When Dr. Brendan Kelly arrived on the University of South Carolina Upstate scene to serve as chancellor, he quickly identified the need to establish an improvement mindset across the organization.

“We didn’t talk about our future. We only talked about what we were.”

During his recent presentation at Destination High Performance, Kelly described the culture and mindset of leaders as reliant on successes that went as far back as the 1960s. There was very little concern about where the university needed to go. It took a strategic plan, an organizational scorecard process, and leadership development institutes to shift his team to a focus on getting better.

“We needed something that would drive the university and that was ‘getting better.”


A first step in getting focused on the future and getting better was to finalize a strategic plan. The USC Upstate strategic plan included 3 strategic priorities:

  • Rigorous, Career Relevant, Accessible Education
  • Enhanced Quality of Life in the Upstate
  • University of Choice for Faculty, Staff, Students, Community

To maintain focus and clarity around the plan and priorities, system leaders were asked to align every agenda item to a strategic priority.


Kelly knew a solid plan for executing the strategic priorities would help leaders develop an improvement mindset and see the value in getting better. The USC Upstate team enlisted the expertise of Studer Education’s Janet Pilcher to create a structure for execution that would become the way they do business.

  1. Organizational Scorecard Process
    Janet guided the team in created an Organizational Scorecard that was rooted in the university’s new strategic plan.“We had to decide what was going to be on it…what was actually important.”The team spent time breaking down the three strategic priorities and inserting key measures that would drive success in each area.
    “We discovered that things we thought were important were no longer.”
  2. Division Scorecards
    Once the Organizational Scorecard was established, the team cascaded those goals to each division. All vice chancellors used the organization’s scorecard to create aligned goals and measures related to work in their divisions. Every goal supported the larger organizational goals but were adjusted to reflect the specific functions of their division.
  3. Leadership Development Institutes
    These sessions brought leaders together from across the university. Kelly explains that even though leaders were following the scorecard process, it was difficult for them to see how the process was informing their work. Leadership Development Institute sessions allowed them to develop a common language around practices and results and see the bigger picture.


A significant turning point in the getting better effort occurred during a Leadership Development Institute session.

“We finally had data to inform a measure on our scorecard…it said we sucked…leaders immediately questioned the data.”

Kelly described the moment in detail, including his own frustration, as he was ultimately responsible for those results. He knew he could let the team continue to stew and play the blame game or he could be the model for getting better.

He finally said to the team, “We can either blame each other or figure out how to get better.” To Kelly’s surprise, most leaders started to try to figure out what to do next. They made a conscious decision to turn failure into a pathway for the future.

After this session, the team launched additional data gathering processes. They have committed to accepting the data and doing something about it. Kelly says the team has started to see failure as an opportunity because it tells them what to do next. The voices for improvement have drowned out the voices of blame.


Now that USC Upstate leaders have adopted an improvement mindset and want to keep getting better, Kelly and the team have taken several steps to keep the momentum going.

  • The strategic plan drives everything.
  • “If it’s not aligned to the priorities, we are not doing it.”
  • The Organizational Scorecard drives every meeting. The structure offered by the scorecard process has made a valuable difference to the USC Upstate team.
  • Conversations are about improvement.
    “Strategic improvement conversation’ defines our culture, now.”

“People are interested in talking about our problems because it affords us the opportunity to get better.”

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