The Bennett College Board of Trustees hired Exert 360 LLC to execute a 6-month facilitation process for the newly established Bennett Re-Engineering Committee (BRC), assembled to help catapult the college from its current state to a refreshed brand and sustainable business model.
How could the Exert 360 facilitators develop a process that led to a set of strategic recommendations to achieve this aim? The BRC was comprised of 19 visionary and strategic leaders from a diverse set of industries, including higher education, business, government, financial, marketing, public relations, and change management. The facilitated process would include an assessment and recommendations of the areas included in the charge from the Board:
1. Quality Competitive Academic Offerings,
2. Student Success Driven Services and Support,
3. Leadership and Expertise for Quality, Administration and Finance,
4. Responsible and Resourceful Governance
We started by working with the BRC Co-chairs to finalize the engagement strategy. We then began the BRC Member On-boarding, introducing them to the facilitation process, eliciting aspirations and concerns, and mapping member skills and experience. A press release about the committee was distributed to the press and stakeholders.
THE PROCESS ASSESSED BENNETT’S CURRENT CONDITION IN THESE KEY STAGES
The BRC reviewed presentations given on April 18th by Bennett’s Senior Leadership team
The BRC subdivided itself into four subcommittees
These subcommittees conducted document reviews of collateral requested from, and provided by, Bennett College and relevant documents from other institutions.
ACADEMIC AND STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES – WHAT MUST BENNETT COLLEGE OFFER STUDENTS TO BE COMPETITIVE IN THE HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE?
● National and regional program demand projections (existing reports/surveys)
● Regional institutions’ program analysis (website catalog review)
● Peer and aspirational institutions’ academic program analysis (website catalog review)
● Expert interviews (BRC and external)
● Bennett trend data
● Industry skillset analysis
ADMINISTRATION AND FINANCE – WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS MODEL FOR BENNETT COLLEGE?
● Bennett unit performance metrics? (i.e., admissions, enrollment, fundraising, etc.)
● Balance sheet
● Assets evaluation
VISIONARY LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE – HOW MUST THE BOARD AND LEADERSHIP AT BENNETT COLLEGE BE RESTRUCTURED AND/OR REORIENTED TO DELIVER THE SKILLS AND NETWORKS NECESSARY FOR THE CAMPUS TO THRIVE?
● Aspirational board analysis
● Aspirational institutional leadership analysis
● Literature review
● Expert interviews (BRC and external)
STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS – WHAT IS THE COMPELLING VISION FOR BENNETT, AND HOW WILL THE VISION BE COMMUNICATED TO KEY STAKEHOLDERS?
● Strategic plan
● Strategic planning survey
● Institutional Profile
● Other documents indicating the brand promise and unique value proposition
● Communication plan
The Exert 360 Facilitation Team and leadership recognized the importance of capturing the voices of key stakeholders including students, parents, alumnae, faculty, staff, donors, and others. Thus, the facilitation team conducted stakeholder surveys and high-impact focus groups. The team also synthesized vital data provided by Bennett College administrators, in multiple domains including students, faculty, and staff demographics, academic and financial statistics, and other areas. Over 500 Stakeholders were engaged in the BRC process utilizing:
- Website BennettBRC.com: Used to share updates from the BRC (surveys, focus groups, news, timelines, member profiles, etc.) with all stakeholders.
- Twitter @BRC_Voice: News and focus group recruiting
- Bennett College: Stakeholder email blasts, posted flyers, and info via Bennett.edu
Facilitators delivered focus group findings, survey results, and other research materials to relevant subcommittees from April – July, facilitated the work of the 4 subcommittees, and kept the full group abreast of progress through weekly reports, in-person meetings, and video conference calls.
The BRC delivered the first set of recommendations to the Trustees on June 21. Those recommendations focused on items requiring immediate attention before the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year.
The BRC delivered its final assessment to the Board and President on August 2.
Final report and recommendations to position the College for long term success were hand delivered to the Board of Trustees in a meeting on September 13. Exert 360 also delivered a communications plan which included talking points for press release, media interviews, campus town-hall, and stakeholder emails.
THE FINAL REPORT IS CONFIDENTIAL BUT FOUR THEMES DOMINATED THIS 75-PAGE ASSESSMENT AND RECOMMENDATIONS. THEY WERE BENNETT COLLEGE’S NEED FOR:
- Immediate resolve to stabilize the finances and ensure accreditation and, thereafter, exercise discipline in meeting fundraising goals and adhering to spending restrictions required by the business model.
- Visionary leadership and governance able to deliver on a strategic mission and concurrent set of priorities for change.
- Innovation and tenacity to ensure enrollment growth and the success of students.
- A relentless effort to execute operational efficiencies and build the strength of the workforce at levels that offer students a high-value experience.
Exert 360 is grateful to the BRC members and numerous stakeholder participants in our surveys and focus groups, and the administrators at Bennett College who produced volumes of documents for review. We could not have
done our work without them. The road ahead for Bennett will be challenging, but we believe the College is prepared to make the necessary changes to position its students well for 21 Century realities.