Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Breaking silos right from the launch of a strategic planning exercise
Year Submitted 2019
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Pierre Cossette President
Name of Institution Université de Sherbrooke
Office Address 2500, Boul. de l'Université, Pavillon Georges-Cabana, local B1-3018
Sherbrooke, Quebec J1K 2R1
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Telephone: 819-8218281
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Jacqies Viens
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Director of the Office of the President
Office Address Pavillon Georges-Cabana, B1-3018
2500, Boul. de l'Université
Sherbrooke, Quebec J1K 2R1
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Telephone: 819-8218281
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

“Breaking silos” is often one of the objectives that appear in the strategic plans adopted by universities. At the Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS), “breaking silos” was more of a means of carrying out the strategic planning exercise the new administration launched in September 2017. Working without an external consultant, the president’s team fully appropriated the approach, which involved several particularities: 

  • Rather than create a new strategic planning piloting entity, the board of directors (BoD) was paired with a broadened university council (UC). This body, named the Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC), was chaired by the president.
  • UdeS’ administration also chose to involve the students in every step of the process: 
    • Each working group included at least one student.
    • The associations representing the students from the three levels conducted online surveys with their members on the questions each working group was looking to answer. 
    • Each student received an email inviting him/her to take a survey on the university’s values. 
  • Rather than perform a detailed diagnostic of the organization and its environment, the priorities the president proposed in his candidacy file were used as a starting point. These priorities were the result of a needs analysis conducted on 2,442 members of the university community in 2016. Using this data greatly simplified the process and reduced the costs, while avoiding focusing on the past, which is generally the case in conventional diagnostics.

The entire approach only took seven months. It resulted in a strategic plan the stakeholders can see themselves in and was met with enthusiasm and support from the university community. This plan foresees the implementation of clear strategic directions closely monitored by the university’s administration, and for which resources have been allocated in accordance with the best practices recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Both the approach and its result are easily transferable to any university that wishes to mobilize its community to achieve ambitious goals.

The strategic plan’s components are fairly standard: vision statement, UdeS’ distinctive values, strategic directions and sectoral plans. It is the process that stands out due to its simplicity: a field team with limited members; a flexible approach with specific mandates; the involvement of the stakeholders; thematic working groups; ongoing communication; a sustained pace and close tracking of the schedule; conciseness of the consultation activities, meetings and reports informing the strategic plan. 

Each of these activities was created and led by the president or a member of his administration team.

Besides the thematic working groups, 914 consultations were held with internal and external stakeholders, in the form of individual meetings, brainstorming workshops, online surveys, letters and telephone calls. Special attention was placed on the students who could truly influence the strategic plan. In addition to these numerous consultations, regular communication was maintained, mainly through Web-based tools and videos produced by the president.

The communication approach also included: 

  • Sending letters and emails to inform and consult the more peripheral stakeholders
  • Individual and group meetings with the staff from the various campuses, with external “sages” and experts in the field
  • Brainstorming during social activities (e.g. questioning employees about UdeS’ values during a back-to-school activity)
  • Strategic planning retreats of the board of directors and the university council (bodies that generally do not interact)
  • Online surveys for the institution’s internal members (4,101 respondents)
Quality Impact

As the ultimate reward, during the official launch, several participants said that they saw themselves in the plan and that it made them want to deepen their commitment to the institution. This is proof that including stakeholders in the strategic planning can pay off for universities.

For a complex, highly ambiguous organization like a university, planning becomes an opportunity to interact and discuss important issues, test the stakeholders’ commitment and pique their interest by demonstrating the institution's intention to do better.

The approach Université de Sherbrooke adopted is unique. It was developed bit by bit as the process unfolded and required audacity, creativity and sometimes humility from the members of the administration. If they had to do it all over again, they would apply the same process, but this time, feel even more confident in the value of the approach. The experience taught them a few lessons and debunked a few ideas: 
1.    While hiring consultants is often seen as a safeguard to protect the administration from criticism or unwanted influences, the members believe that their leading role in piloting the strategic planning helped them quickly pinpoint the university community’s needs.
2.    While relations with students and their associations often concern grievances, which could prompt limited collaboration, their active involvement is clearly a source of enrichment, content relevance, mobilization and appropriation. They become full partners. 
3.    While it is taken for granted that such a planning process will take a long time, setting a tight schedule (around seven months) favoured synthesis and set a pace that supported the mobilization of both the stakeholders and the administrators. The result is a concise final product (the strategic plan is four pages) which becomes a true governance tool, a roadmap that is easy to follow at every level of the institution.

Productivity Impact

The innovative approach that UdeS’ administration team developed and led produced a strategic plan in seven months, while including a maximum of stakeholders and extensively involving the student body. The plan is four pages long and includes four targeted directions and 22 objectives, favouring structuring activities that will contribute to the institution’s development and standing.

This strategic planning roots the university in its environment and consolidates ties with other players on which it depends or on which it has a significant impact.

UdeS’ strategic planning process was an opportunity to envision the future, rather than dwell on the past, while fulfilling its mission. By actively soliciting the community and keeping it informed of the project’s rapid progress, UdeS ensured that the community would adhere to the results and mobilize to achieve the collectively chosen directions. 

Thank you to professor Anne-Marie Corriveau for her contribution to these texts. 

Supporting Documents:



Rather than create structures and form more committees, the university’s administration team decided to increase the number of opportunities to meet with its community.

For the stakeholders, taking part in every step of the strategic thinking process—without an intermediary—provided many advantages, allowing them to:

  • Appropriate the strategic plan as it was being developed
  • Have access to firsthand information
  • Establish direct contact with all the stakeholders
  • Adapt the approach in real time according to the issues raised
  • Be able to explain and justify their choices
  • increase the plan’s legitimacy

The role of the SPSC, made up of the members of the BoD and the UC, was to ensure a thorough process, to track the progress made and to ensure the validity of the documents produced. It could, as needed, decide which direction to take in decisive moments. Finally, it ensured consistency between the different working groups in view of integrated strategic planning. 

The SPSC met for two strategic planning retreats in the course of the exercise, gathering 51 people, including six students. It was especially involved in identifying the university’s values and stating its vision. A first for Université de Sherbrooke, having the BoD and UC work together turned out to be an excellent idea. Given the positive results, this initiative will be repeated each year.

Concretely, the priorities proposed by the president led to the creation of five thematic working groups. Made up of 13 to 19 people (deans, vice-deans, students, professionals, teachers, board members, internal and external partners), each was tasked with developing and validating the directions, strategies and actions that would make up the future strategic plan.

To fulfill their mission, the working groups had to solicit the appropriate stakeholders, assess the gathered information, develop action proposals, identify monitoring indicators and submit recommendations to the SPSC.

The stakeholders were involved from the very beginning. Their desire to be included was a considerable challenge for a university of UdeS’ size, both due to the number of stakeholders and the various territories the institution covers, but it rose to the occasion. The project involved a total of 5,000 respondents, representing more than 70 internal and external stakeholders.

The stakeholders were retained based on their potential contribution to a working group: as a current or desired strategic partner, as a financial backer, or because they worked in one of the UdeS’ areas of influence. To be as inclusive as possible, all of the interest groups that could be affected by a decision had to at least have their voices heard and then be kept informed of the process.

For a short period (less than a year), an approach was implemented and led by the president’s team without an intermediary. For efficiency, but also consistency, no bodies were created for the sole purpose of strategic planning. At the most, some bodies were temporarily broadened to be as inclusive as the developed approach.