5 Best Practices for Successful Change Initiatives in Higher Education

Author: Wayne Campagna, Consulting Executive, Higher Education SME

The pressure is mounting on higher-education institutions to become more affordable, higher quality, and more relevant to today’s workplace. College’s face major challenges in everything from protecting and securing critical data, to offering better learning experiences, to shifting their fundamental program offerings.

At the same time, the proliferation of technology is blowing open the door of opportunity for advancements and transformation at institutions. The only problem is where and how to start. The energy and excitement around many of the latest trends and technologies in education make it difficult to prioritize and focus. Try to do too much, and you risk confusion and resistance from staff and faculty.  Do too little, and you risk being left playing catch up with your competitors.

Prioritization and planning are only the first steps.  Choosing the right vendor or deciding on the best approach can become just as paralyzing, especially if the governance and processes surrounding those initial activities are weak or undefined. These delays and internal churn can not only have monetary impacts, but also create hesitance and uncertainty regarding the initiative required to grow your institution.

Instead of answering questions about “how” will we accomplish our objectives, you end up answering questions around whether a given change initiative will really happen. Suggestions that institutions must be more “business-like” can make an academic leader’s skin crawl; however, lessons learned and best practices from other industries provide valuable tactics and tools that can be leveraged to successfully navigate change while maintaining a university’s academic DNA and mission.

The shiny new technology or tool will always be enticing, but ensuring your organization is set up for success first can make the difference between successful change and projects that go over budget, past deadlines or off strategy. How can you best prepare and plan for transformation?

5 Things Higher Ed Institutions Should Do for Successful Change Initiatives

1. Don’t just line up executive sponsorship, but strategically plan their involvement throughout the process. Approval of change is important, but the continual involvement and communications from the top shows everyone at your institution the importance of the initiative. Broad-based transformation requires strong leadership and alignment at the top to drive the needed change.

2. EVERYONE needs to be aware upfront. Making assumptions of stakeholders that will be impacted by a change comes back to haunt many initiatives. Even if a department doesn’t seem to be impacted, there is goodwill by making them aware and helping them understand why changes are occurring. In contrast, neglected stakeholders could pose roadblocks to success down the road and create resistance.

3. Ensure an enterprise prioritization and planning process is in place. Having an agreed-to prioritization framework defined within a planning process will help avoid “pet project” syndrome and move the organization toward data-driven decision-making. Moreover, these decisions will be visible and understood across the institution, helping your transformational initiative meet its goals while improving adoption.

4. Be organized and transparent. The urge is always there to move quickly, but extra time devoted to planning and communications in the early stage almost always saves time in the long run – mitigating the risk of project pauses, resets, backtracking or delays. Transparency throughout the change process with stakeholders can quell worries and build confidence in success.

5. Mix it up. Create flexible cross-functional teams and start them as early in the process as possible. Large transformational efforts typically involve many departments across an institution. Having a central group of varied backgrounds and with diverse skill sets provides an emblematic representation of a unified and collaborative mission.

“Vertical variation” is also important. When different levels within an institution are represented, more perspectives and viewpoints can be shared, and potential resistance points identified before they cause implementation difficulties.

Infinitive helps university leaders and constituents build consensus around university-wide goals and challenges to initiate meaningful change for higher education institutions. For more information on transformation efforts within the higher education industry, read our blog How Data and Collaboration Creates Organizational Success.

Learn more about Infinitive’s Higher Education Strategic Data Planning service.