What’s Wrong with the Status Quo?

An oft-heard claim is that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. I disagree. With apologies to the physicists, in my opinion, the most powerful force in the universe is inertia. The tendency to stay on course, regardless of the direction or pace (even if zero), provides comfort and protection. Defenders of the status quo say “Don’t fix what isn’t broken” or “We’re already great!”. Those sentiments reinforce systems and their convoluted and capricious rules, conservative procedures, and complaisant improvement processes.

So, beyond that indictment, what’s wrong with the status quo?

The status quo has winners and losers that have been winners and losers for a long time. Often there’s no logical or defensible reason why certain people should be winners and others losers. It just is, and that situation is one that we shouldn’t accept. I contend that we should seek change that creates more winners and fewer losers. This change will almost necessary make former winners feel like losers even if they aren’t really losing, but that’s OK. Change-competent leaders find strategies to celebrate new winners and affirm previous winners.

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Should we “systems-think” about academic change?

Wisdom on academic change seems founded on seeing your desired shift from varying perspectives. For example, Bolman and Deal’s “Four frames,” which we use in our MACH workshops — that’s seeing a change from Political, Symbolic, Human Resource and Structural dimensions. Stopping to consider each of these points of view can generate ideas about how one’s hoped-for change will impact your organization, and ideas about what approaches are likely to be successful.

Categorizing DimensionsLeft — Participants at the 2015 MACH Workshop categorize their problems in different dimensions. What perspective will turn out to be the most productive, in guiding change?So, you may be thinking, for the most sweeping changes, perhaps the broadest possible perspectives can be useful? Well, what are those?

It turns out we have already wrestled with that question in engineering — especially on large, multi-disciplinary projects which could affect people or things that aren’t in our direct line of sight. The field of “systems engineering” is the generic name for this area of work. Systems engineers love wicked, open-ended problems which seem almost impossible to solve, and they have developed ideas and methods to deal with these. They try to see these conundrums and their alternative solutions over time, via different angles, and from the eyes of many people.
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The Paradox of Organizational Change

In her 2003 book “The Paradox of Organizational Change,” Dr. Maria Malott challenges our conventional assumptions about the nature of organizational change. Change, Malott suggests, is not something unusual, but is a constant part of what we do as members of organizations. Our organizations are always adapting, constantly in the process of blending what is new into what is established, that is, the underlying values and processes of the organization. In this way, our organizations feel stable and consistent while they are, in reality, constantly dealing with changing customers, staff, regulations, technologies, and other elements.

Dr. Maria Malott How is it possible, given that change is the “constant,” that at times change in our organizations is disruptive, appearing to be at odds with organizational culture? Malott adopts the concept of “victim blaming” to explaining this aspect of organizational behaviors. In this case, if an organizational suffers from less than optimal performance or results, there is a tendency to blame those individuals who suffer the most from a poor performing organization, as if they are the culprits. Malott argues that almost everyone in an organization is trying to do a good job, so it is the underlying system that creates successes and failures. And organizations frequently reward individuals who possess perfect track records, rather than recognizing those who try new things with the intent to move the organization forward and perhaps fail. Continue reading “The Paradox of Organizational Change”

A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education

A Workshop to Develop Change Agents in Higher Education

There have been many calls for change in higher education.  Successfully implementing change – especially broad change – requires faculty and administrators to develop new competencies.  Our ‘Making Academic Change Happen’ (MACH) workshop was created to bring research-based change strategies and skills to higher education faculty and administrators.

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When to Seek An Outside Perspective

When to Seek An Outside Perspective

Change agents are individuals who see a need and take action to meet that need. They are also individuals who appreciate the perspective of dispassionate observers. But, when to request outside perspectives isn’t always clear – keeping in mind that the majority of the change agent’s work is deep inside the project, it is hard to remember to step aside and take the long view. Consider the signals below as indicators that another perspective might be beneficial for revealing simmering challenges. Continue reading “When to Seek An Outside Perspective”