Oct 12 2016

On Campus, Change is Constant, and That’s Good

The transformation of higher education through technology opens up new vistas and new opportunities.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is generally credited with the observation (prescient for his time) that the only constant is change. Anyone who works in higher education IT will likely agree that this adage has never been truer.

At Rutgers University’s Center for Organizational Development and Leadership, Brent Ruben and Ralph Gigliotti are experts in best practices for change management. They offer higher education leaders a five-stage model for helping teams navigate transitions: planning, leadership, communication, culture and assessment.

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Every stage matters, but I believe culture may matter most. It’s also surprisingly easy to overlook. Ruben and Gigliotti define culture as “the organization’s language, history, norms, rules and traditions that may influence the dynamics of change.” In any community, these are the factors that shape individuals’ day-to-day experiences, perceptions and expectations. Tuned-in leaders craft strategies that take culture into account; out-of-touch leaders fail to do so, and as a result they risk sabotaging new initiatives.

Culture is both significant and nuanced. In Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey of 7,000 human resources and business leaders, 87 percent deem culture important. Yet only 28 percent say they understand their own organizational cultures, and only 19 percent say their cultures are on the right track.

Given that dichotomy, how should IT leaders guide this critical aspect of change? The answer, I believe, is decidedly low-tech: communicate. Management consultant Paul Goyette sees a role for communication throughout the change process, from sharing the reasoning behind certain initiatives to providing frequent updates.

According to Goyette, leadership is often the make-or-break factor in project success: “If you fail to properly manage the process, the impact will be mostly negative. Manage it well, and you can build excitement and support for your change initiatives.”

There’s no doubt that Heraclitus was right: Change is afoot, and that’s a sign of good health. It’s the best way to ward off the stagnation and complacency that hamper progress. So let’s welcome the changes to our industry in the years to come — there are sure to be plenty of them.


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