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10 steps to managing change: successful change management means understanding your obstacles and sticking to your plan.

Few words captivate and irritate the higher education community more than the word change. At one level, all of us would like to avoid change. But we--and the organizations we inhabit--simply can't. Anyone with even a casual understanding of the marketplace recognizes that change is afoot. The challenge is how to manage it.

Most people who have been through a failed change initiative agree that leaders often did not spend enough time dealing with the context of change before launching the initiative. As it turns out, the top three context issues can also be the three biggest obstacles to change. They are: organizational culture, fear, and complacency.


Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy, in Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life (Perseus Pub., 2000), define organizational culture as, "The way we do things around here." They stress that any change initiative must acknowledge such cultural issues and icons as trust, attitudes, work styles, process, structure, and the use of power and influence.

Understanding organizational culture and the influence it has on change will likely determine whether your change initiative is successful. For example, a new president may seek to introduce a change initiative that begins with a series of campus discussions. What she doesn't know is that campus factions had learned, under the old president, that their input was often ignored. As a result, trust eroded. Unless the new president recognizes this cultural attitude and is willing to address it, her change initiatives will likely fail.


A second aspect of culture is how people respond to change. A saying wholly appropriate to this aspect is, "He looked like a deer caught in the headlights." We've all seen the figurative deer in headlights. Some of us have been deer caught in headlights. While the picture is not pretty, it is graphic. The issue is fear, and to put it plainly, all people avoid things they fear. People in organizations, for instance, fear that change will mean:

* Loss of power and prestige

* Reallocation or loss of resources

* Loss of autonomy

* Intrusion into their domains

* Altered reward systems

* Having to relearn

These fears, unless addressed, will derail--or at the very least delay--any change effort.


The third cultural issue is complacency. John Kotter, writing in Leading Change (Harvard Bus. Schl. Press, 1996), outlines a number of sources of complacency, including:

* The absence of a major and visible crisis

* Too many visible resources

* Human nature with its capacity for denial

* Low overall performance standards

* Lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources

* Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes

Don't you think complacency in higher ed is dangerous? Think about this: Over the past couple of years, many IHEs have enjoyed record enrollments, and have become complacent about tuition revenue, as a result. What they've overlooked, however, is that the discount rate on many campuses is also at record levels. More and more students are bringing less and less cash.

Organizations that are complacent simply do not understand or recognize the market forces that drive the need to change. Like the frog sitting in a pot of water slowly being brought to a boil, such complacency will eventually lead to destruction. Obviously, overcoming these sources of complacency should be a major goal of any change initiative.


Now that we more thoroughly understand the landscape of change, a solid, step-by-step change formula is in order. In creating this 10-step blueprint to change, I borrowed from John Kotter's The Heart of Change (Harvard Bus. Schl. Press, 2002), Oren Harari's Leapfrogging the Competition (Amer. Century Press, 1997), Marcus Buckingham's First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999), Burt Nanus' Visionory Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 1995), and Jim Collin's Good to Great (HarperCollins, 2001). I also blended in a few things I have learned over the years. Here goes.

1--Build the guiding coalition. Successful change initiatives are always driven by a handful of people who have a private, shared vision of what they want to do. The first step in managing change, then, is to get the right people on the bus; people who buy into the emerging vision and are galvanized by it. Yet, even as you work to get the right people on the bus, you need to work to get the wrong people off. Nothing derails a journey (and change is a journey) faster than someone who just doesn't want to go.

2--Flood the organization with information. Everyone must understand what will happen to the organization in general--and to him or her in particular--if the organization does not change. Data, insights, and anecdotes on market and competitive forces are critical. So are examples of institutions that ignored this information. Be relentless and be vivid.

3--Create o sense of urgency. If you have flooded the organization with the right kinds of information, people should begin to talk about the need for change. At this point, a critical shift is occurring. People are less fearful of change and more fearful of what will happen if they don't change.

4--Get the vision right. Earlier, I mentioned the need for getting a group of people together who have a private vision for change. Now, it is time to use that private vision to help fuel a larger, public vision. Nanus, in Visionary Leadership, defines vision as "a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization." He goes on to say that there is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future that is widely shared.

5--Communicate for buy-in. Now that the vision has been created, it needs to be communicated. Everyone, even those individuals who are not interested in change, must understand the vision. Your goal is to create a critical mass of individuals who, at one level or another, buy into the vision. This communication must be relentless.

6--Lead those willing to be led. Either enthusiastically or reluctantly, most people will follow the leader, especially when they understand the consequences of inaction. Don't be paralyzed by the naysayers on the fringe. At the same time, recognize that all organizations have saboteurs; folks, who through action or inaction, try to derail change initiatives. Don't spend so much time trying to bring these people on board the bus that you forget who is already aboard. Ignore them. Drive the bus. Lead.

7--Empower for action. People who are empowered for action have a clear understanding of what they need to do, have the resources to do the job, and have the authority to act. Without these three, change will not occur. Empower your people.

8--Create short-term wins. Nothing breeds success like success. As early as possible, create and then communicate some short-term wins. Show how the change initiatives have helped advance the institution and the people who inhabit it.

9--Reword right. If you want to convert reluctant changers to enthusiastic changers, share the rewards that the change initiative has helped generate. If a new approach to programming has generated additional revenue, share that revenue with the faculty and staff who had the idea.

10--Don't let up. Don't get distracted. Don't get disillusioned. Don't listen to the naysayers. Don't worry about the fringe. Don't let urgent distract you from important. Stay the course.


Because we sometimes speak so casually about change, I fear we underestimate the consequences of failed change initiatives. Harvey Robbins and Michael Finely in Why Change Doesn't Work (Texere Pub., 2001), remind us of some of the consequences of a failed change initiative, including:

* Loss of energy. Every misstep along the change journey makes the next step more difficult.

* Loss of respect. Will people look up to their leaders with the same shiny-eyed appreciation after they've been led off a cliff or left to die in the wilderness?

* Higher stress. Pinning your hopes on a change initiative that fails is like swimming to a life raft and finding out it leaks.

* Anger. Where workers once reacted to initiatives by dragging feet, now they may resort to outright sabotage.

* Diminished risk-taking. A good change initiative lights a flame of creativity under people. If the change is snuffed out, so, unfortunately, is the light.

* Less to go around. All that consulting, training, and re-engineering cost big bucks. While the consultants tiptoe away (careful not to let their coins jingle), workers face the prospect of diminished resources.


It is impossible to avoid change. The key is to manage change as adroitly as possible. To do this, first understand and overcome the impact organizational culture, fear, and complacency will have on your change initiative. Then, stick to a basic change formula that will work for your institution.


Commit these to memory, before you launch your change initiative.

1. Organizations don't change, people in organizations change.

2. People won't change unless they see a personal benefit in changing.

3. If you do not change how you evaluate and reward people, they will not change their behavior.

4. The leader is not the most important change agent, middle managers are. The single most important determinant of individual performance is a person s relationship with his manager.

Bob Sevier is a senior VP of Stamats Communications ( For information on his free e-newsletter, QuickTakes, e-mail
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Title Annotation:Marketing
Author:Sevier, Robert
Publication:University Business
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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