Published on 2014/10/30

The Simple Keys to Effective Postsecondary Change Management

The Simple Keys to Effective Postsecondary Change Management
Institutional leaders should focus on clear and supportive communication to ensure their staff are comfortable with any major changes taking place.

The following email Q&A is with Marian Burkhart, executive director of the office of technology services at the Lone Star College System. Burkhart presented at the recent EDUCAUSE conference in Orlando on the Trifecta Effect to institutional IT management, focused on bringing together the often divergent ends of governance, project management and strategic planning. She has kindly taken some time out to expand on that concept and to share her thoughts on some of the most important aspects of successful change management in the postsecondary context.

1. What are some of the biggest challenges institutional staff and leaders face when moving over to new systems and processes?

First, the obvious: communicate, communicate, communicate. Develop a comprehensive communication plan with every possible constituent in mind. At Lone Star College, we employ a “3 Cs” approach which requires at a minimum three separate communication methods to three audiences three different times on every major IT initiative.

For example, when we moved to internal seven-digit dialing we communicated the upcoming change in our monthly newsletter to all employees, we sent email blasts informing every one of the change, we printed hardcopy fliers for our adjunct faculty mailboxes, and we distributed a cheat sheet of prefixes for all of our locations to faculty and staff system wide. The day we went live we heard nothing but crickets because everyone was informed and prepared. Of course large, high-impact projects — like our 18-month rapid ERP implementation — require communication plans that are even more thorough and robust. My best advice: you can’t measure the success of your communication plan based on whether everyone is “happy” about the change. Instead, ensure that constituents know the change is coming and that they have the resources they need and the opportunity to attend training, if appropriate, for the impending change.

The second obvious challenge is managing the transition and recognizing that ALL change — even good and welcomed change — is disruptive. Again, part of managing change is solid communications, but it’s also recognizing the physical and emotional effects change has on people. When replacing a legacy system, what happens to the handful of staff who are experts in that system? They lose their identity, their status and their job security. How do you safeguard against this? On the flipside, how do you reward/retain staff who emerge as leaders on a project but must return to low-level jobs upon completion? What about the staff who cannot take the pressure, the long hours, or the ambiguity that comes with change?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in managing large-scale organizational change is to listen to my gut. Knowing whether something is right, fair and reasonable is instinctual and when we proceed according to the Golden Rule, we always hit the mark.

I’ll close with an observation that isn’t obvious and one I learned the hard way: don’t listen to consultants (sorry consultants!). They mean well, they have vast experience, but they don’t know your organization or your culture. I believe we missed a crucial opportunity to increase our employees’ confidence in themselves and their ability to weather change because we were too distracted by our consultant’s advice to focus on the “trough of disillusionment.” Our time and efforts would have been much better spent helping staff understand their ownership of the system and how to embrace it.

2. From your perspective, what are the most critical steps institutional leaders need to take in order to ensure their team transitions smoothly through change?

In equally-important order:

      1. Be a Servant Leader: Run interference, demonstrate gratitude, show up, follow the Golden Rule


      1. Vision: Clearly (and repeatedly) state the purpose, objectives and expectations you have for the project


      1. Communication: Be transparent with your team and make sure it receives information early and often


      1. Training & Tools: Make sure your staff has the training and tools they need to do their job during and after the change


      1. Empowerment: Give your team members the security and confidence they need to voice concerns, address issues and make decisions


    1. Phase It In: Use a phased approach when possible. It allows you to learn as you go and it is easier on your people

3. At the recent EDUCAUSE conference in Orlando, you discussed Lone Star’s Trifecta Effect approach to producing lasting institutional change. What must institutional leaders do to achieve this, and how does it benefit the institution?

My co-presenter, associate vice-chancellor Mario Berry, and I refer to the convergence of strategic planning, governance and project management as the “Trifecta Effect” because the strategies are self-reinforcing and amplifying.

It doesn’t matter where you begin or your organization’s level of maturity in any of the three areas, implementing something starts the maturity process. For instance, if you have a relatively informal IT decision-making process, use project management to strengthen it. Adopt a simple methodology, create templates, incorporate communication/change management plans into every major project, and then communicate to your governance group on your progress. You’ll demonstrate alignment with the organization’s mission, you’ll enhance internal communications, you’ll educate your governance group on what IT does, and you’ll improve how you manage projects over time.

After about six months, conduct a SWOT analysis of IT with your governance group and develop a two-year strategic plan. Work the plan, communicate the plan, improve your governance and project management processes and voila! You’ll find yourself rapidly maturing your institution’s approach to IT.

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Key Takeaways

  • Clear and supportive communication with stakeholders who will be impacted by any changes is critical to the success of any major implementation or transformation.
  • Staff are least ruffled by major changes when they are empowered and supported by institutional leaders who make significant changes in a phased approach (when possible).
  • The Trifecta Effect — which sees strategic planning, governance and project management come together — is critically important to maturing institutional approaches to IT change and management

Readers Comments

Terry Altman 2014/10/30 at 12:11 pm

It’s great to hear management putting their team’s experience and skills ahead of an outside consultant’s opinions and buzzwords. Nothing inspires confidence in people more than others having real faith in them.

Sandra Christensen 2014/10/30 at 1:29 pm

Approaching change from a perspective of making people prepared for it rather than attempting to make everyone happy about it sounds really healthy and productive. As they say, you’ll never please everyone.

Commenter 2014/10/30 at 2:54 pm

What on earth is a “trough of disillusionment?”

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