Alignment across an organisation is key to enabling broad achievement of purpose when trying to set off on new paths and do something really distinctive.
One of the key ways in which culture impacts organisational performance is by allowing strategy to be achieved collectively through the aligned activities of the many.
Most of the impactful achievements by organisations can be likened to sustained journeys by communities of people that are thriving together. The Arizona State University (ASU) story over 20 years is very much one of everyone being aligned to a charter of making high quality higher education accessible to all, on the foundations of user-inspired research, in a setting that that serves real community purposes.
Two of the distinguishing features of the ASU charter are: the commitment to supporting all students that are included to succeed, and being an organisation founded not on bureaucratic systems but enterprise in research and learning and engagement.
A distinguishing characteristic of the journey to achieving this charter is accepting that the journey can not be made alone, but requires partnering with other innovative organisations, particularly in technology
ASU has plotted the eco-system of the more than 140 partners it has in its EdTech developments and how each of those partnerships are aligned with the ASU mission, purpose and strategy as determined by its charter. ASU is also notable in thinking beyond short-term and discrete financial returns to perceiving revenue as a means to an end to achieve strategic purpose
A notable recent step in the ASU journey to achieve this has been by thinking beyond the boundaries of the university and its programs and working with global university partners in taking the ASU charter to the world.
As an investing partner, ASU has initiated Cintana Education as a company that is rethinking the business model and operating principles of transnational education. It has done so by setting up local delivery vehicles in developing countries that share the ASU values and leverage its curriculum and knowledge base.
Cintana and ASU have the goal of establishing 50 partner universities around the world, adding 5-8 per year over 5 years to those already established. All collaborations are aligned with the ASU mission of increasing the access to high quality higher education underpinned by user-inspired research that is of use to its local community
When you explore the ASU story, with members of its teams that are either recently joined or have been on the journey from the start, there is a common language, narrative and sense of belief.
The classic example of how broad-based commitment to a mission by all people in an organisation at all levels comes with John F Kennedy’s commitment in 1961 to send a man to the moon in the 1960s.
This was classically played back to him by the janitor Kennedy met in a visit to the NASA Space Center in 1962 who told him “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr President” in response to being asked what he was doing.
I am not sure there are many global universities that would be able to demonstrate such aligned and shared commitment to a university purpose and mission articulated by its President. There is a strong sense that would be the case at ASU.
The narrative of many among academic staff in universities would more likely to be about their own research and work, their discipline, or the projects they are working on than the broader university strategic plan.
One challenge to a more prominent and more broadly understood, supported and aligned commitment to purpose comes from the tendency for strategies, brand positions and missions to be revised, restated and reinterpreted with the next new Vice Chancellor, Dean or Head of School.
The work of a university is not the same as the explorations of a space agency but the ability for global education to serve societal needs and purpose is profound and can call for inspiring leadership and leaders with bold visions and strategies.
There are many global universities that appear to limit their ambition and vision to serving local needs, in ways that are all very similar to each other. The ASU story, and its extension to global partnerships through the vehicle of Cintana Education, is a rarity. In many ways, it is made possible by such a bold and inspiring leader as President Michael Crow now having been at the helm of the ASU journey for 20 years.
But is also comes from broad support for, commitment to, and articulation of a shared purpose from all in the organisation aligned to the narrative. It is alignment that arises through the shared journey they are all taking together. It is a journey and a story that has become known and admired on a global stage. And through the vehicle of Cintana Education it is now being extended into a global enterprise, through a new model of transnational education, which offers genuine potential for the charter to reach a global destination.
The countries in which Cintana is currently partnering to deliver the ASU values to global educational needs include Costa Rica, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, India, Indonesia and Philippines. The countries that are currently in line to be the next step of this journey include El Salvador, Peru, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and others. The presence of Ukraine among these global partners through the American University of Kyiv illustrate just how significant and impactful this global venture currently is and how important its mission is to societal needs.
First published in Campus Review on 3rd August 2022
Emeritus Professor Martin Betts, Co-Founder of HEDx
Rick Shangraw, President of Cintana Education