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People, process, and technology: the role of change management in higher education

from  September 22, 2022 | 3 min read

Higher education is going through a huge transformation. And although your institution might realize that change is necessary and understand that everyone has to play a part, many may run into difficulties in actually implementing and adopting the technologies on which the future of their student and staff experience depends. 

Implementing change and digital transformation in higher education needs to be seen as an art, requiring a careful balancing act between people, processes, and technology. And nobody’s better at practising this art when it comes to the implementation of our products and solutions than our Strategic Business Architects. At X4U last October, our own Elfie Smith hosted a session to outline the particulars of change management in the higher education sector, intended to underscore some of the challenges inherent to reaping the benefits of transformation in an environment with extremely specific needs and requirements.

It’s a VUCA world – characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And it’s getting more so by the minute. In this kind of environment, change is inevitable – even desirable.

But change itself doesn’t have to be VUCA. There are capabilities and competencies your institution can adopt to make the digital transformation process more manageable, less ambiguous, and more certain in its inputs and outcomes.

And understanding how to do this means thinking about chocolate chip cookies. Your institution is a bit like a chocolate chip cookie

Individual projects are the chocolate chips – they’re self-contained, but they each contribute to the quality of the whole cookie. The institution’s culture is the dough. It holds individual projects together, gives them context, and lets them do what they’re supposed to do.

Change management has to be a component of your organization’s cookie dough for individual projects – particularly digital transformation projects – to succeed. And before this analogy runs away with itself we should talk a little bit more about what that means.

Organizational Change Management: why and how?

Organizational change management is a set of actions that allow people to successfully operationalize new systems and processes.

The “actions” are simply the information, training, and tools we equip people with to successfully adopt what we’re implementing through a specific change project.

The most important word in that sentence is people. And change management is key in the public sector because of the way change affects your people:

  • Change has an impact on the way people do their jobs – it can be stressful, confusing, and in some cases it might even negatively impact performance (especially in a VUCA world.)
  • Approaches to the way changes affect your people must therefore be handled with compassion and patience to support positive outcomes.
  • And the activity that goes into the program has to address the variety of different ways people respond to change.

Change projects are fundamentally learning projects, and learning takes time. Everyone from the registrar’s office to the library to the lecture room will have to follow a learning curve in order to leverage a new system properly.

Change management helps guide your people through individual change projects by gathering information on the specific needs and pains that individuals and departments are likely to encounter – and putting in place the correct resources to guide them through the process.

But beyond change management there’s an even more powerful set of tools available to you – that can help create a culture for change that is not only more receptive to change, but which proactively identifies opportunities for change at the ground level and encourages its proliferation throughout the institution.

Change enablement and institutional culture

Because higher education organizations now need to manage change on a rolling basis rather than simply in the context of specific projects, change has to become part of your institutional DNA.

Change enablement helps you to get to this point. It’s a much more expanded set of competencies, practices, skills, and - perhaps most importantly - habits that cultivate change at every level. Letting everyone leverage technology to create continuous improvements, which also drives greater levels of individual development and employee engagement.

Achieving a culture of change enablement requires a careful mixture of four key ingredients:

  • Communication
  • Participation
  • Relationships
  • Learning

But this is where we need to return to the cookie analogy. Once ingredients are mixed, they can’t easily be separated – and not striking the right balance from the get-go can lead to issues that aren’t easily solvable. Striking the right balance means carefully following a recipe – a specific set of actions – that acknowledges the unique properties of each of these key ingredients.

To learn more about what the recipe entails, you’ll have to watch the full session summary below.

How could Unit4 help your organization?

If you want to run and scale your institution more successfully, we can help. Our people-centric solutions are purpose-built for higher education institutions. Better manage your organization with a blend of industry-leading software: click here for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Capital Management (HCM), and Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A).


How can you succeed in a VUCA world?

In this relatively new VUCA world, organizations are now facing complex challenges from unexpected sources, and are frequently caught unprepared to address these issues.

For organizations to adapt to these unforeseen situations and make changes, they need to get prepared.

VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) is widely acknowledged by business leaders as one of the most critical sets of challenges faced by their organizations today. Continuous advancements in technology and constantly changing social and political scenarios have been identified as the most significant factors that contribute to the creation of this VUCA world.

Business leaders must have a strategy to address VUCA in their organization. The ones that don’t, risk losing ground to their competitors. To be VUCA-ready, organizations need to develop strategies that make them more adaptable. And these strategies must be long-term and will usually require significant changes to how the organization operates and behaves. 

Why does education need a digital transformation?

Students don’t sit in classrooms and learn solely by listening to lectures anymore. Education must now be collaborative and interactive. Teachers are making drastic changes to the way they approach tuition, with technology in the classroom playing a major role. Digital transformation positively impacts student learning by opening up a world of endless possibilities, partnerships and teamwork.

Digital transformation starts with a clearly defined strategy that leverages opportunities presented by the new technology while meeting the objectives of all stakeholders. It is a physical and philosophical change designed to meet the ever-growing demands of students, faculty and campuses to create a learning environment where everything connects. It needs to be an ecosystem that combines technology, services and security to build a strong digital foundation that fosters successful students, creates a safe campus, and deploys operational efficiencies.  

What is the purpose of organizational change management?

Organizational change management is designed to reduce the potential negative fallout of any general, structural changes in a business. Specifically, organizational change management focuses on both the micro and the macro levels. Whether requiring people to learn new skills, reallocating responsibilities and priorities, or investing in new tools or software, organizational change management processes involve a top-down approach to managing change.

Organizational change is necessary for organizations to succeed and grow. Change management drives the successful adoption and usage of change within the business. It allows people to understand and commit to the shift and work effectively during it. Change management is intended to achieve improved outcomes and better organizational performance.