By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2018-02-05 11:45:39
Oh, the places you, your team and your school nutrition program will go when you let a strategic plan lead the way! As an engaged member of a team—any team—you have an investment in its success. Success can be defined as measurable progression forward or simply as continuing to serve a stated purpose, despite ever-changing circumstances. In the school nutrition world, for example, a cafeteria site that meets higher targets for participation and sales is a success—but so is the one that continues to serve a consistent number of satisfied student customers, despite higher food costs, a busted stove and two vacant positions. Fundamental factors at work at both sites? A clear mission and a team committed to meeting it. Whether you are an employee in a school cafeteria, an assistant football coach, a deacon at church or president of your state school nutrition association, you are invested in the success of your team. You want to push forward or you want to survive hardships—either way you have goals to accomplish. It’s almost impossible to do this—and certainly impossible to do it well—without a plan in hand. To a word nerd, the term “strategic plan” is somewhat redundant. A plan is, by its nature, strategic: It’s a series of purposeful steps, thought out reflectively and in advance, to achieve a defined goal. So, when considering the various hopes and dreams you have for your school nutrition operation (or other group), the best way to make them a reality is to develop a plan. This, at its most fundamental simplicity, is the “why” of strategic planning. STRATEGIC PLANNING 101 Strategic planning has evolved over the years. Back in the 1990s, it was viewed as a cutting-edge business-planning tool that major corporations and organizations turned to every five to ten years, all using a similar approach to identify priorities to plan for the future and make important decisions. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, however, most companies and organizations are developing a new strategic plan every three to five years, while closely monitoring outcomes and adjusting the plan, as required, based on current business trends. The process can be a highly formal approach, involving the detailed steps and elements identified in the accompanying two articles in this month’s SN. That’s certainly an appropriate method for an organization like SNA, which, at press time, was right in the middle of developing its next three-year strategic plan. Representing 57,000 members and operating a $12 million budget with 50+ employees managing a wide array of programs and services, the Association’s leadership and staff are practically duty-bound to commit to a complex strategic planning process. But it’s perfectly acceptable for a school nutrition team at the district or school level to opt for a considerably less formal planning process. Be assured: Downscaling the approach does not make it inherently less effective. With that fact firmly in mind, let’s visit with two school nutrition directors to learn why they follow the principles of strategic planning (working collaboratively to set target goals, identifying the tactics to achieve them and measuring progress to determine success). They’ll offer insights and advice for initiating the process with your team. ARIANE SHANLEY Director of Food & Nutrition Services • South Kitsap School District Port Orchard, Wash. Strategic planning is a great opportunity to step back from everyday concerns such as developing menus, ordering products, training staff, etc. It forces you and your team to focus on the big-picture perspective. Ariane Shanley understands the value of this process and has been leading her entire school nutrition team in an annual strategic planning process for the last 13 years. Why? “You have to plan for various scenarios,” Shanley says, pointing, as example, to the change in federal nutrition standards. Instead of waiting to see exactly what USDA would require, Shanley and her team began projecting different possibilities—both minor changes and major ones— years in advance. They explored the impact of each on procurement, productivity and getting kids to try new foods. By the time the rules were released, “We were ready.” Another example of proactive planning came when the district administration was looking to make changes in the grade configuration at various sites. Knowing the transition was three years away, the school nutrition team examined possible ways it would affect workload, items served and customer retention. In South Kitsap, Shanley and her team are always looking three to five years ahead, asking themselves: “How do we have to change our system to ensure we are always staying true to our core—to provide healthy meals to all students in the district,” she explains. “What can we do now to position ourselves for success when change comes?” EVERYONE HAS A SEAT AT THE TABLE “People need to have buy-in—they need to participate. They each bring a different expertise and perspective and that’s good for planning,” says Shanley of her decision to involve all 60 permanent staff, plus substitutes, in planning, implementing and revising the plan. “Everyone has equal opportunity—and responsibility,” she notes. While engagement may vary based on personality, the culture in Shanley’s department is one of free exchange. “That’s a different experience for some people who are new to the team. They might feel they can’t speak up at first, but they get there.” When tackling a problem together, the team may arrive at a change that Shanley had in mind all along. But when it comes from within, there’s much less resistance—and considerably greater engagement—than if she had just instructed them in a new process. Shanley schedules full team meetings twice a year: a full work day in summer and two afternoons in the winter. She facilitates the discussions. The plan is dynamic; there are some strategic goals—such as food quality— that the team is always exploring. Every kitchen has a copy of the plan and at the central office, it’s written on a large white board. Team members at all levels are invited—and expected—to provide feedback on the success—or struggle—of changes. “They can go and write on the whiteboard, ‘This is no longer where we are in our building’ or ‘This is what we’re seeing.’” This allows the group to address concerns and make revisions throughout the year. But it’s at the August meeting that the group decides collectively if an initiative did or didn’t work. Success is celebrated. “It’s really important for everyone to see the success and make the connection that this is the reason why we went through the process that we did,” she notes. Shanley can take credit for establishing the culture of participation and for making strategic planning an ongoing team effort, but it’s her staff that make it all work. One of her favorite examples relates to an ongoing goal about improving the public image. An answer was found in presenting a uniform appearance— literally. The cafeteria staff is part of a union and aren’t required to wear uniforms, unless it’s part of the bargain, Shanley explains. But over a three-year period of research and ongoing discussion, her entire team came to unanimous agreement on wearing a uniform shirt on certain days and taking responsibility for its care. “They created the logo, researched different material samples, discussed colors and so on,” she recounts. It’s paid off—students and adults alike have commented positively on the new professional look of their cafeteria teams. “I am really proud of them—they did the work and had the commitment.” (A photo of the entire South Kitsap Food and Nutrition team unified in their uniforms is among this month’s web extras at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus.) ADVICE “I’d had previous strategic planning experience, but the first year I involved the entire team, I had to invest a good amount of time—maybe a week or more—in wrapping my mind around how I would structure it and hit the hurdles,” Shanley remembers. And start slow, she advises. “At the first meeting, I just explained what we would be doing and how it would work; it wasn’t until the second meeting that we actually started doing it. “Success depends a lot on your current culture; if it’s a big shift for you, it’s going to take longer. Don’t worry about the 10% of staff that are resistant to changes or who won’t participate in the process. Focus on the 90% who get it,” she urges. KRISTAN DELLE, RD Director of Foodservices • Upper Dublin School District • Maple Glen, Pa. In 2014, masters in dietetic administration in hand, Kristan Delle was a brand-new director stepping into a district that had not had a foodservice director in over a year and had been doing poorly before that. “The meals-per-labor-hour was outrageous. All the managers retired, and among the cook/employees, there were too many staff and many of them were long tenured— 30, 40 years.” She needed to get a plan in place, pronto! The first order of business was getting the numbers that would identify specific problems and point the way to solutions. “I believe that data fuels reality,” Delle explains. “Otherwise, we’re going to shade our perceptions, especially of things we don’t like to do.” She implemented new technology and used the power of Google to get numbers that would allow her to change the culture from “practice over protocol to protocol over practice.” Delle and her new managers “were locked in for days to identify the datapoints.” The numbers told the tale: There were a lot of changes to make. “I needed a strategic plan, with buy-in from the team,” says Delle. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to focus on what we were doing in the past.’ The first thing is to get compliant and remember the mission: feeding kids. That was the underlying question as we looked at every data set: ‘What’s our goal? To feed kids—to feed more kids.’ ” Delle concedes that the process was, essentially, a good, old-fashioned SWOT analysis (see page 36). “We looked not just at the things that weren’t working, but the ones that really were. ‘When we focus on the successes, it allows us to do more things that will be successful.” Positive change has been steady. It includes new cycle menus, a new bid and more meaningful projects. ADVICE “One of the best things about school nutrition is that we’re all here to help,” notes Delle. “It’s really important to hear what colleagues are doing and the ways they’ve learned to be efficient. Reach out to local districts: What types of information do you use to make decisions? What types of software? What kinds of reports? Don’t go solo.” The next priority is to “Get everything you can out of the data,” Delle urges, while cautioning, “But don’t bore your team to death with the data sets. Make the numbers applicable: ‘Here’s the problem, here’s the goal. How do we get from one point to the other?’” Then brainstorm. “Put it all out there,” she recommends, noting that afterward, the team can determine the top items to focus on, always connecting back to the mission. And the final secret to strategic planning success? According to Delle: “Don’t be married to bad ideas just because they were in the plan. If it’s not working, redo the plan!” Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of SN and a veteran of a variety of strategic planning activities and approaches on the job and as a volunteer.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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