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tech adoption people and change

3 ways change management can improve tech adoption in higher education

The most challenging aspect of any digital project is not the tech, it's changing the way people work - effectively, the way your institution operates.

In higher education, it can be particularly challenging as digital leaders work with complex legacy systems, distributed decision-making, power structures that are misaligned, and slow to adapt faculty. No wonder organizational change is a complex, messy and paradoxical process with no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

But with digital innovation causing disruption in every sector, change must become an essential part of every organization's narrative. As Drucker (1992) wisely said, "Every organization has to build the management of change into its very structure”.

Yet, the odds are stacked against us. McKinsey & Company point out the underwhelming success of change initiatives. They calculate that change initiatives only succeed 30% of the time. Meaning, 2 out of 3 change management programs fail!

So what can we do to improve our likelihood of success?

1. Create a compelling narrative around 5 key motivators

Too often, senior management articulate a vision that does not resonate with their workforce. The two stories most commonly shared are; ‘good to great’ or ‘we’re falling behind and need to make an immediate and radical change’.

Research from a number of social scientists including Danah Zohar, Chris Cowen, Don Beck and Richard Barrett has found the unfortunate reality of this situation. Either version of these narratives will appeal to about 20% of your workforce - leaving the remaining 80% disconnected and unmotivated from what is intended to be a company-wide pursuit.

These researchers identified five key stories that are much more effective motivators when sharing any narrative across your organization:

  • Company Orientated - outperforming the competition, financial targets, sector leadership
  • Society Orientated - bettering society, building communities and philanthropic pursuits
  • Customer Orientated - superior customer experience, better quality product
  • Team Orientated - a better working environment, more efficient and effective work, a greater sense of community
  • Individual Orientated - career advancement, financial rewards, empowerment.

2. Listen and address people’s fear

Leaders often underestimate how hard it can be to drive people out of their comfort zones. People fear the unknown and need to increase, what John Keats eloquently termed, our “Negative Capability” - or our willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity.

Change initiatives in the workplace often fail because they don’t adequately address people’s fear. When employees don’t adopt change it is usually because they are afraid:

  • of losing their authority, power and influence
  • of losing their job
  • they won’t have the necessary skill set to be successful in their new role.

Good leaders walk alongside their employees at the coalface, taking the time to understand the challenges of their roles before they build a vision consultatively.

People become sticky to the things they create. If you want to harness this concept to support your change management effort, consider creating your vision for the project/organization, passing it down to your direct reports for feedback, then reviewing and finalizing. Then directing your reports to create their own version of the vision, passing down and back up to finalize. Rinse and repeat until everyone across the business has their own version of the story.

Once everyone has contributed to the vision your next task is to make it succinct. A useful rule of thumb is that if you can’t communicate the vision for change in five minutes or less, you have more work to do on defining your vision.

3. Communicate consistently and build capability

During a change initiative, it is important to build a capability and competence framework that enables your employees to confidently say these four statements:

  • “I am aware of the changes that are coming and when”
  • “I understand how I am impacted and the support I will receive to make the change”
  • “I am ready to make the change”
  • “I know how to get support if I need it”

Successful change leaders leverage all channels available to broadcast their vision. They weave the narrative through business problem discussions and articulate how proposed solutions and ideas fit the bigger picture. In mentoring sessions with reports, they discuss how to move the needle forward (or backward) from the vision.

Savvy leaders also take the time to tailor their message to their audience. Recently we were working with a University who needed to educate staff about the importance of security. Instead of giving in to the mundane topic, they linked timely current affairs topics with security messages. Some of the feedback they received was, “I never thought I’d say this but I love when the security updates come out” and “I ignore all of the other communications, but this one I love.”

Making Change Effective

Change is a complicated subject with no one-size-fits-all approach. Each organization is unique and contains its own cultural nuances and intricacies. In our 20+ years of experience supporting leaders in the higher education sector to successfully implement large-scale digital projects, we’ve seen these three areas as being essential. But they are by no means the only ingredients needed.

If you’re interested to learn more about our work in this space, check out the Higher Education section of our website.

If you’re interested in learning more from me, please connect with me on LinkedIn.

Simon McEwen

Business Solutions Consultant - Squiz

About the author

Organisations are increasingly under pressure to change and adapt to a rapidly moving digital landscape to drive growth, mitigate risks and gain efficiencies all in the effort to enhance the customer experience. Simon McEwen works with large organisations in the public and private sector to achieve better outcomes through digital transformations, helping them overcome the challenges found in executing business strategies and building evidence-based business cases that make better use of budget.


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