Weathering the Storm: Leveraging Design Thinking and Human-Centered Change Management PracticesShaun Sutherell | Director of Noncredit Professional Programs in Professional and Continuing Studies, University of Delaware
Change is inevitable, especially within the continuing education unit of a university. Design thinking and human centered-change management practices are essential to successfully navigating through periods of significant transformation. Accordingly, it is imperative that we embrace change and never get complacent with our program offerings or how we do what we do.
Continuing education and online divisions need to be entrepreneurial, agile and adaptable in order to create programming that the market wants and needs. To be effective in this shifting landscape, it’s critical to be conscious of what it takes to maintain an innovative and flexible environment.
Design thinking and human-centered change management will help bring about new levels of success for CE departments and students. The most crucial piece for administrators is to be a champion for change. It starts at the top, with leadership. Without that embrace, there will be no buy-in. By taking a human-centered approach that focuses on staff, leaders can actively involve them in the process, give them a voice and create a sense of urgency.
Design thinking is predicated on empathy. Having that understanding or affinity for each person not only helps give perspective; it also builds capacity. This is an important practice that any leader should adopt if they want to become more effective and efficient in their roles. A human-centered approach is paramount when undergoing a period of significant transformation, which can be unnerving to many. By starting with empathy, leaders can show a clear appreciation for each person and role, and understand how a change will affect staff members. From a high level, it’s easy to presume how a change will filter down and touch each individual. However, it may be a totally different situation on the ground. Empathy helps to define the scope of a problem, give a clearer perspective, and tailor action steps to achieve a suitable solution.
Over the past year, the University of Delaware’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies has made some significant changes. We implemented several new systems that changed how we did business and how we’re perceived by students and partners. Moving away from homegrown databases that were customized to our every whim was a considerable challenge. We were disrupting existing processes, deserting comfort for the unknown. Early on, the head of marketing and I made a pact that we would be champions for this cause. It was also very important for us to implement the new systems on time. We earned buy-in from our staff by involving them in each step. They took ownership of the project. The go-live date was a really big deal for our unit. By taking a human-centered approach, we accomplished that task successfully and on time. It never would have happened without the staff’s buy-in.
It’s important for leaders to be able to take ideas and brainstorm new approaches. This is also a key attribute of design thinking: Seek first to understand. The pathway to resolution will often take twists and turns, going in unforeseen directions. The ideation phase—brainstorming solutions and different approaches—is a valuable way of bringing key stakeholders into the process. They become a part of the solution, which is much more meaningful.
The saying “hurry up and wait” can be applied to many areas within a university. Change is often subtle, or drawn out over a long period of time. However, it rarely applies to continuing education departments and colleges. To maintain success, change must be embraced and complacency rejected. Be at the forefront of new ideas; be the change-maker. A design thinking and human-centered approach can help accomplish this. It is about fostering ideas, defining the problems, challenging assumptions, testing hypotheses, and finding solutions. It’s also an extremely effective way to help an organization through a period of significant transformation.
Author Perspective: Administrator