You know who loves change? Not most people. I’ve been hearing and seeing a lot about change lately, and it’s gotten me thinking. How do we manage change so that we don’t lose our strongest talent?
Higher education is changing at a pace beyond compare. You don’t have to look far to find word of change in higher ed headlines. The university as we know it is changing. Student profiles are changing. Delivery methods are changing. Budget models are changing. You get the picture. And if your institution is like mine, it loves change. What? It doesn’t? Mine either.
Change can be good. And certainly in higher ed, the changes in online learning and post-traditional student programming is exciting. But, it can also be very scary for some. So, what are we to do? Internally, once staff and faculty feel the slightest bit of a breeze of change, the grumbling begins. Whose department is getting cut? Whose position will change? How will this affect me? When did I last update my resume? Suddenly, all of these questions start swirling like an out of control funnel cloud, sucking in each of your colleagues whether the change affects them or not. It takes real effort to avoid the cyclone of fear. If you’re managing a team who is already whirling around inside the cloud, how do you pull them out without losing them?
Here are some ideas…
- Stay in communication. I find that teams really start to panic when they don’t know anything. Silence in the midst of change is not golden. Communicate with your team, even if you don’t know anything. Let your team know you’re trying and that you’ll pass along what you know when you can.
- Be reassuring. Your talented team members need to know their work is appreciated whether or not your environment is changing, but especially when it is. The show must go on, as they say, even when you’re unsure whether or not the same show will perform again tomorrow or next week or next month. Keep your team working at what they do best for as long as you can.
- Keep what you can familiar. At my institution right now, there are major changes taking place in other departments. So, probably not a good time for me to ask my team to change what they do drastically. I just came back from a really thought-provoking and motivational seminar. Do I want to implement larger changes? Of course. But not now. My team needs some consistency right now while everything else around them is shifting. Once the rest of the environment calms down a bit, we’ll start tackling the larger changes.
- Avoid the rumor mill. This is tough at a university. Everyone seems to know something different. Chances are very few know the accurate information. Don’t allow yourself to, and try not to let your team, get sucked into the rumors around campus. They create more angst and less reassurance every time.
- Don’t let them smell fear. Whether you actually are or not, you need appear unshaken by rumors of change at your institution. Give your employees some shelter from the tornado around them and provide the stability they are looking for. Whether you’re the boss or not, you can affect your fellow staff members by accepting that change is inevitable and showing it.
I’m neither a life coach nor a consultant directing others on managing change. But I hope I’ve been able to share a few tips that help your team weather the cyclone of change at your institution. If you’re part of online learning, your work life is all about adapting to change and encouraging others to do the same. So, let’s help others learn to accept that change in higher ed doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. It can be great, and it’s worth sticking around to see the new landscape after the storm has passed.
Meredith Singleton is currently the Associate Director of Educational Outreach, Online Learning Programs at Northern Kentucky University where she is also a member of the English faculty teaching professional writing courses both online and face-to-face. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati studying rhetoric and composition with a focus in technical communication and online pedagogy. Her research focuses on assessment and feedback in online teaching, discovering ways faculty can better allocate time to course development and design. She is also active in military veteran student research and scholarship, and assists faculty in helping military veteran students transfer professional training to the academic classroom. She is a certified Quality Matters peer reviewer, freelance technical writer, and contract editor.