My role in academia consists largely of coordinating activities in technology to support the teaching, learning, and research needs of our campus. Most technology leaders fulfill a similar role. In academia, the mission of information technology is to support the campus.
However, technology folks sometimes do need to initiate our own change. Often this is due to upgrades or new systems, but also this is because we see an opportunity and want to help the campus move forward. In these cases, technology needs to tread carefully. If the technology unit of a campus were to directly suggest a change to how faculty engage in teaching and learning, the faculty would see IT as intruding on the academy.
In these circumstances, the question we face is "How can we successfully lead through change with faculty?" The answer is "Carefully."
You may be familiar with the three lens approach to leading an organization:
In leadership, these three lenses play an important role in guiding decisions. They each are important, but must be considered together. For example, strategic action requires having the right people on the right tasks at the right time. For those strategic plans to have broad effect, leaders need to cultivate support from across the organization, within and without, to ensure success. But the culture of the organization can shape the meaning of the action, and how well a particular decision "meshes" with its recipients often tips the balance to success or failure.
I try to use the three lens approach as my benchmark in bringing any change to my campus. This method has helped to shape how I communicate about a change, serving as a reminder to consider how the change addresses the strategies, politics, and culture of my audience.
While the three lenses remain a strong foundation for leadership, I find they bring a somewhat limited view towards leading through change. Over the years, I have modified the three lens approach into a new model, which succinctly prepares me as I consider any new change. This new model is a series of three simple questions designed to uncover the need for the change, its support, and its possible reception.
In my experience, successful change hinges on these three key questions:
- Is it the right thing to do?
- Are the right people behind the idea?
- Are people ready to accept the change?
The first two items in my list have direct parallels to the "Strategic" and "Political" lenses of management. However, the third item differs from "Cultural" in a subtle but important way. Matching the culture is an important part of getting people ready to accept a change. But in order for that change to "stick," your users must be ready to accept the change.
There are many signs that can indicate users are ready to accept a change. Dissatisfaction in the status quo, or simply a desire for something new. It depends on what the change is about, so leaders need to look carefully at what they are changing, why they are changing it, and why their users will care. Watch for opportunities, influence where necessary, and be prepared to act when conditions are right.