Framing Fearful Symmetry: A Tiger Teams Update

By: Henry R. Broaddus, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Public Affairs, ELT Tiger Teams Sponsor

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
“The Tyger” by William Blake

What does one do when faculty raise two big ideas — each with high potential to affect positively both the university’s mission and finances — prior to the launch of formal strategic planning? What does one do when the ideas’ complexities require exploratory work to understand the range of possibilities for implementation? What does one do to begin building a body of knowledge about these ideas — to frame the boundaries, identify the challenges and sketch the opportunities?

The two big ideas, easy to explain but difficult to execute, are a summer semester and a continuing education enterprise. And if you are President Katherine Rowe in January of 2019, you assemble two tiger teams.

Not, in fact, a reference to Romantic poetry, “tiger team” is a term borrowed from NASA. A tiger team is a group of people with subject-matter expertise who work together to solve a problem. A William & Mary tiger team is not intended to be a representative group of stakeholders; rather it is a group of people with particular knowledge and experience. The “fearful symmetry,” in this case, is the composition of the formidable teams and the shapes of the ideas they work to refine.

Throughout the 2019 spring semester and into the summer, both teams (and, in the case of continuing education, a hired consultant as well) gathered information from across campus and beyond, and produced two white papers for the president:

In November, the summer semester was the subject of one of President Rowe’s strategic planning fora. The session generated ideas to inform a field consultancy completed by a team of MBA students, a faculty member and two executive partners at our business school. The team performed customer discovery work with current and prospective students to validate the incentives necessary for a summer semester to appeal to students. One potential model would include working with local companies to incorporate case studies in the summer and guaranteed internships the following fall. The provost intends to launch a small, targeted pilot for summer 2020, probably on the order of 20-30 students, as a trial run to learn more. The findings from the pilot, the field consultancy and ideas from faculty about what they could do without the constraints of a traditional semester will inform future steps.

The continuing education tiger team’s work identified the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area as the most promising market for such offerings. The D.C. metro area is more than twice as large as the markets for continuing education in Richmond and Hampton Roads combined. D.C. is a fiercely competitive market; many other universities already offer established and highly financed continuing education programs there. Provost Peggy Agouris, who came to us from that territory as the dean of the College of Science at George Mason University, has observed that William & Mary enjoys all or most of the brand recognition of any of the universities located in the area. Not having any expensive overhead in place could also be a competitive advantage if William & Mary can find lower-cost delivery mechanisms with partners. Partnerships would enhance W&M’s capabilities through access to online platforms, branch locations and other needed resources. The tiger team recommended moving forward with an RFP to identify the right partner or partners to stand up a continuing education venture. Excitingly, this would be a return to continuing education for William & Mary, which issued a surveyor’s license to an off-campus learner named George Washington all the way back in 1749.

The ultimate outcome of these tiger-team projects remains uncertain and in progress, even though the tiger teams have concluded their work. The teams’ findings and recommendations will be incorporated into strategic planning and carried forward in the coming year, and the paths these tigers blazed while burning bright illuminate exciting possibilities.

Vision, Mission and Values

By: Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06 and Chon Glover, Ed.D. ’06, co-chairs vision, mission and values drafting groups

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.

Listening, Constructing Together as a Community

By: Dr. Jeremy Martin, Strategic Planning Steering Committee Co-chair

In summer 2019, two teams led by Vice President Ginger Ambler and Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover began working on a comprehensive vision, mission, values statement. The teams shared their work in progress with the William & Mary community on Oct. 1.

In the weeks following, online comments and nearly a dozen sessions – including at least one at each of the university’s five schools – have provided opportunities for feedback. I’ve been privileged to review the comments and take part in most of the on-campus sessions. Here are three observations I’ve gleaned from the process.

  1. We embody the drafted values as we attempt to convey the essence of our community.
    In each conversation, views diverge, converge and move in any number of directions; all are welcome. There’s a sense of respectfulness and curiosity as we remain focused on the desired end: greater belonging and flourishing. We undertake the work as an act of service to one another, with a commitment to integrity in the process and excellence in the outcome. Observing William & Mary (i.e., all of us) attempt to espouse its distinctiveness is indeed a privilege.
  2. Constructing as a group process of creation yields meaningful improvement.
    All group editing processes entail a fair bit of critique. We are, after all, an academic community. However, our conversations haven’t lingered on criticism. Rather, we explore the desired ideas, co-constructing phrases to more fully capture our intent. Where someone may not quite have the words, others join in and create together. The results are meaningful suggestions, crafted in community, for the drafting groups to consider.
  3. The drafting groups did their initial work incredibly well, and are poised to do even better.
    When asked, about 90 percent of participants in the Oct. 1 community forum indicated the statement sounded like William & Mary. For that group (primarily faculty, staff and students), “flourishing” resonated most. In other discussions, different values have resonated more. As the entirety of our community reviews the statement, each of us finds aspects aligned with our own W&M experience, and something within the statement appeals to nearly everyone in our “vibrant and inclusive learning community” (in the words of our draft mission statement). Thanks to the drafting groups, we started the review process from a position of strength. In undertaking a final round of refinements based on the feedback received, the drafting group’s work will become an even stronger reflection of William & Mary.

Time remains – though a limited amount – for others to share their views. The web form is the best venue. We want to hear from you as we refine the draft statement. And, ultimately, we want everyone to embrace William & Mary’s stated vision, mission and values as the strategic planning process continues.

Communication & Participation

By: Professor Tom WardFaculty Assembly President

This year is likely to be busy, exciting and anxiety-provoking. We are heading into a strategic planning process that seeks to “identify a small set of the most significant opportunities” facing our university. Those opportunities will shape William & Mary in the coming five to ten years and perhaps beyond.

The timeframe for this process has strategies emerging before the end of the current academic year. This means we must progress at a rapid pace. To achieve the objective of a whole-institution process, the burden is on the process planners to provide opportunity for participation and also on all of us to take advantage of those opportunities.

It is exciting to consider that we will shape the direction of the university. It can also be anxiety-provoking to deal with the ambiguity of not knowing what those directions might be and how they may impact us.

I would suggest three things that we should do to make this effort successful.

  1. First, pay attention. There will be information circulating about the planning process and any opportunities identified. While communication is built into the method, we all must take the responsibility to seek out the information provided and to ask for that information if we don’t see it.
  2. Second, we need to participate. All of us will have the opportunity to participate in the planning process. Being informed is the first step, and responding and reacting are even more important. This may happen in an available forum, via online commenting or in a departmental or school discussion. All avenues can provide valuable input to the process.
  3. Last, we should each consider a higher level of participation. Once potential opportunities are identified, the planning process envisions the participation of individuals with expertise. If you have expertise surrounding one of the opportunities, consider volunteering to serve. You may also consider participation in governance groups, like the Faculty Assembly, that will have an opportunity to provide feedback on this and future plans.

To navigate the excitement and ambiguity of the planning process, we need to pay attention to each other, making sure that we listen, share, comment and support each other.

Whole-Institution Mindset

By: Dr. Peggy Agouris and Dr. Jeremy Martin

There’s only one William & Mary and now it’s yours.

This sentence has greeted thousands of William & Mary students in acceptance letters to the university in recent years. That invitation extends to the entire W&M community as we engage a strategic planning process during the 2019-20 academic year.

We are pursuing ambitious goals in the year ahead. Our first goal for the process is to advance a whole-institution mindset throughout the university – there’s only one William & Mary. That mindset requires a greater shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges we face in the coming years. It also depends on a sense of shared responsibility for cultivating opportunities and crafting solutions: and now it’s yours.

So, what are the characteristics of a whole-institution mindset?

Beth Comstock ’82, who gave the address at Opening Convocation this fall and was a W&M biology major before rising to the role of vice chair at General Electric, often speaks of the “ecosystem” of an organization. All the components of an organization connect to each other. They depend on one another as they do on their surrounding business environment. At William & Mary, all of our units, departments and schools are interdependent, their health connected to the health of the whole.

Most of us naturally focus on our specific part of that ecosystem: our offices, programs or initiatives. That local focus is appropriate and necessary – and it can also create silos. When local thinking dominates, a territorial mindset can too: “What’s in it for me?” Or for my school? My department?

Throughout strategic planning and beyond, a whole-institution mindset means asking “what’s best for William & Mary?” and holding the interconnected whole in mind. As we explore the most significant challenges we will need to navigate, and the opportunities we might embrace, listen to how we talk with each other about the university. Among the indicators of our shared success will be a pronoun shift from me and my, from us vs. them, to we and ours.

As we embark on strategic planning, let’s embrace that invitation. There’s one William & Mary: ours.