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How Colleges Change: Proven Tools for Academic Leaders to Successfully Lead Change

Leadership and Management

How Colleges Change: Proven Tools for Academic Leaders to Successfully Lead Change

While most academic leaders are aware that the academy is in a time of significant changes, most also know that their units are difficult to reshape and lead in new directions. This tension leaves many feeling helpless; leaders recognize the need to change, but feel reluctant and perhaps unequipped to conduct the work.

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While most academic leaders are aware that the academy is in a time of significant changes, most also know that their units are difficult to reshape and lead in new directions. This tension leaves many feeling helpless; leaders recognize the need to change, but feel reluctant and perhaps unequipped to conduct the work.

Department chairs and deans find that campuswide and unit strategic plans surely expect them to internationalize their curriculum, globalize their programs, integrate the latest technology innovations, better meet the needs of diverse students, become more learner-centered and assess student learning, help students become more innovative and entrepreneurial, move faculty to interdisciplinary research and teaching, and use evidence-based teaching practices, to name a few priorities for action. And while all of these ideas sound good, they suggest moving in many different directions and not always in areas in which an academic leader feels that he or she has strong expertise and understanding. Add on the complexity of engaging in processes that involve politics, negotiation, persuasion, and inspiration, and the process can seem overwhelming.

A recipe for leading change would be appealing when confronted with these many strategic priorities. Leaders often think about change in a linear and simple fashion—develop a vision or goal; implement; and then assess and revise. But research suggests that there is no recipe for change. Effective leaders custom design strategies based on their local context—based on its politics, assets, leaders, and the type of change embarked upon. Trying to move a diversity initiative forward brings up different issues than does helping faculty use technology within their courses. Faculty often need more detailed discussion about their understanding of diversity and exploration of their assumptions, because diversity is a more multifaceted and complex concept than technology, for example. For detailed examples of how leaders custom design strategies for change based on the type of change and context, see my book How Colleges Change (Routledge, 2013).

While developing a local strategy is best, there are critical strategies to analyze for fit before they are used to address these key changes on your campuses. One such set of tools for determining appropriate change strategies is offered through Bolman and Deal’s leadership frames. The frames serve as a way to examine different facets of organizations as well as approaches to leading within them. In short, Bolman and Deal describe leaders in these four frames offering the following skills and strategies:

Bolman and Deal also link these various frames to barriers to the change process as well as leaders’ roles or strategies in a change process:

Reframing Change

 

Frame

Structural

Human Resources

Political

Symbolic

Barriers to Change

Loss of clarity and stability, confusion, chaos

Anxiety, uncertainty, feelings of incompetence, neediness

Disempowerment, conflict between winners and losers

Loss of meaning and purpose, clinging to the past

Essential Strategies

Restructuring; realigning and renegotiating formal patterns and policies

Training to develop new skills, participation and involvement, psychological support

Creating arenas where issues can be renegotiated and new coalitions formed

Creating transition rituals: mourning the past, celebrating the future; storytelling

Source: Bolman & Deal (1997), p. 321

These four frames and their potential for helping academic leaders successfully engage in change processes will be featured my March 12 Magna Online Seminar “Leading Change: A Framework for Department Chairs.” (For information about this online seminar, see www.magnapubs.com/catalog/leading-change-a-framework-for-department-chairs.) Through case studies and further articulation of the ways these four leadership frames have been used on college campuses, leaders can start to better craft their responses to change processes they are charged with. While the changes ahead may be complex, through this upcoming webinar leaders can help make the process of change less elusive.

Adrianna Kezar is a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California.