Innovative Team, Innovative Institution: Unleashing Human Capital to Support IT AgilityRob Thompson | Director of Academic and Core Applications, Wayne State University
Having a culture of agility is particularly difficult in higher education. Many higher education institutions are large, have a strong sense of identity and have long histories that are steeped in tradition. The day-to-day workflows, tasks, processes and procedures that make them tick are intertwined within their culture, and are hard to change.
These issues are especially pronounced when it comes to effectively adopting and deploying rapid changes in information technology. The IT arms of higher education institutions need to fully embrace, adopt, and take advantage of new technologies when they arise. However, these same teams can be disenfranchised by an institutional desire to protect its culture and resist change. If there happens to be willingness to accept change, it is often toward slow adaptation, as opposed to rapid innovation.
In my experience, there are a few things that can help IT teams innovate, build confidence in their customers, and to encourage their institutions to more readily accept change.
1. Challenge staff to innovate internally
It may be tempting to embrace the idea that all technologies needed by higher education currently exist, and are all readily available for a good or fair price on the free market. I’ve found this often is a false assumption. Allow your teams to innovate, develop and be thought leaders.
Ask for justification regarding return on investment and costs too. You might find that the challenge to innovate internally motivates your staff in new ways, and also in ways that produce results that out-perform other solutions. These efforts ultimately contribute to team building and retention of agile teams.
2. Promote and communicate strategic priorities
Encourage senior campus leadership to develop strategic plans that are aligned with the institution’s goals, and clearly translate those plans into actionable ideas.
All too often, teams that lack agility are hamstrung by middle management who cannot effectively translate strategic initiatives into actionable projects. A clear direction, but without a prescription, will foster an environment to innovate and grow.
3. Break down silos and build diverse teams
IT organizations can often be organized into silos of like-minded people. The best teams have members from a wide array of departments that encourage and challenge each other in new ways. Invite diversity into your teams, and they will produce better and broader ideas.
4. Thank your teams for their investment, and reward successes
It’s simple to do, but all-too-often overlooked. Recognize the investments your teams make in innovation and thought leadership. Broadcast true success stories throughout the campus, and attribute them to your teams.
5. Use KPIs and metrics to measure change
To ensure progress toward strategic goals, there are no more effective tools than metrics and KPIs. Metrics and KPIs give teams a reliable and consistent method to measure progress toward goals, and to tweak strategy. They also act as proof of success, which builds confidence in change, and a team’s ability to execute change. If KPIs don’t show success, they enable quick changes in strategy.
Author Perspective: Administrator