Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering is one of the country’s leading engineering schools with some 4,500 undergraduates enrolled in eight degree programs. When Richard Koubek became dean of the College, he wasted no time in taking stock of its strategic situation. It was mid-recession, but the dean had big aspirations for the College’s five-year strategic plan, Vision 2015.
Alignment & Engagement
The initial software platform the College tried to implement to track results was too cumbersome and difficult to use. People were not motivated to use it, and managing strategy suffered. After researching the available options, Herman chose ClearPoint Strategy for its simplicity and customer service.
Users needed to see their personal connection to Vision 2015. Unlike the one-way process of other applications, in which data goes into a “black box,” ClearPoint enables visualization.
So the team built a system that allows a larger team to see their department’s or unit’s results, which helped generate buy-in and enthusiasm throughout the College.
Fast Track To Economic Development
The strategic management processes the College put in place have propelled the College ahead in all of its strategies. One area that has benefited greatly is external partnerships.
By delivering on its promise to provide Louisiana businesses and employers with first-rate engineers, the state’s economic development organizations have used LSU Engineering as a magnet to recruit businesses to the state. IBM even opened a services venture in Baton Rouge.
A Platform For Continued Success
Since implementing Vision 2015, the College’s total enrollment is up 41% (twice the national average), and it is now the fifth fastest-growing engineering college in the U.S. In 11 months, the College raised $52 million for building renovations—an amount almost unheard of among engineering institutions.
“It’s been a pinnacle year for us,” Koubek says, “with lots of new opportunities that have opened doors. Now we want to let those opportunities settle and see where the next plan should go.”
LSU College of Engineering: World Class Education, World Class Execution
Louisiana's economic development organization, chambers of commerce, and other organizations have used LSU Engineering as a magnet to recruit businesses to the state, promising potential employers first-rate engineers, computer scientists, and construction managers direct from the College.
It may not have the name recognition of an MIT or Cal Tech, but Louisiana State University’s College of Engineering is, in its core disciplines, one of the country’s leading engineering schools. Some 4,500 under-graduates are enrolled in eight degree programs, from civil and environmental engineering to petroleum and construction management. Many of them go on to positions at the nation’s top companies, including Chevron, Shell, Halliburton, and Dow Chemical. In five of the school’s degree fields, LSU Engineering graduates earn higher starting salaries than the national average.
When Richard Koubek became dean of the College in 2009, he wasted no time in taking stock of its strategic situation. It wasn’t because Dean Koubek was taking the helm of a troubled institution. But it was mid-recession—a time of big budget cuts and resource constraints—and the dean had big aspirations for the College. He appointed a team to interview faculty, staff, and students to pinpoint the College’s strengths and weaknesses. Three weeks later, with SWOT and gap analyses in hand, the dean and his leadership team began formulating the College’s five-year strategic plan, Vision 2015.
Among the weaknesses uncovered by the strategic assessment was the disconnect between measurement and strategy. Not only were measures insufficient, but those the College tracked were not closely linked to its existing strategy.
Vision 2015: Early Challenges
In crafting the College’s new strategic plan, Dean Koubek and his senior leadership team articulated eight component strategies for the College, each with its own set of measures, targets, and improvement goals: Preparing LSU Engineers for a Dynamic World; Conducting Research to Improve the Quality of Life; Innovating Through Diversity; Improving and Diversifying Louisiana’s Economy; Enhancing Recruitment and Retention; Improving the College’s Visibility Locally, Nationally, and Globally; Developing Diverse Streams of Support; and Fostering an Environment of Effective Decision Making.
Despite the care leaders took in developing Vision 2015, managing performance during the first two years of implementation proved arduous. Says Heather Herman, senior director of external relations (who also serves as strategy management officer), "It was a challenge and a chore to get anyone to focus on the strategy."
Herman realized that a change was essential. First and foremost, she says, "We realized that we needed to get our stakeholders invested in the strategic plan. They needed to own it." The initial software platform the College tried to implement to track results was too cumbersome and difficult to use. According to Herman, "The learning curve was too steep, and many people gave up on the process just because the software got in the way."
But Herman and her team didn’t give up. They took the opportunity to improve the process. After researching the available options, Herman chose ClearPoint Strategy for its simplicity and customer service.
Alignment and Engagement
The first concern that Herman and her team addressed was the need for users to see their personal connection to Vision 2015. Herman and her team were able to build a system that allows people to see their department’s or unit’s results. This capability helped generate buy-in throughout the College, at the department as well as strategy-owner levels. Buy-in generated enthusiasm for the strategy process, which in turn, generated improvements in the measures. In short, the new system fostered a virtuous circle of positive reinforcement and improved results.
With its previous platform, notes Herman, the team had "no clear way to demonstrate success" in meeting performance targets. As a result, "It was a struggle to get departments and measure owners involved." The new system allowed the team to develop simple red–amber–green status indicators that reflect the success level of the College’s metrics, initiatives, and strategies. This simple classification helps people focus their performance discussions on areas of strategic importance instead of on operational issues.
Data and Experimentation to Drive Success
Engineering is a difficult academic discipline, and retaining students is a universal challenge for engineering schools. "Retention has always been and will always be a priority for us," Herman notes. But before getting the new execution process in place, College leaders didn’t have a clear view of what drove retention. Having a granular view of strategy has helped them see which elements of its retention initiatives actually work.
"The College implemented many new initiatives, but didn’t have metrics in place to measure the effect of our efforts," says Herman. The Engineering Bridge Camp program, for example, is a well-conceived orientation and life skills program for incoming freshmen. With better measures, now aligned with the strategy, Herman can easily obtain more correlative data—such as the relationship between the number of attendees (as a percentage of the total incoming class) and retention rates—to help gauge effectiveness and assess the cost/benefit of specific elements of the program.
Fast Track to Economic Development
Vision 2015 (and, more importantly, the management processes the College put in place to implement it) has propelled the College ahead in all of its strategies. One area that has benefited greatly is external partnerships. Apart from luring companies to Louisiana with research initiatives, the College has actively worked to promote the quality of its graduates.
By delivering on its promise to provide Louisiana businesses and employers with first-rate, highly-skilled employees, LSU's College of Engineering has boosted economic growth across the state. In 2014, the College attracted a record number of companies and industries at its annual career fair. Nearly 85% of students have jobs or job offers by the time they graduate.
LSU Engineering also believes in producing graduates with the broader skills needed for the 21st century workforce. IBM opened a services venture in Baton Rouge, and as part of the corporate recruitment process, LSU’s College of Engineering coordinated with Louisiana Economic Development and IBM to identify the essential skills computer science graduates should possess. IBM sat down with faculty members to review curriculum and provide input on such skill requirements as the key programming language used. Says Dean Koubek, "The IBM partnership was in many ways historical for our college, and for Louisiana. The fact is, I’ve never seen that level of engagement between a company and a university. It sets the tone for how industry and academia can work together."
A Platform for Continued Success
As the Team has accomplished key elements in the strategic plan, members' confidence has grown, which in turn has helped them stay focused on the College's mission and vision. The clear and concise goals the College established proved to be critically important; every decision and every action links back to the strategic plan.
The results speak volumes about the value of the College's new process and system. Since implementing Vision 2015, LSU's College of Engineering has accounted for a growing percentage of LSU freshmen—exceeding its target percentage—and total enrollment is up 41% (versus an average national increase of about 20%). The College is now the fifth fastest-growing engineering college in the U.S. The number of patents awarded to LSU Engineering faculty doubled in just one year alone. And fundraising has yielded a bonanza: in 11 months, the College raised $52 million for building renovations —an amount almost unheard of among engineering institutions.
The College’s leaders have been energized, and in some ways, surprised, by how quickly they’ve reached and surpassed targets. Early success has now inspired them to think bigger. They are now considering combining strategies that have potential synergies, such as diversity and recruitment and retention. They are also searching for more efficiencies, thinking about ways to manage a growing repository of data, and pondering how they can more closely monitor individual students’ progress to bolster degree completion. A new stewardship position was recently created to support alumni relationships and future fundraising campaigns. And a research facilitation office was established to aid faculty in navigating the sometimes obscure funding process, to boost the percentage of externally funded proposals.
This year, Dean Koubek and his strategy team are gathering their thoughts about the next five-year strategic plan, which would commence in 2016. They will convene the advisory board and begin to plan the next phase. "It’s been a pinnacle year for us," Koubek says, "with lots of new opportunities that have opened doors. Now we want to let those opportunities settle and see where the next plan should go. "