Effective Change Management in HE – some thoughts

I have been reading Scott’s (2003) article on Effective Change Management in HE from Educause Review. Although now 8 years old  it still seems fresh and perhaps more worryingly we still have far to go to reach the outcomes in the paper.

Implementing

For me the link to my own practice from Scott’s ‘What’ & ‘How’ is that we can’t do it all. The idea that really resonated with me is the “profound difference between ‘change’ and ‘progress'” (Scott 2003:73).  Progress is change in the right direction and for me that means using professional judgement to decide which ideas are the most likely to succeed. Change for change sake is pointless. We have a finite resource and can not do it all. Inevitably, as someone with a strong Monitor / Evaluator tendencies (from Belbin’s team roles) or Controller / Inspector (in Margerison & McCann terms) I am bound to say that! However, I think that this role is vital in the current climate. I have worked with many innovative people and I always end up made to feel like the bad guy for suggesting such things as “How can we change this idea so it can work in practice?” “Maybe this idea would be better than this other one?” Innovation is needed and so innovators working with evaluators must surely produce a more effective outcome than just one or the other! Of course that evaluative process is underpinned by evidence based approaches and by evaluation I mean of the idea and plans and not just the after evaluation once it has been put into practice.

Coaching

On a related idea to do with limited resource.  Scott(2003:74) mentions that collaborative cultures, which he sees as vital, usually require coaching and do not spontaneously emerge. A role of educational development? Coupled with the unique situation of our roles in that we can advise on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but very rarely get involved in the actual ‘how’. Scott tells us that the motivation is important as is the role of the individuals who implement (the ‘how’ of) these changes. This seems again to come down to coaching so that academic staff are able to implement innovation and change in an effective way. Although this was not the thrust of the article it has made me wonder about coaching as the way forward in educational development. Scott evens mentions coaching in the student context around developing students as self-managed learners. It is in the area of coaching where I think we can provide leadership. We need to build capacity in our academic managers to coach their staff and for academic staff to be able to coach their students to facilitate their learning. However, coaching is often a one to one approach which looks difficult to justify at the moment. This leads nicely into the next section…

Paradoxes & Conclusion

Scott picks up the intrinsic paradoxes inherent in change. These were first fully expressed by the Change Integration team at Price Waterhouse in the 1990’s:

Change requires stability
You can’t separate the institutional from the individual
You must tackle cultural change without being seen to.
Empowerment of individuals requires strong leadership
To innovate you must destroy (see for example Tomkinson 1999)

Which makes me wonder; is educational development itself a paradox? For example, we aim to improve the student experience without ever working with students. We often instigate change that others implement. Is this why our value, the return on investment of our function is hard to express? Is this why we struggle to define our role and our place in higher education? The ultimate paradox of our role is that we shall know we have achieved our goals when we are no longer needed and out of a job!

References

Scott, G. (2003) ‘Effective Change Management in Higher Education’ in EDUCAUSE Review Magazine, Volume 38, Number 6

Tomkinson, B. (1999) Organizational change in Wilson, J.P. (ed.) Human Resource Development, London: Kogan Page

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