Tips for Getting Started with Change Management in Higher Education

Senior Analyst

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Change management is an essential capability for higher education institutions. It’s needed before, during, and after campus projects or initiatives. But how do you get started with change management and foster a culture of innovation and adoption on campus?

This blog post will explore a few fundamentals to support change management efforts at your institution, regardless of where you are on your change journey or the type of change you’re trying to implement.

Understanding Change Management in Higher Education

At Tambellini Group, we view change management as a multifaceted approach involving people, processes, data, and technology. Change management should be an institutional capability that lives on before, during, and well after technology projects. This approach is essential for fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, ultimately ensuring the success of various institutional initiatives, whether automating manual processes or leveraging artificial intelligence to support student needs.

Common factors currently precipitating change for colleges and universities include financial pressures, budget constraints, regulatory changes (especially with financial aid and FAFSA), leadership changes, and an aging workforce.

At its core, change management involves:

  • Understanding ongoing changes
  • Meeting stakeholders where they are
  • Being transparent
  • Providing necessary resources
  • Successful adoption

How to Get Started with Change Management

Before you start executing a change effort on your campus, we recommend addressing the following:

  • What is the change?
  • Who is leading the change?
  • Who is impacted by the change?
  • How can we encourage adoption?
  • How will we measure success?
  • What is the institutional and stakeholder group culture(s)?

By answering these questions, you will be better positioned to take the necessary steps for successful change management, including:

Creating a Change Vision

To successfully manage change, you must establish a change vision that aligns with your institution’s goals, principles, and culture. You must fully understand your system, institution, or department’s ideal state and develop a clear and compelling vision for that change. Change management is a continuous institutional capability, not a one-off activity.

Once you’ve established your change vision, you should communicate it effectively to all stakeholders to demonstrate transparency, build trust, and encourage adoption. Keep reading for tips on how to communicate effectively.

Identifying Stakeholders

With a clear understanding of the change, you can identify who it will impact, how and when, and the potential gap between the current and future state. Stakeholders may include faculty, staff, students, administrators, parents, and the surrounding community. Identifying audiences will inform your change management strategy, including communication messaging, timing, formats, and channels; training requirements; change champions; and more.

Assessing Your Current State

In addition to identifying stakeholders, it’s critical to understand your current state, which involves evaluating business operations, processes, culture, technology, resources, and leadership. Colleges and universities can gain these insights through a change readiness assessment.

Many colleges and universities have well-established processes. It’s important to understand why decisions were made and processes instituted to determine the level of change required to reach your desired outcome. For example, if you’re moving to a new technology solution, understanding the requirements that led to existing processes, along with the ideal future state, will ensure you select a solution that will meet your institution’s needs. Undergoing an assessment also presents an excellent opportunity to understand where there may be resistance, excitement, training needs, or support to streamline processes, be more effective, and foster adoption across the institution and its stakeholders.

Building a Change Management Team

A change management team constantly approaches change through the lens of people. The change management team should be responsible for understanding the stakeholders, identifying and communicating information to the right groups at the right times, identifying and coordinating training, and measuring successful adoption. While a change management team may work closely with a project management office (PMO), they are distinct groups with different roles and responsibilities.

Part of building a change management team should include establishing a change champions network comprising campus leaders or influencers who understand and are aligned with the change vision. Change leaders are not always leaders by title; they’re often leaders embedded within administrative and operational areas. These individuals play an essential role in adoption, helping stakeholders feel seen and included.

How to Measure Change Management

Sometimes, change management is considered an intangible activity or an immeasurable effort. However, there are often data points that you can capture and measure. To truly understand the change’s impact, you need to ensure data is collected before, during, and after a project or initiative. 

Start by establishing the desired outcome at the project’s onset. Then, define what will be measured and determine whether you need to capture current data, which should occur when assessing your current state. Then, capture that same measurement during the project and upon completion.

For example, let’s say you’re adopting a new human capital management (HCM) system to support HR and expedite the new hire process. You will want to understand your recruitment process today and the available metrics—how long does each phase take? How many applicants do you have, on average, during different times of the year? How many manual processes or tasks are involved, etc.?  

Many clients wonder how to gauge feelings, perceptions, or other subjective measurements. Surveys can be an excellent tool to gather qualitative and quantitative data before, during, and after an initiative. If utilizing surveys, communicate how you will use the information to demonstrate that you value respondents’ time and that they can have a real impact.    

5 Tips to Foster a Culture of Change and Innovation in Higher Education

1.    Understand the Institutional Culture

Every institution and campus has a unique culture. Silos of culture may even exist within various schools or departments. It’s essential to understand and recognize the collective and pockets of culture. Culture is another reason why establishing a change vision is crucial—sometimes, the culture itself needs to be changed. To get a good pulse on the culture across campus, find leadership alliances.

2.    Find Leadership Alliances

Identify the individuals at your institution who can support the change initiative. Often, change comes with resistance. Who can help drive engagement, support, collaboration, and buy-in among stakeholders where you may not have influence? Engage with those change leaders and alliance-makers.

3.    Get Stakeholders Involved

This tip goes hand-in-hand with communications. You don’t need to share all details with all stakeholders. However, clearly establishing the changes that will happen and setting expectations about how the change impacts each stakeholder will allow them to make personal changes to adjust. Identifying which stakeholders should be involved and at what points in the change journey will inform how, when, and with whom you communicate changes.

4.    Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

This may be an obvious tip, but what does good communication involve and look like? First, you need to understand your audience and communicate via the most effective channels. This relates to the earlier step of identifying your stakeholders to determine how they receive information best and when the change will impact them.

Typically, email is the default communication, but there are various other channels, including group meetings, one-on-ones, internal webpages, online forums, physical or digital signage, and more. Lastly, your change champions network might have another effective means of communicating your message.

5.    Celebrate Wins and Achievements

Celebrating wins and achievements along the way can help keep momentum going, especially for long-term efforts. Acknowledge individuals or teams who are leading and being stewards of change. Recognition might take the form of a monthly or quarterly MVP and may or may not include a physical or monetary prize. In addition to celebrating wins, it’s important to acknowledge challenges so you can address them head-on, pivot if necessary, and make decisions that support adoption. 

Change management in higher education is a complex and continuous process that involves engaging and empowering stakeholders and fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and adoption. By effectively implementing change management strategies across people, processes, data, and technology, institutions can navigate the dynamic landscape of higher education and drive meaningful and sustainable change.

Need help managing change on your campus? Explore our Change Management Services or contact us to discuss your needs today.

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Senior Analyst
As a senior analyst, Jessica M. Thomas uses her wide range of higher education and technology experience to empower campus leaders to reach their institution’s enrollment management, student journey, and technological goals. Specifically, she assists higher education clients in identifying opportunities to improve the student experience, compliance, operations, and decision making, all with a change management lens.

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