Discover key insights for managing organizational change
Whether or not you agree with the saying “change is good,” change is inevitable. Staff turnover can be a quick way to torpedo any fledgling new project, initiative, or program – especially when the senior administrator who spurred institutional buy-in suddenly leaves for a new position. In a recent CUPA-HR survey on higher ed employee retention, 57% of participants said they were likely to leave their job in the next 12 months. And even when the change is welcome and will ultimately have a positive impact on your role and/or your organization, the short-term reality of implementing new processes and incorporating new people can feel daunting and difficult.
After you’ve taken a deep breath, it’s time to recalibrate and focus on righting your ship on these shifting seas. We have some tips to help you manage all types of organizational change.
1. Assure buy-in from new leadership
Taking on a leadership role is a delicate balancing act. While new appointees are getting familiar with ongoing work, they’re also looking to make their own mark on upcoming projects. When an initiative is just gathering steam, getting an endorsement from a new senior leader can be make-or-break. It’s often up to the program’s head to make a case for why it should continue.
Demonstrating strong outcomes is one of the best ways to make a good first impression and court executive buy-in. “The communication around specific outcomes, the communication around what we believe to be the positive benefits, is really important,” said John Grant, Dean of Student Development at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Grant speaks from personal experience – executive support paved the way for the new student coaching program he was leading to become a core part of the college culture, ultimately expanding to multiple teams across the institution. Having the vice president of student services state that it was “an expectation, not only for our current staff but for any new hires” was also key in maintaining momentum around the project.
The initiative was groundbreaking in terms of elevating student outcomes and empowering every student-facing team member to support student success. But when Grant presented the initiative to executive leaders, what he emphasized was continuity. Grant recalled, “Most important was helping to paint a picture for our executive leadership of how this work aligns with the other strategic interventions we do at the college. It doesn’t necessarily seem like one more thing, but really enhances the work we’re already doing.”
Hitching your initiative to institutional priorities can also be an effective way to give that initiative staying power. Being able to paint a picture with guiding documents that detail the history and context of the program and how it aligns with the institution’s strategic plan can keep things on track even when personnel are in flux. What’s more, with documents that illustrate the program’s evolution as it comes to fruition, you’re also able to showcase the team’s successes. In short, a program with foundation, goals and strategy provides grounding and clarity, even if new leadership wasn’t around during the inception or implementation.
2. Stem staff attrition and find strong replacements
Continuity, stability, strong outcomes — when a student success initiative can demonstrate all three, it has a better chance of taking root and transforming institutional culture. And as program leaders know, it takes a dedicated and skilled staff who have committed themselves to the difficult work of professional development to make it all come together. So what happens when turnover strikes your team just as it’s getting off the ground?“
It can feel like your investment walks out the door every time someone leaves,” said Kristin Gurrola, an InsideTrack strategic partnership director who’s partnered with many institutions during times of change. When new folks arrive to fill those vacancies, they’ll need to learn a role that’s new to them and, in many ways, new to the school. That’s why, Gurrola continued, “our focus is on sustainability. At the staff level, that becomes a conversation about how to maintain quality and sustain training.”
Quality work often begins with the hiring process. Careful hiring decisions are especially important when a new student success initiative depends on learning a new student support methodology. The advantage of hiring new staff after an initiative has kicked off is that you know what you’re looking for.Beyond understanding specific duties, hiring for an ongoing initiative helps you find staff who are committed to project goals from the start.
“I’m a firm believer that hiring is one of the most important things we do,” Grant said. “We’re bringing people into this culture who are aligned with not only what we do but also the way we want to do it.”But commitment and willingness can only achieve so much. To make sure that good intentions turn into good results, training should take place early and often.
3. Never underestimate the power of training
To keep everyone rowing together as colleagues come and go, schools can use a training “boot camp” to bring the new people up to speed. Retreats and meetings held throughout the year help to remind and center everyone on long-term vision and goals. They also serve to emphasize the scope and seriousness of the initiatives in progress. Remember, executive leaders aren’t the only ones who need to hear the message. Think of the strategic plan as your compass — the always-there tool that guides you and your team throughout the process.
There’s another true north that can guide staff training: the student experience. Staff can easily get discouraged when learning a new methodology, especially if it’s in stark contrast to what they did before. To keep frustrated staff engaged, Grant compares the staff learning curve with a student’s educational journey. “We talk a lot about persistence for our students. And then as staff sometimes we’ll start a project and not persist in it. To me, it’s an analogy that is helpful to think about answering why, when things get difficult, we should continue in this work,” Grant explained.
Aware of the importance of training, North Central Texas College (NCTC) partnered with InsideTrack to take their training wide in order to expand the focus of their student support. According to Bekah Sanchez, Student Services Grant Manager at NCTC, “Our goal evolved into, ‘Let’s create a coaching culture throughout the institution. How do we do that? What does that look like? And how do we take what we’ve learned from InsideTrack and adapt it to all the different roles?’” Training was successfully developed and tailored for everyone with a student-facing position at the college.
And thanks to the training, these staff, faculty and executive leaders gained a better understanding of how best to support students in their roles within the institution. Wanting to expand training even further, NCTC created monthly training sessions specific to leadership roles — even for folks who weren’t student-facing. This allowed NCTC to further develop the overall coaching culture, which translates into a better student experience – one of their top institutional priorities.
4. Partner for sustainable success
Even as these leaders experienced institutional change, they each had the support of an external partner providing built-in stability. For institutions facing similar situations, a partner’s support can encompass everything from program development to providing on-the-ground resources and strategizing to achieve impact.
Beyond tactical support, one of the key ways a partner can support an initiative’s longevity is by ensuring that all stakeholders recognize its value and impact. “We can help our partners explain in a compelling way what the initiative has achieved. We make sure they’re equipped to keep the conversation going,” said Gurrola.At Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, working with InsideTrack enabled Grant to expand the scope of the initiative from one department to six different student-facing teams. “We continued to push InsideTrack to think of other ways we can build momentum. That kind of commitment and flexibility was crucial in helping us think creatively and innovatively about how we could get the most impact out of this strategy,” Grant said.
For NCTC, they’re taking what they’ve learned through the partnership one step further. “Now, we’re expanding coaching into our work with business partners and asking, ‘How do we have coaching conversations with businesses rather than going to companies and giving them a list of what we can offer them?’ A coaching approach will provide both of us with a better understanding of the roles and goals of one another,” Sanchez explained. “It’s one thing to work on a project or two with a business… what we are looking for are long-term partnerships that are meaningful for both of us, because that’s when our students win.”