10 mistakes to avoid in implementing a strategic internationalisation plan



There is plenty of information available on drafting a good strategic internationalisation plan (SIP). We can easily find resources on how to write one, methodologies to follow, benchmarking and inspiration from other institutions, and even consultants to come in and assist your institution in this important endeavour. But what about the implementation phase? Who can help us then?

After all the institutional effort that goes into writing an SIP, we definitely do not want to mishandle the implementation, much less leave that beautiful SIP in a drawer and forget about it or only take it out for visits or government audits. Does that by any chance sound familiar? If so, then it probably means that something is going wrong between the planning phase and the implementation phase.

So what are the most common mistakes in implementing an SIP, and how can we avoid them? We’ve put together this list of 10 of the most common dangerous assumptions and errors in thinking to look out for while implementing a strategic internationalisation plan. Don’t let one or more of them ruin your carefully crafted plan!

1) “The SIP was finally approved, so implementation will just happen by the magic touch of a wand.”

Yeah, you wish! Have you survived the process of drafting a SIP? Congratulations! Now the ‘real’ work starts and there needs to be a structure in place that will allow for the true and continuous implementation of the plan. Ready?

2) “Everything must be implemented as described in the plan, on time and with no deviations. Otherwise, it’s a failure.”

The plan is a roadmap. What happens when we’re driving and we find that one of the roads is blocked? Well… we try to find an alternative road to get to our destination. Apply the same thinking here, but don’t choose another destination just because you found a little tree blocking the way! Creativity, flexibility and problem solving will be key in the implementation phase of our plan.

3) “Those responsible for each action of the plan will obviously own the plan, so there’s no need for an overall coordinator.”

Although we may have done everything by the book, and even if most key people take ownership of the plan, everyone has his/her own priorities and work. Having a coordinator in charge of the implementation of the plan helps ensure that everyone involved is promptly reminded of the tasks for which they are responsible.

4) “The coordinator of the plan will coordinate the implementation, so there’s no need for the whole university to be included. They have other things to do.”

Indeed, everyone has things to do. But one of the benefits generated by the process of drafting the plan is the buy-in from everyone involved. If we don’t keep everyone on board, then we are giving away the most powerful of resources: our people and their commitment to internationalisation. It is common knowledge now that internationalisation needs to be an institution-wide commitment, not only the task of the international relations office. The strategic plan can therefore be a constant reminder that it is up to everyone to commit and work actively towards internationalisation.

5) “The resources planned are only a good guess. If the implementation of the plan calls for extra resources, they will be made available.”

The theory is great, but outside of Paradise, if our planning has gone astray and we ask for extra funding, the most common response is “sorry, mate!” Therefore it is actually a must to make more than a “good guess” when it comes to resources.

6) “When we reach the target set for a given objective ahead of time, that’s great! We can forget about that objective already and consider it a success.”

While reaching our goals ahead of schedule can be cause for celebration, it may only mean that we had set targets that were too low, or that environmental factors helped us reach our goal quicker than we had expected. In any case, internationalisation is an ongoing process: finding ourselves ahead of schedule should provoke discussion about whether we should set a new future target to help us stretch even further towards fulfilling our institution’s international vision.

Creativity, flexibility and problem solving will be key in the implementation phase of your plan.

7) “When we do not reach the target set, it is the fault of the strategic thinking done when the plan was written. We report on this in our final report.”

Falling short of goals can very well be due to faulty thinking during the planning phase. Nevertheless, it also serves as a moment to stop and assess the path forward. When we fail to reach a set target, we should evaluate the options, correct or adapt the target to the new circumstances or information, and continue working towards our goals.

8) “Even if the context changes, we’ll continue to follow the plan as conceived. It obviously should be implemented as approved.”

Contexts can change dramatically. Consider something like Brexit or a big economic crisis: these cannot be foreseen when we draft a plan, but there should definitely be a mechanism in place for us to be able to correct and adjust our vision and targets to the new reality, if needed. If we do not have a process in place and try to implement the plan as conceived, we may end up implementing our SIP as planned, but failing miserably in bringing internationalisation forward or coming any closer to our vision.

9) “There’s no need to communicate on the implementation of the plan to the whole institution. We’ll publish the final report on the website in due time.”

If we do so, we’re missing out on a big opportunity to gain more attention for internationalisation, the international vision, and the small or large successes reached. Ultimately, that means missing the chance to bring more people on board. If internationalisation needs to be embedded, then we need to profit from all the opportunities that we have to make it accessible, to make it seen and known and shared. Don’t you think?

10) Tell us yours!

Surely the implementation of your strategic internationalisation plan hasn’t gone perfectly. Where have you found the greatest hurdles in implementing your SIP, and what form have they taken?

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