The best strategic plans build upon an organization’s vision, mission and values. W&M’s strategic plan was to be so grounded – and yet, the university lacked one of those foundational components. For all the times someone in the campus community referred confidently to our institutional values (e.g., “this is wholly consistent with W&M’s core values” or “that violates W&M’s core values”), the university did not actually have an official statement of values. Though many individual units and schools have crafted value statements, no such statement existed for the whole of W&M.
Thus in July, as we were anticipating the start of a formal strategic planning process, President Rowe asked us to co-chair a small writing group to draft a statement of values. That group of six – representing faculty, staff, students and alumni – worked on a tight timeline to prepare an initial draft that would be reviewed first by the president’s Executive Leadership Team and then by the Board of Visitors (BOV) at their summer retreats. We agreed upon several principles to guide us in our writing:
- Buzzwords should be avoided.
- Values should resonate with faculty, staff, students and alumni alike.
- Values would be listed alphabetically, not in order of priority.
- Active verbs would drive the document.
- The statement would claim unique territory; it would sound like William & Mary.
- The statement would bring forward durable language from key William & Mary documents.
We began by sharing our own individual lists of values we associated with W&M. From there we researched other universities’ values statements, as well as statements from organizations outside of higher education. Through collaborative conversation over several weeks, we agreed upon seven core value words: belonging, curiosity, excellence, flourishing, integrity, respect and service. Each of us took responsibility for drafting language that would introduce, summarize or define these values.
By August we had finalized an initial draft to share with the BOV. In addition to providing us with constructive feedback on the values draft, the BOV members challenged us to review the university’s mission statement as well. All three statements we agreed – vision, mission and values – needed to be distinct, yet mutually reinforcing. They needed to exist together as a unified statement that would provide a firm foundation for the planning process, and guide our decision making well into W&M’s future.
Given this new charge, a second drafting group was formed to take on the challenge of re-writing W&M’s mission statement (until now, the longest mission statement of any Virginia institution). After reviewing our existing statement and considering the mission statements of all other institutions in the Commonwealth, we identified ideas, phrases and words that seemed essential. Our homework, then, was for each of us to draft a W&M mission statement.
Over the course of several meetings, we took wordsmithing to the highest possible level! Together, we chose the best of what each had written, listened to our words as they were read aloud, made substantive cuts and added creative, insightful language. The process was deeply meaningful because we spent most of our time talking forthrightly about the W&M we know and the W&M we want to be – what we experience, what makes us proud, what we cherish and what we hope for the university in years to come.
With drafts in hand, we then sought feedback from the wider campus community. W&M did not disappoint. From table discussions at a campus-wide forum to online submissions on the strategic planning website, we took notes. We spoke with faculty and staff in all five schools, sought feedback from institutional leadership boards and listened to reactions from student and faculty assemblies – again, we took more notes. In fact, we received so much feedback on the vision statement (the one part of the document not included in our charge) that our two drafting groups came together in the end to consider and re-work all three parts of the whole.
We read every comment and reviewed the notes from each meeting and conversation. Together, we sought themes and attended especially to what did and did not resonate. Our hope is that members of the community see their fingerprints clearly on the final version, for truly, W&M’s newly approved statement of vision, mission, values would not be what it is without the thoughtful contributions of all.
On a more personal note, this “assignment” has been among the most meaningful in our long careers at W&M. What a privilege it has been to talk with students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and others about what makes W&M remarkable and what our highest aspirations are for the alma mater of a nation and her people.