Leadership in Transition: A Strategic Planning Process Case Study of Knoxville Zoo

Knoxville Zoo Tennessee


Changes in leadership at the very highest levels of any organization have the potential to be tumultuous. All transitions are challenging, but the arrival of a new executive tends to bring about shifts in the very core of the organizational identity.

Of course, the goal for such changes is always growth and improvement. When Lisa New was promoted to the position of Executive Director, it was clear she had big plans for Knoxville Zoo.


She wasted no time. Shortly after her arrival, Zoo Advisors and GLMV Architects were engaged to create a strategic plan and site concepts that would guide the Zoo through the upcoming years with the goal of reinvigorating the facility. With over two decades of service to the Zoo as Senior Director of Animal Collections and Conservation, Lisa came into her new role with a clearly defined vision. With the benefit of our experience on the business and planning side, Zoo Advisors was able to provide her with the service and support she needed the make that vision a reality. And Lisa’s commitment to engaging her staff and volunteers in the planning effort fit right in with our belief in creating an inclusive process—one in which all voices are heard.

Our work began with the full agreement among all stakeholders that the new strategic plan would be guided by values created and embraced by the Zoo team.  Working together, Lisa and Zoo Advisors created an online survey that reached across all departments to learn what core values best represented the culture of the Knoxville Zoo. The survey helped the Zoo team identify those values that would shape their future, values that undeniably reflected the personality and warmth of the Zoo. 


Here’s what the team came up with:

  • Care for our zoo, animals, and people. (Care)
  • Embrace diversity. Respect uniqueness. (Respect)
  • Create memories. Be a day maker. Initiate the unforgettable. (Serve)
  • Do what is right. Be honest, trustworthy, and fair. (Integrity)
  • Pursue growth and learning. Spark curiosity. Share your passion; it’s contagious. (Education)
  • Seek humor, fun, and fulfillment. We bring fun to our work and our guests. (Fun)

While we created a solid and ambitious strategic plan, along with a well defined mission and bold vision, it’s the process—and the product—of their core values development that really set this project apart for us. 

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