Seven principles for effective change management

Tertiary Talk - April 2019

Change in tertiary education

The tertiary education sector is under significant pressure to change—in all sorts of ways, including:

  • Improving student outcomes
  • Giving greater emphasis to the student voice
  • Providing flexible learning models to increase access to higher education
  • Investing in technology and infrastructure
  • Recruiting and retaining top faculty and researchers; and
  • Becoming more operationally efficient and effective

These initiatives may be internally driven, or institutions may have to manage changes imposed upon them, such as the proposed vocational education sector reforms. 

Regardless, effective transformation requires an enterprise-wide approach to improve and enhance organisational performance, services, operating processes, technology, leadership, capabilities and infrastructure. Yet in many cases, the institution’s resources are focused solely on the project deliverables with limited attention to staff, students and other key stakeholders. 

The primary goal of change management (or “stakeholder management” as it’s commonly referred to in consultant-speak) is to facilitate and sustain the enthusiastic acceptance and adoption of new ways of working—strategies, technologies, and processes. But far too often, change management in higher education is given short shrift. The unfortunate result: sub-optimal outcomes.

What can polytechnics and universities do to deliver more desirable outcomes? Take these seven change management principles to heart:

Start with the end in mind. Knowing what leadership wants to achieve—and having a clear vision of how much better things will be if the contemplated initiative is successful—is key to effective alignment and core project communications.

Understand the institution’s culture. It’s critical that leaders take time to understand the institution’s existing culture before embarking on a change initiative. Any undertaking that doesn’t align with, act on, or uphold the institution’s values will likely encounter resistance.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s likely that the same information needs to be communicated in various ways—through numerous vehicles and with substantial opportunities for multidirectional dialogue—to create the critical mass of knowledge needed to make the message matter.

Walk a mile in the shoes of those whose roles will change. The employee experience should be treated the same way as the customer experience. Therefore, it’s important to understand every step of the employee’s change journey and how it could affect his or her day-to-day work.

Create win-wins and align incentives. Find ways for the institution, departments, and individuals to benefit from the envisioned changes.

Embrace relentless incrementalism to help achieve radical change. Starting with a bold goal in mind and taking small steps relentlessly can build organisational capital.

You won’t get what you don’t measure. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that leadership is aligned on the project’s vision and change management success criteria from the start.

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