Mastering Organizational Change

We've all been there: a consultant arrives at the workplace and one of the executive tells us that we need to embark on organizational change so that we can be more effective/productive/efficient/agile/competitive/_______ (fill in blank with chosen alternate adjective). In the ensuing weeks, rumours abound: "How many people will be laid off?" "What is this really about?" "Who will they fire?" "Haven't we had enough change?"

Everywhere we turn, change is accelerating. Who doesn't have a a smart phone or at least a VoIP telephone on their desk? Does anyone still use a calculator, or adding machine? A couple of years ago, I was at a museum as a young mother pointed out an old gramophone to her son, "Look, Jason, its an old record player, I mean CD player, I mean iPod!" Change is how we remain productive and stay in the game.

With an inverted population tree through most of North America, recruiting students to a particular university is becoming very competitive. The institution that can process applicants through its recruitment funnel the fastest and get a non-refundable deposit for student housing or tuition will be the one with the strongest financials. Entice students to apply to your institution, have them electronically transmit their grades, complete all necessary forms, assess their qualifications, send out their offer letters, and have them commit to a deposit, and you will leave all competing institutions in the dust.

The successful universities see themselves as first and foremost recruitment and sales organizations instead of educational institutions. Education is still the product they sell but first they have to close the deal. Given this reality, if you have faculty who are asking for money to hire more Teaching Assistants to do their marking for them, or a Registrar's Office that is asking for overtime approval so that they can get offer letters out faster, which choice would you make?

Strategic change is more foundational than just buying new software or IT solutions. It goes to the root of how an organization works. Because it is strategic, it doesn't necessarily treat everyone or every unit identically; it usually results in bigger and smaller winners and some might feel slighted.

However, if successful, it should result in larger revenues, lower costs, or both; there should be more profit to put towards other strategic initiatives. Done properly, change should build the capacity for more change. Engagement with employees, customers and other stakeholders should ensure that everyone is heard. As a result, employees should feel their work is more meaningful and customers should find their transactions more pleasant and affirming.