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Change Agents

High marks for academic programs can’t offset criticism about inefficient operations. A deliberate framework for organizational development can raise your institution’s overall score.

By Al Rickard

Brent D. Ruben, of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, is a recognized leader in the field of organizational development. From his perspective as executive director of Rutger’s Center for Organizational Development and Leadership, Ruben notes that organizational development programs are often located within the business office. “While not essential,” he says, “this is a logical home. It gives the chief business officer the opportunity to support improvements in his or her area, and also to play a leadership role in helping to bring organizational development practices to other areas of the university—particularly the academic area—where the benefits from organizational development are often very much needed.”

As organizational development efforts mature, says Ruben, they come to play as fundamental a role on the academic side of the institution as they do on the administrative side. When that’s the case, the chief business officer can use organizational development programs to extend his or her leadership role throughout the institution. Even when initiatives are not part of the university business operation, they can have a strong business-oriented mission.

Ruben understands well the roadblocks that institutions and would-be change agents face when trying to tackle organizational development. “Although colleges and universities are highly regarded for academics,” he observes, “they are also broadly criticized for inefficiency, indifference to external constituencies, and resistance to change.”

Moreover, change efforts can be inherently at odds with the human condition. They run counter to what Ruben calls the “immune system” of an institution, which tends to fight off anything that threatens long-held traditions and operating practices. “People have good reason to be skeptical of organizational development efforts—and really of all efforts—that purport to facilitate personal or organizational change,” Ruben says. “People know, intuitively, that change is very difficult. How many of us make the changes we decide upon in our New Year’s resolutions, for example? But certainly change—and the support of change—that advances the goals of our units and our larger institutions is the goal.”

So how do academic institutions facilitate the kind of campuswide cooperation necessary to align support for new processes? Many have created centers and offices to deliver organizational development resources to academic and administrative units and departments. These units often operate on an as-needed or on-request basis.
 
Others have launched formal organizational development initiatives designed to improve processes within the university; communication and interaction issues are primary areas that need attention. Professional development programs for faculty and staff are also coming on strong because of the building awareness of a predicted leadership exodus during the next decade.

Whatever the scenario, the chief business officer can make important contributions, whether or not the change process is housed in the business office.

Defining the Process

So, what exactly is organizational development?

Measuring Outcomes

Evaluating the tangible benefits of organizational development is not easy. Positive change can be embedded in the culture of the institution, producing program results that are not always directly tied to original efforts. Yet, such improvements would not exist in the absence of earlier initiatives.

The Rutgers Center for Organizational Development and Leadership has developed a series of “dashboard indicators” in the form of a Measures Matrix. The scorecard assesses organizational effectiveness against the university’s mission for the center.

For example, one definition of success in this model is “Program and Service Quality.” Three of the outcomes in this area include the number of formal programs, workshops, and projects delivered; the number of external benchmarking inquiries received; and the long-term impact noted.

Similar metrics are used to evaluate other key measures, which include beneficiary and constituent satisfaction and internal effectiveness. (Go to www.odl.rutgers.edu/pdf/ODLMeasuresMatrixModel.pdf for more information.)

The University of California–Berkeley uses a matrix adapted from an article, “Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” by John P. Kotter (March–April 1995, Harvard Business Review). Despite the article title, the matrix identifies eight elements that support effective planning for change. For each element, Kotter identifies a variety of approaches and related tactics that can be used to plan change campaigns and develop measurable outcomes.

In a similar fashion, Penn State University uses specific performance indicators in each of its 34 strategic planning units to measure progress. For example, the research area evaluates improvements by considering the number of its research awards, the average dollar amount of those awards, the number of patents and licenses, and the revenue from licenses.

Chet Warzynski, director of the Department of Organizational Development Services at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, offers this definition: “Organizational development is a planned change process in which people, cultures, work processes, structures, and technologies are developed, integrated, and aligned to strengthen an organization’s economic performance or increase its capacity to adapt and respond effectively to the environment in which it operates.”

Add to this broad umbrella the fact that colleges and universities are unusually complex organizations, and it’s easy to see how organizational development can take on many forms to achieve a wide range of missions.

“Everyone has to do more with less, and that’s what our department is designed to help people do,” says Warzynski, who has an academic background and heads an organizational development office that reports through human resources—outside the university business office. “We address the challenge of helping people break out of their silos and work with other units. We have a changing workforce—1,000 positions will turn over during the next five years. Succession planning and career planning are critical.”

In describing the work of the Rutger’s center, Ruben says, “Our approach has been to identify organizational needs—in administrative and academic areas—and to develop customized responses and programs to address them. “Over the longer term, many of these initiatives have developed into core program areas with which we are frequently called upon to assist. These include organizational assessment, leadership development, process analysis and improvement, climate and culture, and research support services.”

Methods and structures for such assessment and response vary by institution. However, organizational development offices typically offer a range of programs and resources free of charge to departments and operating units that wish to take advantage of such tools and expertise.

A Structure That Suits

While organizational development can logically be assigned as a responsibility of the business office, the complexity and diversity of institutions often influence the structure of such efforts.

For example, the Office of Quality Improvement at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, reports to the academic provost and the chancellor. Maury Cotter, the office’s director, explains, “If you report to the business side, it is hard to have credibility on the academic side. It’s not that we serve just the academic side—we serve the entire institution—but [our efforts] have become much more accepted this way.”

Founded a decade ago, Cotter’s office has seen more than 100 of the campus’s academic units ask for help for different types of projects, primarily addressing strategic planning and the structuring of administrative functions.

Katherine Mitchell, organizational development consultant for the Center for Organizational Effectiveness at the University of California–Berkeley, explains that her center’s location in the chancellor’s office is advantageous because of a shared governance environment. Established in 1999 by Executive Director Phyllis Hoffman with consultation from Cotter and Ruben, the center is now well-positioned to support campuswide priorities and systemic change initiatives. Recently, two of the center’s internal consultants took on new campus roles, effectively extending UC–Berkeley’s organizational development capacity.

Mike Dooris, director of planning research and an affiliate associate professor in the higher education graduate program at Penn State University, State College, Pennsylvania, says the university’s Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment is part of the academic operation and reports to the chief academic officer. Consequently, he says, “We tend to deal more with quality on the academic side of the house than we [might] otherwise, because we report to the provost.”

Even if a center or office devoted to organizational development already exists, this doesn’t preclude other university offices from developing specific initiatives. For example, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the vice chancellor for administration oversees an “Administrative Process Redesign” program. Undertaken at the request of deans from several colleges at the institution, the activity is outside the purview of the Office of Quality Improvement. However, it is a collaborative program, and several experts from the office are part of the project team.

At Cornell University, the Department of Organizational Development Services is part of the Division of Human Resources, which is separate from the business office. The department reports to the administrative side of the university, but serves the entire institution. Warzynski, director of the department, is also a lecturer in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Similarly, many of the other 12 people in the office have academic backgrounds and teach at the university, giving the department strong credibility.

The Rutgers center reports through human resources to the senior vice president for administration and chief financial officer but works closely with the chief academic officer and other vice presidential areas. Ruben, a professor in the School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies and the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, is able to bring his academic credentials and understanding of academic issues to bear on the work of the center.

Operational Rules

The often-sensitive political issues surrounding organizational development dictate that this function abide by some fundamental principles, including flexibility, collaboration, and building on the success of others.

Unfortunately, no matter how a program is structured, there will always be naysayers. “Create a pull, not a push,” says Cotter. “Universities are full of intelligent people who will have their own great ideas and commitment. If the approach is to push a specific agenda, they will not respond and there will be no opening for their ideas. Create a general sense of focus, while leaving enough room for creative ideas and initiative.”

One program Cotter uses is “Chairs Chat,” a monthly free lunch at the University Club, to which department chairs representing the institution’s 13 colleges are invited to discuss issues informally. Everything is confidential. Typically, says Cotter, about a dozen of the university’s 120 chairs from 3 or 4 different colleges attend.
 
Mitchell echoes Cotter’s comments about the best approach. “People want to be drawn into a change effort, not pushed into it,” she says. “By getting the right people engaged, you can use the change process itself to build leaders’ active commitment and develop the working relationships needed to sustain changes over the long term.”

Dooris outlines the challenges of implementing change initiatives at a large university: “Penn State has 42,000 employees with 24 campuses. For organizational development to have an outcome, it has to be done in a way that is appropriate to different cultures and situations.”

This also speaks to the skill sets required. “When I look at people who are good at organizational development,” adds Dooris, “I see people who are sensitive as to how to make changes. I used to be a management consultant, and I learned that you never know as much as your client does. You have to draw information out of people and empower them to promote change. It’s not you solving the problem; it’s helping them solve the problem. Many of these situations are not easy to fix or they would have been fixed before. It takes a long-term commitment to make change in an important area.” (For insight into effective principles for organizational development programs, see the sidebar “Proven Principles, Practical Action.”)

Proven Principles, Practical Action

The 15 years of experience gained by the Rutgers University Center for Organizational Development and Leadership has yielded many valuable lessons. Many of its practices can effectively guide change initiatives. Center Executive Director Brent D. Ruben shares the following insights:

1. Hold an overarching view of learning and change. A big-picture view with a strong theoretical framework for learning and change that guides practical action is critical in higher education—especially among academics.

2. Build on, link to, and leverage the effective work of others. In launching a program to improve efficiency, it can be tempting to highlight what is new, unique, and special about it. But dangers lurk in such vanity. Even well-intentioned claims can trigger defensiveness from campus stakeholders who believe they already support these goals through their own programs. Avoid this situation by rhetorically linking new initiatives with effective improvement projects at the institution. This approach acknowledges and leverages the success of others and creates buy-in.

3. Let the needs of colleagues help create the organizational development agenda. Who defines the problems to be solved through the intended program? The issues that colleagues define as critical may not be the same ones that you identify. Listen to the input, and avoid becoming too rigid in your engagement protocol and sequence of services. Begin with the priorities of others and move, over time, to programs and services you believe will best serve colleagues’ needs.

4. Be cautious in adopting programs from other places. Many promising organizational development programs in higher education have failed because facilitators adopted—rather than carefully adapted—programs from other places and times, which did not match their own institutional traditions and cultures.

5. Do not underemphasize the importance of language. How you refer to a change initiative is important. Names and terms that work in the corporate world or government may not be the best for higher education. For example, terms such as “customer focus,” “re-engineering,” “benchmarking,” “Baldrige,” “performance measurement,” and “Six Sigma” are potentially controversial with one campus group or another. Each of these phrases has a familiar counterpart in the customary language of higher education, and much can be gained—and little lost—by using the more familiar terms.

6. Achieve a balance between mandated and self-selected participation. Mandated participation may be appealing because it eliminates favoritism and creates a systematic approach. On the other hand, going where there is an interest means you spend less time trying to convert dissenters and detractors, focusing instead on building a growing network of supporters. Institutional change can be accomplished both ways, and many programs will benefit from a blend of these approaches.

7. Decide between a centralized or decentralized approach. Will selected programs be provided by a single center, or will departments be encouraged to develop their own programs? If resources are limited and the organizational development center cannot mandate complete consistency, it may be wise to moderate the need for centralized control. Institutional change can be achieved with either method or through a blend of these approaches.

8. Focus on academic as well as administrative departments. It is common for organizational development programs to focus on administrative and service departments. However, it is important that academics find the program and its vision and materials acceptable as well. To benefit from faculty expertise, credibility, and knowledge of academic functioning, it is useful—perhaps essential—to involve faculty in key roles or in advisory capacities related to change efforts.

9. Serve as a catalyst for innovation and improvement. Position program leaders as facilitators, innovators, communicators, educators, mentors, and catalysts for change—not necessarily as owners of projects. One approach is to identity initiatives for which the organizational development program can serve as an incubator to help get efforts underway. Once work is started, find an appropriate department to carry things forward.

10. Be a neutral third party with no agenda. Internal politics are important, especially in higher education, where there is often no clearly measurable bottom line. It is critical for an organizational development program to be seen as having no agenda other than facilitating the efforts of units and departments to succeed. Once this identity is established, opportunities for real progress increase. However, if the sense of impartiality is compromised, it may be impossible to regain.

11. Do not confuse purposes with tools. Tools and techniques can be seductive and distracting. People can become so excited about this or that technique that they lose sight of the broader purposes and mission of their work. Core values and purposes endure, but tools come and go.

12. Create flexible programs. People and administrations change. While this is not always comfortable, it can provide opportunities for new perspectives and learning. Make change initiatives flexible and able to support different administrative structures and leadership styles.

Program Offerings and Options

While the focus of change initiatives varies, some common topics emerge, such as strategic planning, workflow planning, and—in the personal development category—leadership training.

At Rutgers, the organizational development and leadership center offers organizational assessment, leadership and strategic planning, work-process design, faculty-staff workplace culture, excellence measures and outcomes, and organizational research services.

Penn State tailors workshops for faculty, staff, and administrators. A Leadership Academy for faculty leaders includes guidance on recruiting and retaining faculty, helping at-risk students succeed, retaining students, and controlling costs.

A collaborative approach at the University of California–Berkeley resulted in a highly effective strategic planning process for information technology professionals. Participants included more than 200 people from across the campus, who were members of 10 separate information technology-related committees.

“For the first time, we were able to focus discussion among campus leaders and information technology professionals on what was needed in the areas of research, teaching and learning, student experience, and administration,” Mitchell said. “We asked, ‘What are the emerging trends and directions in your areas, and what do you need from technology to be world class?’”

Change Management: A NACUBO Workshop

Bringing about organizational change is a challenging and complex process that gives higher education leaders the choice of either becoming the architects of change or its victims. “2008 Change Management,” a NACUBO workshop scheduled for April 28-29 at the Sheraton City Center Hotel, Baltimore, is an event that demonstrates how to become a change agent.

This interactive workshop provides guidance on not just what to do, but how to get it done. Brent D. Ruben, executive director of the Rutgers University Center for Organizational Development and Leadership, guides participants on a hands-on journey through the critical success factors in organizational change: planning, assessment, culture, communication, and leadership.

Attendees receive the practical book Ruben coauthored with colleague Sherrie Tromp, Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A Leader’s Guide. The book’s content applies specifically to the challenges of leading change initiatives.

 The workshop includes presentations and small group discussions. Participants have the opportunity to work through a case study of major organizational and cultural changes at a fictional university. Time is provided to discuss and strategize about change initiative challenges that participants are experiencing at their institutions.

The event is designed for:

  • Chief business officers
  • Chief academic officers
  • Associate and assistant deans and department chairs
  • Student affairs deans and directors
  • Service and auxiliary services directors
  • Organizational development, continuous improvement, and training professionals

For more information and to register, visit www.nacubo.org or phone 800.642.4916.

The methodology incorporated a self-study component and an internal-external review that included a team of chief information officers from other higher education institutions.

The recommendations that emerged strengthened the chief information officer role to serve the entire campus and created a Campus Technology Council that now guides campus strategic planning in the technology area. The council was even able to secure $6 million during UC–Berkeley’s 2007-08 budget process for information technology improvements ranging from using cluster computing to supporting multiple researchers more cost-effectively to upgrading the system used to manage contracts and grants.

Mitchell advocates “working with the largest system possible to implement change.” In this case, engaging champions and detractors and facilitating the sustained involvement of campus leaders were critical elements in redefining and addressing the information technology challenges. “If we tried to do this department by department it would have taken decades to accomplish what’s now in place,” she says.

At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the Office of Quality Improvement provides strategic planning and process improvement services, while the Office of Human Resource Development oversees professional development and leadership training. The two offices work in close collaboration.

Often a project conducted for one department will find applications in other parts of the university. For example, Cotter tells the story of a history department dean who was convinced that his department was so different from others that the administrative improvements developed there would not work anywhere else. However, her office found applications for the structure in 20 other departments.

The potential impact of change-oriented programs was demonstrated in 2001 at Cornell through a “Workforce Planning Initiative” that helped close a $25 million budget gap. The plan: to build organizational capacity by integrating activities across organizational boundaries. The initiative created a number of business service centers and redesigned more than 200 unit organizations over a three-year period. The result was annual savings of $15.7 million and a revamped, integrated university structure that operates much more smoothly.

Not all unit managers elected to apply all aspects of the organizational development process. In most cases, units had a much narrower agenda—one that involved only one or two strategic interventions. The most popular interventions were organizational assessment, strategic planning, team building, and leadership and supervisory development.

“We take a systems approach to organizational development, relating training to real issues in the organization,” Warzynski says. “One organizational development issue is pushing information down to the managerial level where these individuals can help solve the challenges they face.”

For smaller institutions that may lack the resources for full-blown organizational development offices, certain targeted programs can still make a difference. For example, Baton Rouge Community College, Louisiana, formed just 10 years ago, launched an initiative in its fourth year to link the budgeting and planning process to better reflect the strategic priorities of the college.

“Many people may feel that planning is simply an organized process of wishful thinking and that budget limitations control our organization’s ultimate destiny,” says Stephen Parker, executive director for accounting and finance at the college. To counteract this perception, he worked with the director of institutional research to develop a systematic approach to link the planning and budgeting process through an online program. Faculty and staff have praised the results.

Baton Rouge Community College also sponsors a Chancellor’s Leadership Academy in which employees with strong potential are identified and selected to participate in the program.

Taking Learning to Another Level

Recognizing the synergy created from sharing organizational experiences, Ruben—along with Cotter and several other institution leaders—created the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in 1999. Wheaton College’s Wallick currently serves as NCCI’s elected president.

NCCI’s mission is to advance academic and administrative excellence in higher education by identifying, promoting, supporting, and sharing effective organizational practices among member institutions. “Institutions can no longer succeed and grow in isolation,” Wallick observes. “They need to work together and learn from one another.”

He explains that NCCI not only brings institutions together, but is also a consortium of academic and administrative professionals ranging from provosts to CBOs working together across academic and nonacademic functions to build institutional effectiveness and the practice of continuous improvement.

“There are a good number of examples of innovation and excellence, but they are not shared beyond their point of origin,” Wallick says. “How can we disseminate this information to be adopted by others in higher education? That’s what NCCI does.” Within this context, regional networking groups provide valuable contacts with and input from other institutions.

Dooris participates in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which operates within the Big Ten Conference. “We constantly exchange information on how different aspects of our universities can operate better,” he says. “The committee includes groups for all types of functional areas. This is not an academic exercise—it is about how to deal with real problems.”

Warzynski is active in the “Ivys Plus Group,” which includes leaders from Ivy League institutions plus the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and New York University. The group shares best practices and holds an annual conference.

Wallick also spoke highly of the Boston Consortium, consisting of 13 colleges and universities in the Boston area seeking to improve services and contain costs through collaboration and joint initiatives.

Don’t Go It Alone

Planning an organizational development program or campaign in isolation can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many valuable resources exist to guide you in developing programs or leading change initiatives for the betterment of your institution. Following are a few of them:

NACUBO Organizational Development CD-ROM Series. Designed by the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University, this series provides tools to help colleges and universities build internal capacity for leadership, assessment, and continuous improvement. The six-CD-ROM series helps organizations develop the expertise to address immediate and long-term issues and maintain organizational excellence over time. Topics include:

  • Organizational Climate Assessment
  • Process Excellence
  • Communication Style Inventory
  • Leadership Style Inventory
  • Facilitating Focus Groups
  • Organizational Outcomes and Performance Measurement
  • Performance Measurement

CDs may be purchased separately or in a set. Go to www.nacubo.org for more information.

National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education. NCCI is committed to identifying and sharing effective organizational practices among member institutions. Visit www.ncci-cu.org for more information. The site includes a link to effective practices at many institutions, a link to Web sites with information on organizational development practices, and more.

The Organizational Development Network. The OD Network is an international professional association for organization development practitioners. The group offers professional development programs, networking opportunities, and other resources. Learn more at www.odnetwork.org.

Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (1996, New Society Publishers). Authored by Sam Kaner, the guide has been praised by organizational development professionals. Says Katherine Mitchell, of the University of California–Berkeley: “It contains a decision-making approach that has positively influenced our shared governance environment. Instead of decision making without a clear decision rule (or the ever-challenging concept of “consensus”), we use ‘gradients of agreement’ described in this book to reach sustainable agreements. [The technique] supports academics and administrators alike to create workable solutions.”

Rutgers University Center for Organizational Development and Leadership. This center serves Rutgers University and plays a broader leadership role in organizational development in higher education. Visit www.odl.rutgers.edu for more information. The site includes a “Resources” link that provides a wealth of information.

University of California–Berkeley Campuswide Information Technology Strategic Plan. The result of a major organizational development campaign, this document and related materials are excellent examples of the results that can be achieved from a focused effort. Visit http://technology.berkeley.edu/planning/ for details.

Community at Work. A consulting firm and think tank, this organization specializes in helping clients with group decision making. It offers three-day facilitator workshops, among other resources. Learn more at www.communityatwork.com.

Fee-Based or Gratis

Should organizational development centers charge for their services?

In an era of limited resources, this is a valid question. Some operations, such as the center at Rutgers, offer all programs free of charge within the university. “The obvious challenge is staffing and funding, because organizational development is outside the core business of the university,” Dooris says. “At Penn State our senior administration has always seen the value of having an office like ours, so we don’t charge for our services.”

Others, such as the University of Wisconsin–Madison, used to provide free services, but because of high demand were forced to charge for some programs. However, “we don’t ever want to say ‘no’ to a department because of money,” Cotter says. “Some departments might never even ask for help because they think it will cost money they can’t afford, and we would never even know of their need.”

To counteract this, her center has developed retainers with several of the colleges, which allows departments to use center resources without paying for them separately.

At Cornell, the organizational development program is subsidized by the university, but there is a charge for the project management course and some of the leadership programs.

Balancing Order and Chaos

While organizational development may have “order” as one its logical elements, that’s not the only way to approach the process.

In a recent article, Cotter writes about her conversation with Howard Bellman, a mediator. Bellman helps groups, such as unions, utilities, and environmental groups, advance issues about which they violently disagree because of the nature of their disparate missions. “In some ways,” Cotter writes, “advancing a campus vision and priorities in a culture of independent entrepreneurs has its similarities, though perhaps the challenge is more about getting people’s attention than about significant disagreement. Howard and I were noting that in our jobs we know very little about the issues that we help people address. He said, ‘It’s like jazz. There are some fundamental concepts, principles, and methods, and the rest you make up as you go.’”

Cotter takes this a step further, noting that University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor John Wiley talks about “the edge of chaos.” Wiley explains, “This is the most creative place to be: balanced precariously between order and anarchy. Don’t worry about not feeling that all is in order or under control. Get comfortable with discomfort. It is a good place to be for innovation.” And perhaps that’s true for organizational development, too.

AL RICKARD, principal of Association Vision, writes on higher education business issues for Business Officer.