A Strategic Transformation Guided by Purpose

June 5, 2021


I recently had the tremendous opportunity to sit down with Dr. Kathleen Williamson, President and Academic Dean of the Mount Carmel College of Nursing (MCCN), to discuss purpose, strategic transformation and how MCCN has been shaped by the pandemic. Dr. Williamson generously talks about prioritizing innovation and values and explains that letting go has become a key part of moving the organization forward. 

Embarking on a Strategic Transformation

Shortly after joining MCCN in 2018, Dr. Williamson worked with the Mount Carmel Board of Trustees to establish a strategic growth plan for the future. Dr. Williamson explained that while the goal was advancement, the work was deeply rooted in the legacy of the 118-year old college. “Our goal was to realign ourselves for sustained growth while holding tight to the mission and values on which the college was founded.”

According to Dr. Williamson, the intention wasn’t to rewrite or change the mission and values, but rather to demonstrate how they were even more relevant today. “Our mission flows into who we are and what we do everyday. We start classes and meetings with a reflection back to why we do what we do. The mission is part of our coursework and our hiring and onboarding processes. We look at everything we do through a mission-lens to make sure it aligns.”

The strategic plan, named Journey to Transformation, was about being more relevant, innovative and community-driven. “Ultimately, we decided to streamline the strategic initiatives into four areas of focus with a structured 12- to 24-month timeline. With more granular targets, our goals were more realistic and apparent.” 

Dr. Williamson went on to explain that this framework has not only become embedded into their culture, but it has also transformed the culture. “We created a roadmap for people to follow. Now, we’re speaking the same language and breaking down silos.” 

“Our focus areas are woven into everything we do and we have a scorecard to keep us accountable to our progress,” said Williamson. “We still encounter obstacles. However, now we have tools to overcome them. It’s easier to see where we can improve or become more effective.” 

Meeting the Pandemic with Innovation

Like most organizations, Mount Carmel was hit with a new set of challenges and obstacles when the pandemic hit in early 2020. According to Dr. Williamson, the team rose to the occasion. “We were facing a host of new questions: What will learning look like in this new environment? How do we best support our students, our faculty and staff, and the community? But, people stepped up and we leaned into innovation.”

“First, we paused classes, so we could work with our faculty and get them ready for remote learning. We created a Faculty Fellows Program to provide a collaborative community of faculty who addressed teaching, learning, and use of technology through mentoring to aid in the implementation of teaching and learning innovations. By combining ideas, evidence, and an innovative spirit with expertise in academic thought, we could better apply emerging technology to teaching and learning. Further reinforcing our legacy of academic excellence in the face of rapidly changing times.”  

Dr. Williamson also shared that they put a tremendous emphasis on helping their students through the process. “We decided from the onset to refer to classes as remote learning not virtual or online learning. It was important for us to offer the same quality our students would expect if they were in the classroom.”

The staff quickly realized that supporting their students meant going beyond their learning experience. They recognized that the pandemic shifted things for everyone. “We knew our students were facing new challenges outside of the classroom and we had to step in. So, we launched a CARE team to help identify students who were struggling with their own health, the health or loss of family members, mental health or financially. Our priority was caring for our population as well as the student academic success,” said Williamson. 

From Innovation to Letting Go

“The biggest take away from 2020 was that it pushed us to innovate,” explained Williamson. “We changed the way we delivered learning. It also made us rethink the structures we had in place to support our students, faculty and staff.”

“We’ve had a real paradigm shift and it’s clear to me that we can’t go back. Yes, we can get back to teaching and learning, but what does that look like now? Some things may stay virtual, but we all crave human contact. And, it’s particularly vital on a college campus. We never want to lose our vibrancy. The student interactions, the peer connection, the learning in the hallways – these things matter.”

Like many of us, the College of Nursing is continually evaluating what worked, what didn’t and what they should carry forward. “The pandemic forced us into new ways of thinking and teaching. So, now we must force ourselves to identify what is working, what we want to keep, and most importantly, where we should let go.” 

“Letting go allows you to move on. In our case, we had to let go of how we were used to doing things and embrace new, better and more innovative ideas. Many of which are changing us for the better.”




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Karen Bailey is a brand purpose consultant and specializes in helping companies define their purpose and align their business around it. In 2017, she launched the blog, Purpose Greater Than Profit, to start a meaningful conversation about the increasingly important role of brand purpose, purposeful leadership and a better way of doing business.


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