In the last week, I’ve heard change in higher education referred to in the following ways:
- herding cats
- navigating an ocean liner
- linking independent systems
None of these descriptions strike me as nimble, agile, or quick. I think those of us who have been leaders in higher education for any length of time would agree that change tends to be a complex and deliberate process. Major change rarely happens quickly.
When leading change, part of assessing the current state is understanding the historical context in which the change is occurring. In An Essay on the Nature of Change in American Higher Education Arthur Levine described how our society is changing a from “a national, analog, industrial economy” to “a global, digital, information economy.” He compared this to the historical change from an agrarian to an industrial economy. During that change, some institutions were able to remake themselves, new types of institutions emerged, and some old ways of learning dropped away. A similar process is happening now.
Levin stated that change in higher education happens gradually, as new methods are tried and either modified, adopted, or failed. The process takes time, but what emerges is “the higher education system necessary to serve the evolved society.”
I believe that MnSCU can plan an important role in meeting Minnesota’s emerging social needs. Efforts such as Charting the Future will help us identify what that role will look like. It will require that we remake some of our systems, create new ones, and let go of things that no longer serve our needs. What lessons can we learn from the history of higher education and of your institution to help us in this process?
Dee Anne Bonebright
As I watched the Sochi Olympics I was reminded of the importance of a good start. Races are not won at the start but they sure can be lost by a poor start. The same holds true for leading change. I have been called in to help leaders who are struggling with a change initiative and what we often discover is that they are focusing their energy on the wrong issue. They are training their people when what is needed is clear communication, or they are holding team meetings and exploring cultural issues instead of clearly defining short-term goals.
As a leader you are busy and need to put your energy into the right place to get a strong start to your change initiative. A change readiness assessment can help you create a clear picture of your current state and start you and your team moving towards your desired future state. Change readiness measures the technical and cultural factors that influence the speed and sustainability of any change implementation. Once you understand more about your current state of change readiness you can be more strategic using the elements of successful change. (see our post describing the elements here)
To help you get your change off to a strong start I want to share two resources that I have used during change initiatives. The first one provides a broad view of both the technical and cultural components of change readiness. It was created by Procsi Inc. (click here to open resource in a new window) and is based on their ADKAR model of change. The second assessment is by William Bridges & Associates (click here to open resource in a new window). The Bridges change readiness assessment highlights the cultural side of change and helps identify what your people need to get to the start line of the change and where you need to focus your change management actions.
What you learn about the change readiness of your people and your organization will help you utilize the overall elements of successful change and get a clean fast start.
“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” — Henry Kissinger
For change leaders, this quote from Kissinger rings true. But what gets in the way of getting people to move from the current state to a desired future state where they have not been before? Sometimes, it can be the very culture of the organization that gets in the way. Those organizational values that are held dear: like academic freedom or autonomy might be threatened. Or it can just be just the “way we get things done around here” that pose an obstacle and create resistance.
In fact, Peter Drucker once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, even the most elegant strategies will fail if a leader is not paying attention to the organization’s culture, those behaviors, attitudes, and values that are enacted each and every day. When assessing both current and future states, it is very helpful to add a culture assessment to your toolkit. Here is a one-page culture assessment, adapted by Dan Olson for the Star Collaborative from The New Leader’s 100-day Action Plan: An On-Boarding Process for Leaders at Every Level.
- Identify the new desired culture you are trying to create
- Evaluate the current culture (behaviors, attitudes, values)
- Detail what changes need to be made to move from current to new
- Identify key individuals’ roles in change (block it, watch it, help it, make it happen)
- Determine effective ways to move stakeholders to appropriate level of support
- Detail what changes need to be made to move from current to new
One of the frustrating facts about leading change is that it won’t work unless we are first willing to lead ourselves into the change. In his book, Deep Change, Robert Quinn said that we are all potential change agents, but the current pace of change can cause some people to become overwhelmed, slipping into the role of powerless victim or passive observer.
Successful organizational change begins at the individual level. People need to reevaluate their core values, their goals, and the methods they use to accomplish them. They need to be willing to take risks and face the possibility of failure. Quinn calls this an “organic” view of empowerment for ourselves and others.
Some leaders think of empowerment in terms of clarity of vision, delegation, and accountability. Steps include developing a clear vision, moving decision making to the appropriate level, and encouraging process improvement. These are all important activities, but Quinn believed that they will lead to incremental improvement rather than deep systemic change. Deep change requires empowerment in which leaders:
- Start with the needs of people
- Model integrity through risk taking
- Build credibility through small wins
- Encourage initiative
- Build teamwork
Quinn’s final point is that we cannot empower people. As leaders, we can only create an environment where people can empower themselves. He ended with this challenging statement:
We all would like to be more empowered. But few of us, when shown what is really involved in becoming empowered, want to pay the price. Ultimately, each of us has exactly as much power as we really want.
I’ll leave you with four questions that Quinn proposed to help us empower ourselves and others to become fully involved and engaged in deep change.
- How can I increase my own sense of meaning and task-alignment?
- How can I increase my own sense of impact, influence, and power?
- How can I increase my own sense of competence and confidence to execute?
- How can I increase my own sense of self-determination and choice?
I encourage you to review this list and identify one action you can take over the next few weeks to support yourself in your efforts as a change leader.
Dee Anne Bonebright
How often does this thought run through your mind, “I thought that last change had solved our problem, I can’t believe I have to deal with it again!”
It seems like many of the changes that vex leaders are related to recurring issues that keep popping up, again and again. Does that mean we are making mistakes in our change leadership? Have the wrong solution or the wrong people on the team? I believe not! A more accurate assessment of your current state may be that you are dealing with an adaptive challenge.
Adaptive problems require a longer term change strategy to ensure success than technical problems do, as described by Dr. Ronald Heifetz in the following video. Heifitz, the founder of the Center for Public Leadership and a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Affairs, describes the differences between adaptive challenges and so-called technical problems and highlights adaptive challenges as requiring a “sustained period of disequilibrium.” The nature of adaptive challenges means that any resulting changes will evolve and shift over time and not be able to be implemented and done with. Your change management efforts will need to support “a productive zone of disturbance and discomfort” over a long period of time Dr. Ronald Heifetz video
Learning to recognize the differences between adaptive challenges and technical problems will help you as you assess your current state and develop your change strategy. It may also help you feel less stressed as “problems” resurface, like the critters in “whack a mole!”
On this President’s Day, I’m reminded of our founding fathers and the courageous act of creating and ratifying the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies were no longer a part of the British Empire, but formed a union to become a new nation. This was a bold move on the part of American leaders at the time because the declaration stated that authority to govern belonged to the people, rather than to kings, and that all people are created equal and have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Quite a revolutionary idea in those times! Every U.S. citizen should be familiar with at least this part of the Declaration, which asserted a new future for people living in the American colonies:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
This was a time of great change for the American colonies, where leaders created a new vision for the future. What new vision are you trying to achieve? Taking a page from our founding fathers, what courageous actions might you need to take to achieve that vision?
I’m a great fan of online maps and frequently request directions when I’m going to a new place. The first thing they always ask is where I’m starting from. In a similar way, choosing a successful path for the future requires that we know where we are now.
In his last post, Todd said that one of the key elements of leading change is to be able to assess the current state. That means describing where our institutions are in relation to key elements of change, and how that impacts where we want to end up.
The situational awareness worksheet we created with consultant Sarah Bridges (see our blog post of 1/29/14) can be a helpful tool. Here are some of the questions that can help you assess your current state:
- How are demographics of students, staff, and faculty changing?
- How are educational technologies changing? What are the potential impacts on teaching? On how business and student support work is done?
- What is the economic environment like? What might be the trends? What are the impacts for my work in the larger economy, or the financial environment within my institution?
- What new initiatives are being addressed at the system level? What metrics are being used to determine success?
- What are the resources required for my work? What issues will act as constraints and enablers?
- What is changing politically and in the regulatory environment that may impact our work?
- Are there alternative providers for my services and how do I compare in terms of expertise, service, quality and timeliness?
- What are the cultural aspects of the larger environment and their effect on my role (i.e., health consciousness, environmental awareness, social attitudes and values)?
These questions can drive important conversations and clarify the issues to consider as you lead institutional changes. Like a GPS device or an online map, they can help you know how to get where you are going by helping you know where you are now.
Dee Anne Bonebright