Jul 19, 2016

Lessons Learned #9: Glacial Pace of Change

Here’s a real shocker:  Independent schools and colleges move at a glacial pace of change.  My guess is that this is widely accepted among most people who have worked in this industry.  And, it is perhaps most often felt or experienced by those industry leaders that have tried to insert some level of innovative change into the strategic agenda of a school or college.  Our Lessons Learned #9 is that independent schools move slowly and adapt in very incremental steps to their environment.  

We’ve all studied organizational change and I find no great reason to elaborate on change management theories here.  In fact, I think the reasons for our slow pace of change are pretty simple.  

Faculty are the single largest personnel category and their model of management is generally preservationist in nature.  The idea of tenure – a job for life – is still alive and well in higher education, while few, if any other industries have adopted it.  

Decision Making
Our prioritization model often includes a faculty senate, functioning as a decision making body on key issues in curriculum and planning, which moves slowly.  

Our orientation is much more about looking inward for answers, rather on the external horizon. We tend to seek internal equilibrium as a mature, heritage laden industry than seek external disruption.

Many Masters
Also, many of our schools and colleges have many masters, including students, parents, the church, or an beloved educational philosophy.  They have needs that must be met, as well, and figured into the decision making equation.  These and many other structures make it difficult to move a school or college toward change.

It’s not all bad news. I think there are some great benefits from a slow pace of change.  Education tends to be less faddish than other industries, though we are not immune from it.  We also tend to debate and collaborate on critical decisions and tend not to have knee jerk reactions to challenging issues.  While this may make us slow to adapt, we tend to really support our decisions once we make them.   

So, Lessons Learned #9?  Independent schools and colleges experience a glacial pace of change for good reason.  We have always known the downside to this, but there are some upsides, as well. 

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