The Preemptive College (Part 1) – Externally Focused

The Preemptive College

In an earlier blog I introduced the concept of The Preemptive College. My research suggests that this is a framework that colleges and universities can use to out-perform their competition. When each of the four quadrants are applied, these institutions are able to preempt their competitors and take advantage of new and emerging opportunities.

Framework for The Preemptive College (cc) - Kent D. MacDonald

The Preemptive College (cc) Kent D. MacDonald

There are four critical traits that form the framework around which institutions can be considered Preemptive. The first trait is to be Externally Focused.

Externally Focused: Preemptive Colleges are externally focused. They build relationships in the community to help achieve both mission and margin. They have a bias to cast their view outwards to collect insight that would not be obvious otherwise. Externally focused organizations have three broad areas of practice. These are: Managed by Mission, Organizational Relationships and Analytics for Trends and Insights. Each are explored below.

Managed by Mission

Many colleges and universities communicate what they do. Some others are even able to advise how they do their work. Yet Preemptive Colleges know why they exist and clearly understand organizational mission. Staff and faculty know the institution’s purpose and there is a belief in the broader perspective. As an example, in terms of colleges and universities, there is often a sense that they exist to change people’s lives.

The Golden Circle

Sinon Sinek’s The Golden Circle

Simon Sinek reflects the need to focus on purpose in his interesting book Start With Why. In the book he presents what he calls, The Golden Circle, which explains why some people and organizations are more innovative and influential. These organizations build loyalty and repeat their success. His thoughts are reflected in this TED Talk.

More grounded in theory are the writings of University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Matt Hartley. The importance of mission is reflected in several chapters in his book, To Serve a Larger Purpose. Beyond understanding what they do or how they do it, Preemptive Colleges understand why they do their work and why they exist. This drives institutional behaviours and priorities.

Organizational Relationships

Externally focused organizations are deeply connected to their communities. These organizations offer services that allow them to connect with those they were meant to serve. Within colleges and universities, these connections go well beyond academic programming. They open their doors to individuals and other organizations, bringing them onto campus to gather insights and enhance their overall reputation.

The desire to build organizational relationships also extends to government organizations. My own research indicates high performing colleges make the effort to establish deep relationships with public leaders. At times they rely on political supporters, yet these individuals are often viewed as fickle. Better yet, they connect with government workers and senior officials so that each is aware of the others’ needs. They build relationships with government leaders and view them as real partners.

Analytics for Trends and Insights

Ever since Barnard (1938) suggested decision-making was one The Functions of the Executiveof the key functions of leadership, the desire to understand and make better decisions have been a highly desired quest. Preemptive institutions understand the impact that business intelligence data and analytics can bring to institutional performance. In a study of nearly 400 organizations, high performing firms were compared to that of low performers. In that review, Davenport and Harris reported, “The majority of high-performing businesses strategically apply analytics in their daily operations”.

Data is also collected within the firm. Preemptive organizations see value in asking their staff for their perspective and opinion. It is with this insight that they can get a sense of what needs to be done to support these employees. Management is not afraid of knowing both the good and the bad of how things are being managed. This information informs management and the results provide insight as to what needs to be done to better serve the employees of the firm.


Externally focused organizations are grounded in mission and look outward to observe trends and build relationships. This outward-looking disposition helps preemptive colleges and universities react faster to the market, take advantage of opportunities and better serve the needs of their students and broader community. It is one of the four necessary traits to be a high performing institution and qualify as a Preemptive College.


Note: Next up will be a review of the second quadrant, Trust Oriented.


About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
This entry was posted in Leadership and Higher Education. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s