Implementing Disruptive Change: Leading Through Change

Kurt Dorschel

In Brief

3-Minute Read

How does a leader effectively engage and communicate?

Higher education requires complex outcomes and outputs. Student success and engagement, for example, are the products of faculty, advising, student affairs and health, financial aid, admissions and even physical plant. Working across functional and organizational boundaries — the proverbial silos — must be embedded in the daily practice of a university. Ad hoc teams are the reality of getting things done. Having a vision and motivated individuals is a great start; empowering them to work together, however, links them to the institution and is necessary for a successful implementation.

Communication needs to go beyond the "what" and "how" and start with the "why."

A practice of effective facilitation is one of the primary needs that we see in many institutions. Identifying individuals who have the skills and orientation to bring people together and move them to collective action can have a significant impact. These individuals can be embedded within the team or provide outside consulting support. In either case, they focus on maintaining the balance between “we” and “I.”

In assessing engagement and communication, an institution should look for communication that fosters a culture of high accountability through aligned goals, behaviors and processes. It should look to build a sponsorship structure that will be the driving force behind implementing the vision set by leadership. Institutions should look to develop robust communication plans, which include messaging around the vision, the reasons for change (i.e., the “why”), the impact if the organization is successful and the cost or consequences of not changing. They should also consider how communications are both cascaded down to those individuals most directly impacted and deployed throughout the organization to those stakeholders who are indirectly impacted. It is important to use each stakeholder group’s frame of reference when preparing communications. For example, faculty sees change much differently than the IT department staff or the students. Start with the “why,” then the “what," and, finally, the “how.” Ensure that they have provided feedback loops and are responding to that feedback.

In short, higher education institutions should:

  • Develop a message around a business case for action that will cascade communications via direct reports and other high impact forums.
  • Link all messages to organization priorities while clearly articulating the "why," then the "what," and, finally, the "how."
  • Develop resources to enable leaders to cascade messages, reinforce positive progress and communicate next steps.
  • Include feedback loops in all communications, with a structured approach for analyzing and responding to all feedback.

Engage and Communicate Effectively to Implement Disruptive Change

Higher education provides unique challenges to implementing disruptive change. However, leaders can successfully inspire and implement change at their organizations by engaging teams and effectively communicating. Communication needs to go beyond the “what” and “how” and start with the “why.” It requires the business case for action to be put in an individual’s frame of reference and it involves cascading messaging and feedback loops.

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