Change Management | Feature

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Managing Major Change

This story appeared in the April 2013 digital edition of Campus Technology.

In the words of President Obama and many others who have attempted complex transformations of processes and behaviors: Change is hard. So is it any wonder that higher education has a reputation for being slow to change, when that requires getting dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people to do things differently? Whether it's learning how to exploit digital content, sustaining 2008-level cost cuts even as the student population explodes, or getting into the MOOC business, change seems endemic to higher education. Figuring out what needs to be done, actually doing it, and then getting the change to stick are three separate and giant steps forward for faculty and staff.

"When I was CIO, I quickly learned that getting new systems implemented was about 5 percent technology and 95 percent organizational change and people," observes Marilu Goodyear, former University of Kansas CIO and current director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration.

Fortunately, help is at hand. The discipline of change management, which first surfaced in the corporate world in the 1980s, has slowly made its way onto US campuses, as institutions realize that people who resist change put projects at risk. Change managers now work alongside project managers to help people learn and adopt new processes as painlessly as possible, thereby helping to ensure project success.

Campus Technology gleaned six best practices from the experts behind some of the largest, most complex change initiatives taking place in universities today.

Quick Facts
Institution City University of New York University of Kansas Miami University (OH)
Type Public Public Public
Degree enrollment 271,000 29,500 23,400
Staff and faculty full-time equivalents 37,000 5,342 4,925
Number of locations 24 campuses 5 campuses 3 campuses and 1 learning center
Change initiatives CUNYfirst, replacement of legacy campus-specific ERP applications with a common CUNY database and systems for student administration, human resources, and finance Bold Aspirations, a strategic plan that sets higher expectations for scholarship and research; Changing for Excellence, an initiative to reduce administrative costs by improving efficiency Support Services Implementation Project (SSIP), a strategic plan to generate sustainable budget savings in finance, business services, and IT services
Start 2007 2011 2011
Expected duration 7 years 10 years 2 years
External consultant/vendor Oracle/PeopleSoft Huron Consulting Group Accenture

1) Make Sure You're Ready for Change
When facing a large-scale transformation on campus, it's important to assess whether people and departments are adequately prepared for change or whether they need a few extra months in the chrysalis. The City University of New York uses a "change readiness index" developed in-house to measure each campus's readiness for new systems. The index aggregates scores from observations and surveys that measure business ownership, coordination, technical ownership, knowledge management, and leadership.

When the university embarked on CUNYfirst, a major ERP upgrade marching across all 24 campuses in the system, the core team conducted a series of community surveys in 2008, 2010, and 2012, as well as interviews to measure staff attitudes and reactions to the impending change. The goal: to size up the progress in leadership, communications, and training for implementing the new applications and business processes. Based on the results, the program team makes a determination about whether a college is ready to be put into the lineup for launch.

"The word 'readiness' is very important here," says Linda Shatzer, manager of organizational change for CUNYfirst. "We have a formality where at a point in time we actually say, 'Is this organization ready to launch a new system?'" Sometimes it's just not. For example, a specific college had fallen behind in a vital prerequisite: documenting all of its as-is business processes. Staffers needed more time to figure out how to implement new processes without losing current functionalities. As a result, that college ended up waiting eight months to be part of the next launch.

Failure to recognize a lack of readiness can result in time lost to dissent and chaos, a lesson learned by Ohio's Miami University. As part of the Support Services Implementation Project (SSIP), a cross-campus effectiveness transformation, the school planned to centralize IT operations and move to a streamlined service orientation. Initially, a consolidation of academic IT was part of the plan.

The SSIP team spent a solid five months struggling to engage with the academic area on the project. The fact was, that part of the university was undergoing its own massive changes, including reworking its majors and its graduate programs, adjusting the mix of full- and part-time faculty, and implementing a new budget model--and the changes to IT were just too much to handle.

"Adding on a change to their IT would put those other activities at risk," says Alan Ferrenberg, associate VP and deputy CIO. "When it comes down to it, those are much higher priority--closer to the core mission. Those activities have to succeed."

In hindsight, he adds, the timing was wrong. "We should have gone up front and said, 'Will you support a recommendation that leads to this kind of consolidation?'" If the answer was no, we'd have found that out at the beginning of the initiative and wouldn't have spent a lot of effort trying to build a good business case for something that really never had a chance. Once we knew what the university could accept in terms of the level of change, it got a lot smoother."

2) Practice Good Governance
Governance is integral to cultural change--both in terms of keeping a project moving and identifying issues quickly. "We're aiming for transparency in everything we do," notes Ferrenberg, "and that includes acknowledging when you've got problems."

Each of the nine IT initiatives that make up Miami's SSIP effort has a leader, with the CIO and her direct reports serving as a steering team overseeing the whole project. Ferrenberg acts as the program manager, making sure the portfolio of projects continues to move forward. On a monthly basis, the individual initiative leaders report on their accomplishments, plans for the coming months, and issues such as priority conflicts and resource constraints.

Sharing problems is a hard one for people to achieve, Ferrenberg admits. "We've got some good examples of projects where people identified problems, and they didn't really escalate them when they could have, and they turned into some significant issues that we've had to address."

As part of Miami's new governance structure, a group of managers representing every part of the IT organization was formed to prioritize planned initiatives. An unexpected benefit has been increased accountability about problems that might otherwise have remained hidden. When someone doesn't own up, "we have to make sure they're held accountable," says Ferrenberg. "The group we put together is doing a very good job of that. There are discussions that should have been taking place all along, and never really were--we're now providing that forum."

3) Train People to Accept Change
At the University of Kansas, Goodyear and her colleague Jenny Mehmedovic, assistant to the provost, were faced with two large change initiatives: Bold Aspirations, a strategic plan that sets higher expectations for scholarship and research; and Changing for Excellence, an initiative to reduce administrative costs by improving efficiency in administrative functions. In order to prepare both faculty and staff for such a massive undertaking, the pair put together a 90-minute organizational change workshop that would both guide users to prepare for change in general and help them to overcome challenges specific to their departments. Workshop content was grounded in academic research but structured to be relevant to any faculty or staff position on campus.

To help develop the workshop, Goodyear and Mehmedovic formed a "change facilitators committee," made up of faculty members who had expertise in organization change or related content and faculty or staff members who had led successful change projects. "We were looking for content-discipline skill sets but also the practical--people who were successful at getting stuff done," explains Goodyear.

The team then ran test workshops to fine-tune their approach. "We didn't just want a faculty perspective on change; we wanted to know how [approaches to change management] would fit or not in the University of Kansas culture," points out Goodyear. "We also wanted to know what KU had done well [to handle change] in the past, and what KU hadn't done so well."

For example, internally KU has a good reputation for collaborating regardless of individual rank or status. "Faculty and staff are used to working with each other," Goodyear notes, and students participate on almost every committee. "That was one of our strengths. That was great." On the other hand, she adds, "Everybody said we try to do too much with too little on too short of a time frame and that's one of the reasons we fail. So we knew that was a KU weakness."

By figuring out those characteristics up front and arming themselves with examples, they could customize the training for each audience, and "be very direct and honest with the people we were interacting with," says Goodyear.

Eventually, the pair ran the workshop 40 times and trained 800 participants on the fundamentals of change and the new initiatives faced by the campus. Now, people have a "common language to talk about and explore and understand change, and to move toward accepting the changes," says Mehmedovic. "Part of that was helping participants realize that not everyone is gung ho about change, and that's okay. Sometimes people would look around the room and realize, 'Oh, I'm not the only one who's feeling alienated right now.'"

4) Outfit a SWAT Team of Change Facilitators
At the same time they were developing their workshop, Goodyear and Mehmedovic also put together a group of 22 volunteers--both faculty and staff--who would form teams of two to provide support to each group on campus that was undergoing changes in organization, jobs, and work processes. Those facilitators were joined by one or two content experts as well--people who could provide background research--along with an administrative support person to handle meeting logistics such as reserving rooms, lining up flip charts and other equipment, and keeping meeting notes.

For each of those groups being served by the facilitation team, the facilitators would develop a process model for how the group would work: identifying the sponsor or chair; defining and getting agreement on the project mission or charge; sorting out likely power players who could influence the outcome of the change effort; and predicting the expected results. During meetings, the facilitators would serve a number of roles. "We're the person who asks all the impertinent questions if others are not asking them," explains Goodyear. The facilitators would also assist with "small group work," helping people who were struggling with specific problems.

The facilitators would also take the emotional temperature of the meetings and try to uncover sources of distress. "I would often purposefully walk out with [a dissenter], and say, 'Okay, what did you think of that meeting?'" says Goodyear. "I did a lot of one-on-one trying to understand what was going on with each person, trying to figure out where they were coming from. Then I could go back to the chair and say, 'You know, we really have a problem that we need to work on.'"

After meetings, the facilitators would also help the group sponsor reflect on what went right and wrong. "It's a lot of helping the chair think through how well the group is functioning and helping to improve each meeting, by analyzing what has happened so far," says Goodyear. "Should the chair be more aggressive about asking a person who's not participating what they think? It's really group process analysis."

5) Let People Vent
When Miami announced as part of SSIP that it would be adopting Google Apps for Education for e-mail, calendaring, and a number of other collaboration features, the web coordinator opened up a thread where faculty and staff could comment on the change. A hundred comments and responses showed up, many with a flavor similar to this: "Needless to say, I am extremely apprehensive about this move, it sounds like the decision is made, and I can't retire yet--the only solution to the madness."

"We know that we're not going to make everyone happy," says Ferrenberg. "The first step is giving people the chance to be heard. People's satisfaction with the decision goes up if they've had a chance to make their point known."

The university took the comments seriously, put effort into responding to them, and took action when appropriate. For instance, Ferrenberg notes, "A lot of the concerns with Google had to do with privacy and where the mail would be residing. When we were working on the contract with Google, we made sure those concerns were addressed."

But practically speaking, he adds, some people have more influence than others. If a faculty member whose opinion is held in high regard raised concerns, "we'd contact them offline and dig a little bit deeper into what the concerns were. They've got the ability to derail [the project] if they're not on board. And they can also sway people the other direction if they understand why we've made the decision."

Ferrenberg explains that change initiatives need to consider each person making a complaint and determine whether that person is in a position to cause trouble--otherwise known as stakeholder management. "If one of the vice presidents had some concerns, we'd know we couldn't go forward unless we had that support." To get it, he adds, "We've got to take that person aside individually and work with them. You can't always get there. But hopefully you'll get to a point where people won't resist as much."

6) Change the Lens
According to organizational communication expert Kevin Barge and others in "Managing Dualities in Planned Change Initiatives," like most really hard things in life, change has its stages: denial, judgment, acceptance, and transformation. Yet as resistant as people are, it's not impossible for them to come out the other side. In fact, one of the best techniques the Kansas team found for getting people on board was to help them "change their lens."

The point is to encourage people to look at things from the perspective of the stakeholder who will most be impacted by the "positive" aspects of the change. Frequently, the ultimate recipients of a university transformation are students. On some level, they are the ones who will eventually receive improved services, a better education, or an enhanced experience.

Advises Mehmedovic, "If you can figure out a way to change the conversation so that it's more about who is going to be impacted, that's been the most effective at getting people to move along that acceptance continuum. It's harder to argue about how a doctoral student will benefit when you're thinking about it from the doctoral student's point of view rather than the department's."

3 Ways to Promote Change

  • Try Simulations. Rehearsal provides a sense of competence, competence makes for comfort, and that converts to acceptance. So before implementing a new system, the City University of New York puts staff members into a computing environment that's "pretty close to production," says Linda Shatzer, manager of organizational change. That allows users to practice and go through a lot of the scenarios they'll experience once the new system goes live.
  • Look Inward. While outside consultants can be helpful, insiders have firsthand experience in the organizational culture and can make a valuable contribution to any change process, insists Marilu Goodyear, former University of Kansas CIO and current director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration. It's easier for internal facilitators to gain colleagues' trust, and they offer knowledge of "surface politics." Notes Goodyear, "That helps you understand what might fly and what might not fly."
  • Avoid Surprises. To sidestep contentious and unproductive project meetings, Alan Ferrenberg, Miami University (OH) associate VP and deputy CIO, learned to prepare people in advance to hear good or bad news. "If we know someone has concerns and it's going to come up in a meeting, we don't hit them with things cold. We try to address them as much as possible up front."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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