connect the dots

Six Things You Want to Know about Change Management


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In researching, writing, and trying to lead change, I’ve come to appreciate the critical value of six things. These observations have come after many years of observing change initiatives. Too often, a great idea, grant opportunity, or the latest new thing arrives on campus with great energy and enthusiasm, only to fade into the woodwork like so many other great ideas. So I asked myself why?

Suggestions to Keep Your Ideas Alive and Prospering
Don’t underestimate the power of a change management strategy.

Decide where you are going. The great idea arrives and a champion moves it forward. However, the new idea is not often placed in the historic, cultural, or ongoing planning sequence of the institution. It is often bolted on. This doesn’t mean that people don’t have every good intention of launching the great idea or seeing it through. But due to the fragmented nature of the organization, one office or initiative is seldom integrated into the other great ideas. When asked about the longevity of new ideas, executive business leaders indicated that approximately 54% succeed. It can be difficult to get accurate information on the success of change initiatives in higher education. What has been your experience?

Insight: There are many reasons why initiatives fail. Here a few prominent ones: Change fatigue also widely known as initiative fatigue. Lack of skills to ensure the change can be sustained over time. Too little investment in operational improvements. Too much top-down decision making, and too little input from others. On the other hand, when a new initiative is developed with a change management strategy in mind, then the opportunity to make a difference is leveraged and similar projects may all benefit from something that can fill in a piece of the puzzle.

Recognize that people make or break change initiative success.

How often have you had what you thought was the “best idea ever” only to have it fade away? In my previous blog post in this series I mentioned that Everett Rogers developed the Theory of Diffusion of Innovation where he identified the personalities behind the change process. Early innovators are the ones excited about the new ideas or technology. They are often the zealots or prophets in the wilderness who see the future and can grasp the new roadmap before others do. Early adopters may watch the early innovators and have more operational skills to bring the idea to a plan. If done right, ideas then capture the imagination of others. Ultimately the majority who take the idea into the organization and make it part of the fabric. If you accomplish moving the idea to the majority or to a critical mass of people, the likelihood of sustainability increases significantly.

Insight: You won’t likely have everyone on board. There will be laggards who will not accept the new ideas regardless. You can’t please everyone, but enhanced success requires that the right people have the right data to make the right decisions. The art and science of change takes a village.

Linda Baer Great Idea Whiteboard
While people make or break change initiatives, the organizational structure reflects a DNA-like ability to embrace or repel change.

Organizations often are structured to maintain the status quo. Policies, practices and politics within the system are there to protect and guide the sustainability of the institution. So, when developing a plan for change management, take into account the decision rights, motivators, information, and structures that enable or cause barriers to change. Map your organization using organizational charts to better understand who is where in the organization and who can help make change happen versus who will create barriers.

Determine allies for the journey. You may need to bring in the skeptics because if they are included in the beginning, they can add a voice that some of the silent folks on campus aren’t expressing.

Understand the culture and ecosystem.

By linking the change initiative with the mission and vision of the institution, incorporating it into the strategic planning objectives, and determining metrics and timelines for change, you can better embed the change initiative into the existing structure. This allows even the more “disruptive” change agendas to have a place to incubate and thrive. By connecting the dots across the organization including accountability, assessment, accreditation and analytics; the organization can increase the potential of the change initiative and the potential impact. Linking to accountability, assessment, accreditation and analytics further validates the importance of the initiative and helps inoculate against those who would choose to criticize or attempt to defeat the success. Using analytics increased the foundation of data and storytelling to support the new ideas.

Insight: You need to incorporate a communication plan and person with the new project. A big insight is to realize that culture eats strategy for lunch!

Lead for the long term. This means that you accept that a single initiative or change isn’t providing a silver bullet that will miraculously turn everything around. Identify leadership across the institution including voices from all stakeholders.

Insight: It’s important to build a long-range strategy into the change initiative plan. Claim the change and celebrate the future potential. This topic will be discussed in a future post on change management, but for now here are some key things a leader should be thinking about:

  • Bold Vision
  • Student Success IQ
  • Partnerships for Solutions
  • Connect the Dots
  • Cross Campus Team
  • Support Systems
  • Culture of Student Success
  • Reinvent Processes
  • Return on Investment
  • Leading in the Age of Analytics
Be part of a community that is learning together.

Leading for the long term includes work with partners, connectors, cross-campus members, and support systems. Your campus can create a powerful learning environment with the combination of data analytics, student success insights, data informed actions and shared learning from a like-minded community of practice. Improving student persistence and success can also be bolstered by regional ecosystems that include powerful partnerships with K-12, community leaders, business and chamber leaders, and a coalition of the higher education providers.

Insight: Everyone who is a part of the discussion and change agenda will bring strength and insight to the overall journey and change initiative success.

You can read more from Dr. Linda Baer in her recent white paper on this topic.


The authors explored student success initiatives across the U.S. and found that some institutions are making good use of the plethora of data stored by institutions, but the gap is widening between those out in front in analytics-informed student success and their peer institutions.


Top Banner Photo: Connect the Dots by Michelle Milla used by permission CreativeCommons BY-2.0.

Dr. Linda Baer

Dr. Linda Baer is a consultant with Civitas Learning. She has served more than thirty years in numerous executive level positions in higher education. She was the interim vice president for Academic Affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Previously, Dr. Baer served as a Senior Program Consultant in Post-secondary Success with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and as Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs in the Minnesota State College and University System. She was Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs and Interim President at Bemidji State University. Dr. Baer presents nationally on academic innovations, educational transformation, the development of alliances and partnerships, the campus of the future, shared leadership and building organizational capacity in analytics.

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