Feb 26, 2020

How Change Really Happens in Education


What really drives change in education? It is a question that we all ponder at times. How do we create more nimble universities, responsive to the workforce? How do we inspire aging faculty to keep pace with technology? We tend to think that change happens purely from fear, or disruption, but I don’t think that this explains the change process completely.

I think change is driven from culture, which is an internal variable, and context, which is an external variable. Put them together and you get a recipe for scalable change. When you assess the current culture of an organization, and the context in which they operate and compete, it often gives you a strong sense of the change required to be successful. And, for those people like me who use strategy processes to drive change, understanding these variables is everything to getting change right. So, as I think about strategy development for schools, colleges, universities, and non-profits, my experience tells me that there are three “levers” or controls that are key to the strategic planning process. Understanding and reading them right is everything.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast, as Drucker said.  And, he was right.  Understanding the good, bad, and otherwise of an organization’s culture is everything.  This is getting down deep on the “inside” of a school or college and finding out why it behaves the way it does, and what it’s underlying issues reveal.  “Getting the culture” is key, and you can only do it by immersing yourself in it.

Reading the tea leaves of the outside world is really as important as anything else in the planning process. While schools and colleges love to “navel gaze” in their deeply satisfying ways through accreditation self-studies, the outside world is moving at warp speed and industry is innovating and changing.  Reading the context of any school or college gives us an understanding of their relevancy to the future.

Ah, the dreaded “change” word.  At the end of the day, all great organizations understand the answer to two critical questions:  how much do we need to change to be successful, and what is our capacity to enact that level of change?  Getting the change quotient right is both art and science and can make or break a process.  Read it wrong and you are out of business.

Culture. Context. Change.  
These are the three most important levers to optimize when planning.  Using good data and research that informs the answer to all three is the best best to make sure that you are hitting them head on.  And, making sure that you have sorted all of the issues out with all three ensures that you are balanced in your approach to planning. Try it on for size and see if this recipe sticks in your head.  It might not be the Four P’s, but helpful nonetheless. 

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