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Planning for Change: Engaging University Staff in Strategic Planning

Hatherill, Jessica (2017) Planning for Change: Engaging University Staff in Strategic Planning. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Universities are under pressure from multiple directions with accrediting bodies requiring increased focus on institutional planning efforts. University staff who manage programs, provide student services, and serve in other specialized roles are at the forefront of this changing environment. These employees may have difficulty understanding how their daily work relates to institutional planning efforts and resist change imposed from the top.

While researchers have examined employee engagement during change efforts, staff participation in strategic planning in higher education constitutes an overlooked topic. The aim of the study was to address three questions: 1) How and to what extent have university leaders communicated the strategic plan and the steps in the planning process to staff? 2) How and to what extent have staff responded to the strategic planning process? 3) What are the perceptions of middle managers involved in implementing strategic initiatives?

The study occurred at Mid-Atlantic University (MAU), a public research university located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. MAU began a strategic planning process and instructed schools and administrative units to align their strategic plans with the MAU plan before entering the implementation phase.

Study participants included eight middle managers, individuals who direct programs, supervise other staff, and are in the middle of the institution’s hierarchy. A 45-minute semi-structured interview elicited information on staff reactions to the strategic plan, communication of strategic initiatives at the university and school level, and interactions between supervisors and employees. The researcher collected and analyzed documents from the university’s strategic planning website, the staff governance association, and university publications.

Several themes emerged in the areas of communication, staff responses, and perceptions of implementation. These themes included: 1) communication of the strategic planning process did not permeate the organization; 2) staff members responded in three main ways: searching for understanding, getting excited, or becoming disillusioned or resigned to the ongoing changes; and 3) a disconnection between the planning process and implementation. This paper adds to the current body of literature and includes implications for practice and recommendations for future research in the area of staff involvement in planned change initiatives in higher education.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hatherill, Jessicajhath@pitt.edujhath
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairKerr, Mary Margaretmmkerr@pitt.edummkerr
Committee MemberTrovato, Charlenetrovato@pitt.edutrovato
Committee MemberGuilleux, Francoisfjg6@pitt.edufjg6
Date: 13 July 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 April 2017
Approval Date: 13 July 2017
Submission Date: 7 June 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 96
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Administrative and Policy Studies
Degree: EdD - Doctor of Education
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: higher education, change management, strategic planning, university staff, organizational change, employee engagement
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2017 15:45
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2017 15:45


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