People and processesChange ManagementDriving effective business change in HE

Driving effective business change in HE

If HE institutions fail to make improvements, they risk falling behind in what is already a fiercely competitive market, says Eman Al-Hillawi, principal consultant at business change consultancy Entec Si

With uncertainty prevailing around the ease of attracting international students post-Brexit, investing in the latest facilities and undertaking a culture overhaul could help UK universities to increase applications and remain profitable in the years ahead. However, with many institutions spread across a number of departments and struggling to secure funding, the higher education (HE) sector faces a particular set of challenges when it comes to implementing business change.

So how can UK HE institutions get the entire campus on board with change projects and maximise the value of investments, while realising opportunities to drive efficiencies?

Risk falling behind

The education sector never stands still and constantly comes under pressure to implement positive business changes from a number of sources. Whether it be from students, who arrive with high expectations of the university experience, the support staff who are constantly looking to improve efficiencies, the often-expansive variety of third parties who work alongside the university or the complex range of internal pressures for the institution to continue to innovate through research and development.

While universities are perhaps best known for being hotbeds of innovation and technological advancement, internally, they have historically been quite resistant to change. This can make it difficult to succeed in implementing effective and long-term business transformation that benefits every stakeholder. However, in recent years the tables have begun to turn, with universities struggling to attract enough students against a backdrop of rising tuition fees. As such, if HE institutions fail to make improvements, they risk falling behind in what is already a fiercely competitive market.

Keeping the end goal in mind

When looking to instigate large-scale change, HE institutions should first develop an in-depth understanding of the key drivers for the project. As with all change programmes, a successful programme usually begins with a vision of exactly what the institution wishes to achieve. Such plans should consider current outputs and the changes required to optimise efficiency, effectiveness, and competition with rival institutions – it is often sensible to conduct a gap analysis to identify the scope of the changes required.

While there may be a temptation to try and address everything at once, it is advisable to take stock of the overall aim of the project and then split it up into manageable chunks. Furthermore, it is often sensible to begin with the projects that present the best return on investment. For instance, procurement and consolidation of the supply chain often has a widespread impact across each stakeholder group and depending on the individual institution, can result in efficient yet hard-hitting change across the entire organisation.

It is important to remember that change will always be limited by the speed at which the institution can move. Therefore, it is important to keep the end goal in mind and to not get disheartened, as such projects are unlikely to show immediate results.

Additionally, with technology constantly evolving, HE institutions should look to evaluate their processes and systems at an early stage in the project. Any suggested changes can be worked into the existing business transformation programme, maximising the value of the planned investments and driving long-term efficiency.

A successful communications plan

However, while planning and implementing large-scale change is often resource heavy, it is vital that universities take the time to put a comprehensive communications plan in place. In such large projects, it is likely that information will need to be communicated in various ways and via several different channels. Therefore, a communications plan should reflect the needs of each stakeholder and the channels needed in order to communicate change. Change can be incredibly personal, whether that be for the student whose routine is changing or the lecturer who must consider new processes and it is imperative to the success of the project that every person feels that they are being considered. With this in mind, a FAQ section or site is often valuable, anticipating the questions stakeholders may have and providing them with helpful information.

There are a number of characteristics that can contribute to a successful communications plan. Initially, a proactive approach should be adopted. By taking charge of the distribution of information, change leaders can stay in control and ensure that communications are released in line with the overall project timeline. The messages given should also be respectful, honest and consistent. It will be far easier to gain stakeholders’ trust if you use simple language and are upfront with them about why the changes are happening and what the expected outcome is.

Arguably, in order to successfully communicate change, it is first critical that change leaders take the time to understand the institution’s culture. Full institutional transformation can only be successful and long-lasting where there is a clear alignment with the organisation’s current values. Without this, it is likely that there will be resistance.

On board with business improvements

With reputation paramount to the success of all HE institutions, change must also be communicated externally. Whether it be securing grant-driven research or attracting new students, institutions must consider how they wish to present themselves to best effect, while ensuring that both internal and external messages align.

Inevitably, change programmes will manifest themselves in different ways to reflect the individual nature of each HE institution. However, an effective approach will take peoples’ thoughts, views and natural resistance to change into account by communicating the project’s key objectives clearly and consistently. HE institutions are renowned for their strong cultures and their ability to implement positive change while not curbing the brilliance of their talent. By keeping these key beliefs at the heart of everything they do, HE institutions can ensure that they succeed in getting the entire campus on board with business improvements.

Eman Al-Hillawi is a principal consultant at business change consultancy Entec Si.

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