All organizations face pressures which force a need to change and adopt a new strategy.  Some of these pressures are internal, some external, some which are controllable, and others which are not.  This is much the case with catholic education.  Socio-economic factors, changes in demographics, declining church participation, financial challenges, and political factors all weigh heavily on private schools and especially catholic schools.  After successfully leading a strategic planning project for a catholic school a few years prior, our consultants were asked to create one for an entire diocese.

Four years prior, our consultants facilitated the development of a strategic plan for a catholic school.  A member of the strategic planning committee happened to be on the diocesan school board which is how our team was engaged.  The Bishop of the diocese challenged the Superintendent and the school board to develop a comprehensive strategic plan following an accreditation audit.  The school board member who we worked with previously made a referral to our firm, but the committee in charge thought it best to save money and develop a plan themselves.  After 6 months of inaction and a plan which was due to the Bishop in only a few months, we received a call from the Superintendent asking for help.

Our task was to facilitate the development of the strategic plan with their strategic planning committee consisting of school board members, principals, administrators, a pastor, and others.  The plan was to create a vision and plan for a diocese of 22 schools.  Coming into the process, we found that much work needed to be done.  Prior efforts compiled a lot of data and documents as well as ideas, but no analysis.  The entire premise of the discussion thus far centered on creating a set of initiatives as a result of an accreditation report.  What was lacking was a deep conversation to understand the mission and vision of the diocese schools, what strategy they wanted to pursue, what’s key to the success of that strategy, and what issues are preventing that success which may or may not be in the accreditation report.  Furthermore, there needed to be an analysis of why these issues are truly issues – what factors and forces are driving them which will create insights into how to address them.

Our approach for this client was to go through a full strategic planning process.  There was some resistance as there was a feeling that much work had already been done, but we needed to back up before we could move forward.  Prior to the first of several sessions, our team conducted comprehensive analysis on enrollment, financials retention, faculty to staff ratios, demographics, and industry standards to help understand the scope of their issues and to provide forecasts for what the future may look like.  The first session was quite difficult for the team as it provided them with analysis they had never seen before.  Doing nothing meant quite possibly losing between 800-1,800 students in 5 years and likely needing to close several schools.  Furthermore, the economic, cultural, and political pressures as well as internal analysis showed that a strategy of growth may not be likely and instead may turn to a strategy of right sizing.  Difficult decisions were going to have to be made and getting buy-in would be a challenge.

This was followed by several additional sessions and a lot of research and analysis in order to craft a plan that would not only be supported by the Bishop, but the individual schools as well.  Ultimately, this occurred and a new position was developed to be accountable  for the implementation of this plan and the diocese is engaged with several student groups in colleges to help continue this work at the school level.

The Take-Away:  We often hire consultants when things go wrong.  This can lead to re-work and a more expensive solution ultimately.  Consultants provide an unbiased view into the organization, allows for tough questions to be asked, and provides a level of expertise that may not exist in house.  Hiring a consultant to help facilitate and execute strategy should be a proactive step in taking your organization to the next level.