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5 Steps to Embracing Change Management in Higher Ed

July 6, 2018

Some people view change as a huge disruption, triggered by a specific event. However, this perspective is flawed—change happens constantly. It’s a daily occurrence, whether we notice it or not.

Higher education is no exception to change. Students graduate and new ones arrive. Professors iteratively improve their research topics and learn new ways to teach their students effectively. University rankings change and campus culture shifts and evolves. As a leader in higher education, it’s vital that you embrace change management and direct those changes to benefit your institution—specifically as the changes relate to new software and technology solutions.

1. Define Your Vision

You may know which areas of your department need to change. You’ve picked a solution to purchase that will make your institution more efficient, reliable, or financially sound, but you’re not sure exactly how to implement this new software into the culture. And if committee members don’t fully adopt the software, the purchase will be a useless hit to your budget—and perhaps to your credibility.

How do you define your vision for this change? The first step is to think carefully about the current status of your college or university. Get familiar with the facts — how many full-time students are enrolled in your department? How many teachers and programs are there? Has enrollment declined or increased in the past five years? How can you use this new software to enhance enrollment numbers?

Second, think about the customers you serve. How do students and parents view your department or programs? Can the new software improve communication, efficiency or the quality of your programs? Think about how you would communicate this message with them.

Financially, how does the school stand? What spending decisions have impacted its financial status most heavily? Identify the potential ROI for the new software. Outline how this new software will help your institution or department meet its financial goals. Review Torben Rick’s Organizational Change Management Checklist to prompt additional brainstorming.

By defining your vision for the change and communicating with your team, they will understand where this new software fits within the university and see how helpful it can be. As you do your research and review cases of other institutions that have successfully adapted to change, the practical details of the picture will emerge, and you’ll be better able to define and drive the strategic change management at your institution.

2. Take Change in Small Bites

You could take weeks or months developing a long-term strategy for change across many different areas of your institution—there is definitely a place for that kind of overarching vision and strategy. However, you can’t execute your strategy without first understanding the tiny adjustments you need to make now.

When you introduce the idea of a large, sweeping change, you’re more likely to see resistance. Red flags will raise in people’s minds, and they’ll throw up mental roadblocks before you get the chance to explain your reasoning. It’s a common, human response to the word “change.”

In contrast, if you begin with a small, less invasive change, your listeners are more likely to acquiesce. Focus on software changes that aren’t about busy work, but will actually have a positive impact; keep it “impact focused vs. activity focused,” as suggested by Paula Alsher in her article “8 Trends for Next Generation Change Management.”

For example, instead of asking a department head to overhaul an entire reporting system, ask if she could work on student retention in a particular major or improve efficiencies in the application process for one program, by implementing the new software.

It’s all about establishing a precedent and starting to move step by step in a particular direction. With small changes successfully implemented, the departments of your institution will be more likely to trust you when you suggest larger adjustments.

3. Acknowledge Past Failures in Change Management

Did you know that research from McKinsey and Company reveals that 70% of all change initiatives fail? That’s a scary statistic.

According to Forbes, one of the major reasons for failure is “change battle fatigue.” The people involved in the change have seen one too many unsuccessful change initiatives, and they simply don’t believe that yours will be any different.

Your fellow administrators, your faculty and staff, and your students and parents may remember previous transformation efforts that failed miserably because of poor planning or ineffective leadership. They might be afraid that they’ll put in all the hard work, only to find out that the change is far from effective—worrying that it might become a colossal flop.

Meet that fear head-on. Face it, and acknowledge it, and let everyone at your institution of higher education know what went wrong. They need to understand that you see the problem and that you’re handling things differently.

According to Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ, 45% of survey respondents said that their leaders never or rarely shared information about the challenges facing their organization. You can eliminate your institution from that negative statistic! Clear, transparent communication is key to rebuilding trust, overcoming cynicism, and enacting lasting change.

4. Back Up Your Change Management Efforts with Proof

Another way to combat cynicism and “change battle fatigue” is with the truth. Remember, you’re talking to a blend of highly intelligent educators and business professionals. They’ll adopt decisions that are backed by a good set of facts and figures, so share the proof!

Looking for quality sources of information? Check out sources such as Deloitte’s 2018 Higher Education Industry Outlook or the rundown of 2018 trends in higher educationfrom Inside Higher Ed. The New York Times, Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), and The Guardian all have excellent data and information which you can access and show to associates at your institution. You can find qualitative information like the following suggestion from Inside Higher Ed:

“Use market research to understand what distinguishes your institution and drives student choice. Pursue new and diverse student populations, but be sure you have the campus supports to retain them and help them succeed.” –

You can also find quantitative data like the following graph, pulled from a study by Helene Moran and Jane Powell found on

Once you have the statistics and information to back up your proposal for change, spread those facts among the people that need to hear them. Think about how you share the message; perhaps you send an email to some and create a whole presentation for others. However you do it, make sure you share the facts and figures.

5. Give Credit to Change Champions

Remember those bite-sized changes you’re initiating? As those changes are implemented successfully, make sure you give full credit to those who act on your ideas. Who set the changes in motion? Who made sure that the practical aspects of the changes were handled appropriately? Who noticed problems along the way and corrected them, ensuring success? Give credit to those people individually and publicly.

Rather than recognizing the change-makers as a whole team or a department, make an effort to find out who put in the work, and praise those people by name. Be specific about how the changes they affected have impacted your organization for good. If you have the budget for it, you could even incentivize your change management process, rewarding those who put in the extra effort.

Kuali is familiar with the activities surrounding change in higher education. We’ve seen the coordination needed to implement a new software, like Kuali. We’ve also seen some amazing benefits of implementing new tools . Whether you’re seeking to simplify student administration, manage finances more effectively, increase organizational preparedness, or improve research capabilities, you’ll find a streamlined solution with Kuali software. Kuali simplifies higher education processes with thoughtfully designed open source software, delivered from the cloud. To schedule a demo, contact Kuali today and begin mapping the changes that can take your institution to the next level of success.

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