitalise on opportunities with the promise of significant impact. All universities need to discern their opportunity spectrum. This requires being adept at making decisions about positioning competitively (matching needs to competitive strengths), prioritising which opportunities to pursue and in what order, and allocating resources in a strategic manner to enhance the likelihood of success.
Positioning is about identifying and developing education programs, products and services (‘offerings’) that provide superior value propositions for stakeholders, and in ways that cannot be easily matched by competitors, or met by alternatives. Positioning competitively must be done within changing environments. There are various situational factors to consider, which tend to be outside a university’s direct control, including market forces, industry structure and competitors. There are also organisational factors to consider, the underlying resources and capabilities and set of levers potentially utilised to directly control or influence outcomes. It is the combined effects of organisational factors and the various situational factors that lead to student, consumer, customer or partner responses. Clearly, attractive markets matched to competitive strengths offer opportunities that are more likely to succeed.
Solutions to societal needs, however, often involve multi-disciplinary and multi-party approaches. Multiple and interconnected causes can underpin major needs and therefore solutions rarely sit within the remit of a single organisation. Here a focus on the totality of resources (internal and those of partners) can be utilised to address an identified societal need. For example, evidence-based interventions can be coupled with trusted service providers to offer a better solution than those of alternatives or competitors. Here, the opportunity spectrum must include partners. The relevance and strengths of partners contribute to a spectrum of opportunities. This highlights the importance of an engagement model, that has an inward and outward looking lens, coupled with purposeful activities to forge the necessary partnerships (canvassed in a forthcoming blog).
Prioritising requires universities to make choices from a spectrum of opportunities available. Here the application of outward-looking criteria (market-based) and inward looking criteria (organisation-based) can help. Is the consumer or organisational need well understood? Is the market segment strategically desirable for the university? Is the university’s offering superior to competitors or alternatives? Will the university’s reputation and finances be enhanced?
The process of positioning and prioritising opportunities helps universities hone their investment and resource allocation decisions. From a set of prioritised opportunities, those with the best chance of successfully delivering impact should have the most resources and investment allocated to them. There are several useful methods that can be utilised to help do this.
However, in the previous paragraph the most important word to note is ‘process’. Universities operate and will continue to operate in a world of flux. Opportunity spectrums, thus, can only be dynamic entities. Accordingly decisions about competitive positioning and prioritisation and associated resource allocation must be made continually. Mapping opportunity spectrums is an everyday, ongoing process that informs strategy. This highlights the importance of a supporting operating model and implementation model (also canvessed in forthcoming blogs).
By establishing intent (through identifying 'north stars' and instilling purpose utilising the 'spheres-of-impact' framework) and determining focus (by understanding the knowledge-capital value chain and determing prioritised spectrum of opportunities) universities can set organisational direction. This and previous blogs in 'The University Imperative' series have canvassed each key principle.
The next stage of our journey involves how to build an organisational character capable of delivering organisational direction. This is how the ‘rubber meets the road’ and propels universities toward delivering the great socio-economic benefits we all need.
For those who can’t wait to find out, and need really useful frameworks to help deliver great socio-economic benefits from their organisations now, please refer to my book The University Imperative – Delivering Socio-economic Benefits for our World.
For others who are starting to see probabilities, there are more blogs to come which will build on the foundations canvassed so far.
Now is the moment to bring organisational direction to realisation. We absolutely need universities (indeed, all organisations), and their partners and collaborators, to achieve great societal benefits for us all.
I hope the book will help. A lot! Please let people know. It is really important for everyone to contribute.