Albert B. Blixt
Coach and Consultant on Innovation and Change
Part two of a three-part series to help higher education leaders who find their vision for the future held captive by the demands of the present. A step-by-step strategy to ignite real change.
Your strategic plan is going nowhere without commitment of a critical mass of your faculty and staff. The unwelcome truth is that necessary but disruptive changes won’t happen unless there is a real commitment to making them happen. In Part One we talked about getting your extended leadership team fired up and ready to lead. In Part Two we look at keys to earning commitment from faculty and staff. Yes, I said “earn” because commitment can’t be commanded; it has to be given.
There is a big difference between compliance and commitment.
Compliance means, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.” You certainly can command compliance with your plan. People want to keep their jobs and they will try to do as instructed whether those are the right instructions or not. If people are told what to do but lack a deep understanding of why it is important, the results may not be what you intended.
Commitment, on the other hand, means, “Tell me what results are needed and and I will make sure they happen.” It is only in the second case that people take responsibility for the outcome. When people know the “why” and believe in the value of the outcome, they will take responsibility for outcomes. They will use their initiative and do things no one asked them to do because they believe the results are worth it.
Commitment comes from having a shared vision.
Creating an inspiring vision for the university or college’s future is an essential requirement for the institution’s leader. Although it needs to be rooted in the institution’s mission and current situation, the vision must be a compelling statement that motivates and energizes the board, executives, faculty, administrators, and staff to become actively engaged in creating the transformational initiatives that will establish it.
By a vision, we don’t mean a slogan or a string of platitudes that could be found on any school’s website.
A compelling vision is a vivid picture of a possible future that people find inspiring. It lets them imagine in detail what will be different from today that will make them excited to be in that future. Each person must be able to see themselves (and others) “doing something great”. For the plan to be embraced, people need to visualize what it would look like if each strategic goal were being realized magnificently. In this future picture, faculty, staff and administrators can see a how far they have come in just a few years. It is a stretch but do-able. And each of them can see the positive impact this is having on the success of students. It is a picture of an institution that is not just surviving but actually thriving.
Step #2: Hold large, interactive meetings that are designed to gain faculty and professional staff understanding and commitment. Hold similar meetings designed for other employees and for students.
Convened by a president, provost, vice president or college dean, this type of meeting can have dozens of participants, or hundreds. The convening issue must be a strategic theme everyone cares about, most often how to collaborate to improve student success. Bringing people together from different roles and functions creates energy while helping people see the bigger picture.
These workshops serve multiple functions. First, everyone gets to learn together about the current challenges and opportunities the institution is facing. This creates a shared understanding of the case for change. Second, they provide a chance for people to hear the vision that leadership has and react to it. Participants give feedback, offer suggestions and begin to think about ways to bring that preferred future a little closer to reality.
Most important, these meetings focus on solutions that cross organizational boundaries, encouraging people to combine their experience and ideas. The result is “back home planning” that generates momentum for action. The resulting synergy generates innovative solutions that haven’t been thought of before. This group dynamic creates ownership of solutions, with innovation more likely to be a fit for the local culture.
The Key to Success: Professional Design and Facilitation
These are far more than simple meetings or training events; it takes professionally designed experiences to succeed. These events also require professional facilitation. This is best done when meeting designs are crafted jointly by experienced consultants and a planning team of actual meeting participants. More information can be found at Workshops on Innovation and Change.
Take the Next Step
Frustrated by slow progress in implementing your strategy? Want to accelerate the good work that is already being done? We can help. Our services are effective and affordable. For the cost of sending a few people to a conference, you can impact your entire campus.
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