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Four Ways To Manage Change In Preparation for a Major Implementation

Four Ways To Manage Change In Preparation for a Major Implementation
Major implementations require buy-in from stakeholders at all levels; following these steps will help to make the transition smooth.
Learning analytics, active learning pedagogies, MOOCs and digital content of all kinds are catalyzing educational transformation. Institutional leaders are finding that managing change is an essential skill for leveraging these transformations. Effective change management efforts depend heavily on leaderships’ abilities to create campus buy-in and consensus, and all of this must be done in the context of the already complex environments in higher education.

Simply mandating change typically doesn’t work. Decisions about how faculty teach are made at the individual or unit level, making buy-in from the people expected to use any change a critical success factor. Implementing new programs can require significant resources requiring buy-in from other stakeholder groups. Clearly, change initiatives require buy-in across the institutional community.

This article describes four key steps to create an environment for change and a community for ongoing transformation. These steps get beyond the churn of repetitive discussions and help break down the status quo, leading to consensus around the need for change. The following steps form the base layer of an iterative framework called “community-based decision-making.”

  1. Frame the Problem
  2. Form Teams
  3. Engage the Community
  4. Build Consensus

By moving through these steps across your institutional community, you will lay the groundwork for a successful implementation of change, be it new services, new infrastructure, or organizational change.

1. Frame the Problem

The first step is to build a clear, concise problem statement that describes the issues being addressed. The problem statement should use culturally understood business vocabulary and outline how the problem impacts the community. The key is to avoid naming solutions (e.g. buying a new learning management system or a specific organizational change).

During this step it is important to be sensitive to terminology and start to develop a common glossary of terms. Branding the effort or initiative can also lead to common understanding and buy-in.  Remember that this framework is iterative so you don’t have to create a perfect statement at this point. The community will help you do this as you engage them.

2. Form the Team

Who is involved and how you involve them is a critical success factor. As you initially draft a problem statement, make a list of stakeholders with an eye for key personnel to help drive your initiative forward. Use analytical techniques such as stakeholder maps to identify the level of interest and influence of each stakeholder or stakeholder group. From your analysis identify four special types of stakeholders: the executive sponsors, project manager, core team members and advisory team.

Executive sponsorship is a key component of change and needs to be someone with enough influence and interest to help achieve go/no-go decisions, especially with regard to funding.  Many grassroots initiatives get killed because they don’t engage executive support early enough.

The project manager is someone with time to dedicate to the initiative who is an enabler and communicator who can connect with all of the stakeholder groups. This person shouldn’t be the executive sponsor or function representative.

The core team is the group that does most of the work for the initiative. This should be a small group (six to eight people ideally), made up of dedicated people who bring something to the table (including good “team karma”).

The advisory team is an inclusive team that may be quite large. It may be a standing group (all of the departmental administrators, for example) or a group of self-selected individuals. This team is engaged for input and may serve as a test bed for ideas on which the core team needs input.

Many initiatives will benefit from establishing a formal governance structure that outlines the decision rights and accountability framework for your initiative.  This can be done later in the process, but is something to keep in mind. Use existing governance structures whenever appropriate.

3. Engage the Community

As your initiative starts to take form, engaging the community in an active dialog is an essential step.  Engagement is straightforward at the beginning–get your core team to review and update your problem statement, ask your executive sponsor(s) to review your stakeholder list, hold an open forum or workshop to collect input.

Communication plans will help drive engagement and will ensure that your processes are consistent. As you start to engage, remember that people react differently depending on who else is in the room. If you hold group discussions or focus groups, it is important to keep this dynamic in mind.

One of the more effective methods of engagement is the interview. Having two people (an interviewer and a note taker) interview individuals with standard open-ended questions and then write up a summary that is shared with the person who was interviewed can have powerful results.

Most importantly, listen with an open mind and reflect what you hear, in writing when possible.

4. Build Consensus

Consensus decision-making is a style of decision-making where the community is completely involved in the process. Consensus doesn’t require unanimous agreement but requires that stakeholders can live with the decision that has been made.

Consensus decision-making provides a stronger end result since stakeholders believe that their concerns have been heard and addressed.

Building consensus can start right away as you engage the community (listen, reflect, repeat) on your evolving problem statement and ask who else should be involved. Remember that building consensus on what problem you are trying to solve is much easier to achieve than consensus on a solution.

Next Steps

As you repeat these steps, you will be able to create needs requirements to address your consensus problem statement. The needs requirements will lead to the implementation of a community-driven solution.

After successful implementation, keep in mind that the four steps listed above have helped establish a new community that can be leveraged for ongoing organizational transformations. Revisiting the four steps after post-change implementation is a good way to maintain this new community.

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