When Bubba Cunningham invited the athletic, academic and town communities to assemble at Carmichael Arena on Dec. 6, it was intended to celebrate the achievements of a women's soccer program that recently claimed its 21st NCAA title and is one of the foremost dynasties in the history of college sports.
It was also one of the first tangible examples of putting the new strategic plan for Carolina athletics into action. Released Wednesday, the plan is the culmination of nearly a year in development.
"The real benefit of a strategic plan is to try and get everyone on the same page and everyone speaking the same language," Cunningham said on Tuesday afternoon. "First, it lays out priorities. But it also needs to be an active, dynamic, working document. If it's not, you've wasted a lot of time and money. We need to hold ourselves accountable to what we say we're going to do."
Part of that accountability is holding true to the plan objective that states Carolina will "support student-athletes' academic goals, performance and their efforts to graduate," and will, "Recognize and celebrate individual and team academic achievements to all constituents." Noting the popularity of the traditional welcome-home celebrations after men's basketball titles, a member of the athletic department suggested a similar ceremony for any future NCAA title-winner in any sport.
Fortunately, it didn't take long to put the plan into action. As soon as the Tar Heels won the soccer championship, the ceremony on Dec. 6 was planned and designed to celebrate their achievements. It's something you can expect to see repeated when the Tar Heels claim future championships (the athletic department currently has 39 NCAA championships overall).
The staff members charged with putting together the strategic plan worked closely with Paul Friga, the lead consultant on the project and the director of Consulting Concentrations for the BSBA and MBA programs in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, where he is also an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship.
In those roles, he's consulted with Fortune 100 companies and a list of clients that includes the U.S. Navy, Microsoft and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Friga thinks the new strategic plan was designed efficiently enough to make it more than just a document that gets placed on the shelf and forgotten about.
"The way Carolina athletics executed the development of the plan was done the right way for it to be implemented," Friga says. "They did it methodically, with involvement throughout the organization...They have metrics that can be tracked and talked about in regular management meetings. That will continue to keep this conversation alive. A strategic plan has to become part of your regular activities and culture, or it wasn't successful."
The metrics in place to track the adherence to the plan are varied. One of the core values, service, is easily tracked by community service hours contributed by Tar Heel teams. Another core value, innovation, is more nebulous, and so Cunningham has created a new in-house program, the RISE awards, to recognize them.
"We want to recognize people doing good things," the athletic director says. "Whether that's someone who has been creative or someone who has demonstrated a great amount of commitment, we want to be able to recognize them at staff meetings or other times during the year."
Several coaches who are under contract already have bonuses in place that reward them for conference and national achievement (excellence is another stated core value); Cunningham is working to create a bonus structure for all head coaches in the department to reward them when their team wins an ACC or NCAA championship.
Today represents the culmination of many long meetings and late hours for the group tasked with formulating the strategic plan. But if it works the way they hope it will, it's also the start of a more cohesive athletic department.
"The manner in which this particular organization devoted its resources and attention, especially the top management, was best in class, and that's holding it up against very high standards," Friga says. "This wasn't a half effort or a delegated effort. This was a case study for how to do a strategic plan well."