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Seven principles for effective change management

Sustaining stakeholder commitment in higher education

​To improve the odds of implementing an effective change management initiative in your higher education institution, take these seven principles to heart.​

Change management in higher education

​The higher education community is under significant pressure to change—in all sorts of ways. Various change process initiatives include efforts to:

  • Become more operationally efficient and effective
  • Improve student outcomes
  • Increase access to higher education
  • Control costs
  • Recruit and retain top faculty and researchers
  • And more

Effective transformation requires an enterprise-wide approach to improve and enhance organizational models, operating processes, technology, leadership, and talent models. Yet in many cases, the organization’s resources are focused solely on the project itself and not on stakeholder commitment.

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

Seven principles for effective change management

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

Start with the end in mind.1 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.2 Find ways for the university, departments, and individuals to benefit from the envisioned changes.

Embrace relentless incrementalism to help achieve radical change.3 Starting with a bold goal in mind and taking small steps relentlessly can build organizational 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.

1 A nod to “Begin with the end in mind,” which is step two in Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

2 This is a modification of Covey’s “Think Win-Win,” the fourth habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

3 See The Organizational Challenge by John R. Curry and Susan Mehringer, as well as further elaboration by Debra E. Meyerson in “Radical Change, the Quiet Way,” which appeared in the October 2001 issue of Harvard Business Review.

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Improve your odds

Every organization—and every change management initiative—is unique. But these seven principles apply across the board, and they can improve an institution’s odds of realizing the envisioned benefits.

Download Seven principles for effective change management: Sustaining stakeholder commitment in higher education, to read the full article in PDF format.

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Related links

Our services and solutions for higher education institutions include:
ChangeScout, an organizational change management application that helps manage stakeholder relationships, align change impacts, plan interventions, and more.

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