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Change Artists

With limited resources, how can institutions conceive and undertake projects that have true impact? Thanks to Lumina and NACUBO, seven colleges and universities selected to participate in Challenge 2010 were able to try a hand at designing change initiatives to improve efficiency, transparency, and accountability.

By Susan Jurow and Brent D. Ruben

*While the Great Recession has technically run its course, large swaths of devastation have been left in its wake. Whole industries have been turned upside down. Organizations are restructuring, merging, and reducing or revising services. These are the tell-tale signs of our times. Tough times. And tough issues that would seem to require nothing short of magic to solve.

Enter: the change artists—those who have the passion to tackle organizational change and try to make it stick. Those who recognize that change doesn't come easily, that it is as much art as science. One such effort came in the form of NACUBO Challenge 2010: Building a Culture of Assessment and Accountability, initiated with the support of the Lumina Foundation. The project was designed to address the unprecedented challenges that higher education continues to face on multiple fronts: diminishing levels of public and private support; intensifying competition in familiar and not-so-familiar places; and unyielding critique from students, parents, boards, accreditors, and other constituencies. The fixes can lie in improving operational performance and efficiency, enabling broader access, ensuring timely graduation, updating facilities, documenting goals and outcomes—and the list goes on and on. And with all this, there is the ongoing challenge of more persuasively communicating the organization's accomplishments for the benefit of both its own constituents and others.

Although the range of approaches is daunting, institutions with diverse missions, distinct traditions, and varying fiscal models are finding that they have in common the need to look for strategies that allow them to tackle several initiatives simultaneously. A commitment to locally initiated and locally owned projects has long been the practice within most colleges and universities, and the need for and direction of changes have been largely self-motivated, incremental, and driven by academic aspirations. It now becomes increasingly evident that fragmented approaches to institutional improvement may well be too slow and too limited in scope to address the pace and pervasiveness of the challenges that confront us.

Consequently, we are witnessing a rush to identify more generic strategies for increasing organizational effectiveness and efficiency, often applying tools that have become familiar in business and health care-tools such as restructuring and merging programs and departments, reducing the number of leadership levels, increasing the centralization and the sharing of services, identifying ways to leverage core competencies and expertise to generate new revenue streams, forming new partnerships and alliances, revamping or eliminating ineffective processes, outsourcing, and making more effective and creative use of technology.

To get all this right, such intense and rapid change requires a disciplined approach to organizational assessment and planning. We've learned from organizations in other sectors that have faced similar challenges that it is essential to identify the right changes and to make them in the right way. How then can institution leaders deal more holistically with the converging pressures primarily dictated by changing external and marketplace conditions?

This is what the NACUBO Challenge 2010 project set out to explore. The idea was to examine the value of the Baldrige framework, an influential model—named after Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige—that has been a major force in motivating and guiding organizational change in corporate America for the past 25 years. Coupling the Baldrige approach with the Excellence in Higher Education process (which applies Baldrige principles to the higher education industry), NACUBO sought to call attention to and test the applicability of a tool that has been effective in business and health care for reviewing and improving current practices, guiding the development and implementation of new and transformative initiatives, and reshaping the organizational practices and culture. The EHE model—and the Baldrige framework on which it is based—identify seven critical focal points for assessing and improving higher education organizations. (See sidebar, “EHE Resources to Guide Your Change Efforts.” These concepts are explained in detail in NACUBO's Excellence in Higher Education Guide, 2010 Edition, developed by Brent D. Ruben.

The Challenge initiative provided training and support in the Baldrige/EHE approach and examined its value in a variety of higher education settings. The goals for the project included:

  • Serving as proof of concept for using the Baldrige/EHE framework to assess, plan, and improve.
  • Clarifying the value of the approach for facilitating organizational change leadership.
  • Creating experienced role models for others to emulate.
A national call for proposals resulted in 26 applications, seven of which were selected.

The proposed projects spanned the broad spectrum of higher education endeavors and targeted (1) improving and strengthening existing processes and practices, (2) creating and implementing new initiatives, and (3) promoting efforts to create momentum for systemic change among multiple departments and institutions within a system.

Campus leaders of participating institutions took part in a five-day orientation and training program, which introduced the Baldrige concept, the EHE framework and methodology, and the way the two approaches drive change leadership. For detailed examples of the ways that two other institutions applied the change model, see Business Officer articles “Ready for a Close-Up” (Marist College, June 2011) and “Staying Out in Front” (American University, January 2012).

Participants then spent 12 months digging into their work. By July 2011, project representatives reported on their various projects at the NACUBO 2011 Annual Meeting. They shared best practices relative to the four major areas that were the centerpiece of the Challenge project: creating an appetite for change, leading the change process, overcoming resistance to change, and integrating the new or improved practices into the fabric of the organization.

The following pages include abstracts of each of the seven projects, as well as comments by the various project participants about project outcomes, lessons learned along the way, and how they will carry the work forward.

Skip to a project:

Improving and Strengthening Existing Practices

Three institutions used Baldrige/EHE to assess and improve current practices.

Assessment, Planning, and Improvement in the Finance Division

Name of Institution: American University (AU)

Location: Washington, D.C.

Institution type: Private, four-year university.

Enrollment (fall 2010): 13,000 (including undergraduates, graduates, and law students).

Staff: 1,300 full-time administrative staff, 750 full-time faculty, and 500 adjunct faculty.

Project context. American University's earlier strategic budget planning helped the institution sidestep the budgetary crisis caused by the Great Recession. Many other colleges and universities were standing on a “burning platform” due to unfavorable economic conditions. American University was grateful not to be facing such a budget crisis, but leaders also recognized that crisis situations create opportunities for innovation, creativity, and advancement that AU could potentially miss out on. To ensure that this does not happen, the Challenge Project sought to create at least a sense of a “smoking platform” that would motivate improvements in process and practice.

“Our experience underscored the importance of visionary, initiative-level leadership to energize a change initiative. The need to manage both up and down the organization is critically important to the success of the project.”

Nana An, assistant vice president of university budget and finance resource center

AU's budget and finance processes were selected as a pilot project for application of the Baldrige/EHE model in an effort to advance the part of AU's strategic plan that called for encouragement of innovation and high performance. It related in several specific ways: improve AU's budget and finance processes; identify strengths and areas for improvement; consider exemplary practices; and adopt best practices that could be presented to, and potentially applied by, other institutions.

Project status. AU is currently in the fourth stage of planned change, enlisting action with the various groups collaborating to implement 8 of the 26 improvement projects identified during the assessment of finance processes. Anticipated deliverables include: a first series of budget- and financial-management training sessions; service-level agreement on core services to support a transparent process of facilities chargeback activities; cross-divisional collaboration discussions among campus leaders; expanded enterprise systems training; and a business intelligence tool to support effective business decision making.

Information Technology Self-Assessment Project

Name of Institution: Marist College

Location: Poughkeepsie, New York

Institution type: Private, four-year university.

Enrollment: Total of 6,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

Staff: 635 full-time staff, 226 full-time faculty, and 422 adjunct faculty.

Project context. Marist College is recognized for excellence in the use of technology to enhance the teaching and learning process. When the IT department began to investigate formal processes for self-review, it became clear that to remain a higher education IT leader, the college had to identify opportunities for improving the IT infrastructure, mission, and service goals. Advances in these areas would keep Marist a step ahead while allowing the college to perform at a higher level in providing services to the campus and its constituencies.

The technology divisions within the IT department have worked through one full-cycle review using the Baldrige/EHE criteria to assess service operations. Project leaders are now developing improvement plans and collecting outcomes information to report to key constituents.

“We realized that the Challenge 2010 approach provides service organizations a template from which to take a services inventory, review and understand all aspects of the environment in which we operate, and then formulate plans to improve services on a year-after-year basis.”

Reba-Anna Lee, assistant director, information technology

An area of particular focus for Marist has involved developing metrics, gathering analysis of outcomes and peer-comparison data, and using that information to establish baselines and goals.

Project status. At this point, each of IT's 14 divisions, which include desktop computing, the post office, and telecommunications, has established a series of outcome measures. Based on an assessment of current outcomes and the standards of peers, each has identified specific improvement projects and targets.

The self-assessment will also be used as part of the Middle States accreditation process. Future plans call for the IT department to disseminate its knowledge and experience with Baldrige/EHE to support the implementation of the model within the finance and physical plant divisions.

Preparing for an Accreditation

Name of Institution: Rogue Community College (RCC)

Location: Grants Pass, Oregon

Institution type: Community college with three campuses covering two counties.

Enrollment: 20,000 students.

Staff: 100 full-time faculty, 500 part-time faculty, and 225 full- and part-time staff.

Project context. Rogue Community College leaders applied for the NACUBO Challenge with the intent of using the Baldrige/EHE framework to complete the college's 10-year accreditation self-study for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) under a newly revised set of standards and processes, and to initiate a more systematic approach to continuous improvement.

“The Baldrige/EHE approach has been a valuable tool in the accreditation self-study process. RCC found that the EHE categories correlated very well with the NWCCU standards.”

Denise Swafford, administrative coordinator and accreditation liaison officer

Project status. RCC began its effort with an awareness that the revised accreditation standards emphasized assessment even more than the previous framework. The new standards also required a more interconnected and holistic assessment of the college. Realizing that the central theme of Baldrige/EHE is assessment, the project leaders noted that the project work can be applied to both the whole institution and its parts.

The Baldrige/EHE framework emphasizes the importance of clarifying major elements of the college's mission—core themes in the Rogue Community College framework. These elements had yet to be defined at RCC, and EHE provided guidance for the task. It also shed light on the ways existing activities aligned with the core items and how they could be assessed to evaluate the extent of mission fulfillment.

The project leaders used one of the planning elements of Baldrige/EHE, a framework that identifies the importance of understanding and managing the dynamics of change through each key stage—attention, engagement, commitment, action, and integration—to (1) guide the introduction of the new accreditation standards and the completion of the self-study and (2) introduce the new EHE concepts to set the stage for a collegewide assessment that validated and strengthened understanding of the college's mission.

As the self-study nears completion, the Baldrige/EHE model will be applied to various functions, beginning with the college services division, which includes facilities, business and finance, human resources, information technology, and auxiliary services. Departments and functional areas will use this process as a way to identify strengths and opportunities, and practice and demonstrate continuous improvement at Rogue Community College.

Creating and Implementing New Practices

Three institutions used the Baldrige/EHE model to develop and implement new processes and procedures.

Initiating a New Space Planning System

Name of Institution: University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC)

Location: Fort Worth

Institution type: Public research university/graduate school only. The academic health science center includes the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Public Health, and the School of Health Professions.

Enrollment: 1,576 graduate students.

Staff: 412 faculty, 851 adjunct faculty, and 1,350 administrative staff.

“We learned that meeting with key team members on a regular basis kept the communication lines open and feedback flowing. Using the planning, goals, strategies, and action plans helped walk us through what we needed to do. And in each stage, we focused on: audience, intended outcome, resistance, message, communication channel, and message source.”

Jason Hartley, executive director, facilities management

Project context. The Challenge project was sponsored by the operations division and called for a new space inventorying and planning system. The aims were to develop and implement processes to ensure effective communication with the UNTHSC executive team, leadership team, and other key constituents for space planning. The goal: to collect and provide data to be used in decision making for space allocation and projection models.

Fulfilling these aims would require a number of steps, including developing space management procedures and guidelines, defining necessary roles and responsibilities, detailing processes and timelines, establishing space-allocation standards, and documenting current space allocation and utilization. The project team established six specific goals critical to accomplishing these steps: develop leadership capacity; align use of education and research facilities with strategic plan and budget; meet the needs of key beneficiaries and constituents; become data-informed by using accurate, accessible, and timely reports; organize and train workforce; and sustain effective and efficient work processes.

Project status. At this point, UNTHSC's processes, procedures, and guidelines are in place, and the staff and leadership team have embraced all the processes. As a final step in the initiative, the college purchased the IWMS software (Archibus). The data from all departments have been downloaded, dedicated servers are in place, and the program is operational. The space administrator is testing the program and making changes as needed. Final redesigns and programming changes are complete, and training is under way for all staff who will be using the program.

Designing and Implementing a New, Integrated Performance Management System

Name of Institution: Loras College

Location: Dubuque, Iowa

Institution type: Private, liberal arts Catholic college.

Enrollment: Approximately 1,600 students.

Staff: Approximately 350 faculty and staff.

“What is perhaps most notable about this project is that it signals that the college is acknowledging its new emphasis on the importance of integrated planning, process improvement, and organizational design”

Gloria Regalbuto-Bentley, vice president for organizational development

Project context. The Loras College project initially focused on instituting a human resources program that would provide a new collegewide approach to performance assessment. After attending the Challenge 2010 orientation session, Loras's leaders made the decision to broaden the scope of the initiative, using it as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive performance management system that would (1) review institutional mission, vision, and strategy; (2) set unit and individual objectives;
(3) provide continuous performance feedback; (4) assess performance; and (5) create individual development plans.

Early into the project, leaders discovered that not only was there significant inattention to performance reviews, but the college did not have in place any mechanisms for holding department heads accountable for implementing strategies identified for their areas. The conclusion: It would be difficult to assess performance against plan, when the plan was not broadly owned, aligned, and monitored.

The task force that was formed to lead the change process ultimately worked on mapping the cyclical process of planning, goal setting, and performance review. Task force members also created documentation to assure consistent implementation. As it evolved, the process also undertook strategic planning in the seven of eight college divisions that volunteered to participate in the development and testing of the approach.

Project status. The project is now in the fourth and fifth stages of organizational change—enlisting action on a broad scale throughout the college and institutionalizing change. Some of the many contributions of the EHE approach include: expanding the scope of the improvement initiative from single departments to the entire institution; helping identify potential pockets of resistance and develop strategies to address them; and changing the approach from a flawed leader-centered design and implementation to an effective collaborative approach.

Introducing an Innovative HR Personal Financial Consultation Program

Name of Institution: University of Georgia

Location: Athens (For the full story about this project, read “Transforming the HR Service Model,” in NACUBO's quarterly newsletter HR Horizons.

Institution type: Public, land grant and sea grant research institution.

Enrollment: Approximately 35,000 students (4,000 enrolled in student health insurance).

Staff: 10,000 benefit-eligible faculty and staff, 6,000 temporary employees, and 5,000 retirees.

“We have learned throughout the planning process that communication-one of the factors highlighted in the EHE and change framework-is key to our success. As opportunities arise and target groups are determined, we review the [program] brochure and any e-mail or letter communication and make changes as needed.”

Lydia Lanier, senior director, financial management and education center

Project context. The HR division, staffed with only 34 employees (5 of whom are part time), provides a variety of services for its 25,000 clients. The ratio of HR staff to clients is 1: 294, the highest among the university's peer institutions. HR has been rethinking and reinventing its role in serving faculty and staff-transitioning from a transactional model to a people- and organizational-services approach.

Challenge 2010 was an excellent fit for a plan to create a new 360-degree financial consulting program, envisioned as a confidential, unbiased, comprehensive review of benefit and retirement options. The review was to be offered free of charge to all employees. The service, provided by two experienced financial consultants, would include review of currently selected benefits, discussions of all benefit choices available, access to tools and resources, review of retirement goals, and so on.

After almost a year in the planning, the 360 Personal Financial Consultation (360PFC) was submitted to the NACUBO Challenge, so that the Baldrige/EHE model could be used to guide the development and implementation of the program. According to the project director, one of the most helpful segments of the Challenge 2010 model was the focus on the stages of successful change: attention, engagement, commitment, action, and integration. The attention component took two forms: the project team's need to be attentive to faculty and staff needs, and the need to draw attention to the new program via communication efforts.

Project status. The 360PFC has been implemented with 750 employees during the program's first 18 months. Faculty and staff feedback has been solicited on a consistent basis, with a 75 percent response rate and an average assessment rating of 8.72 out of 10.

Promoting Multicampus and System Change

Encouraging Change at Multiple Institutions Within a System

Name of Institution: California State University (CSU)

Institution type: Public, four-year comprehensive and doctoral institutions.

Enrollment: More than 400,000 students (combined enrollment).

Staff: More than 40,000 at 23 campuses.

Project context. Several of the university's many campuses were already involved in Baldrige/EHE, but the framework wasn't gaining any traction. The point of the Challenge 2010 project was to further define an approach for a campus, division, or college that was flexible enough to be useful for CSU's wide range of sizes and types of organizations.

To accomplish this objective, the project team conducted five pilots of the EHE concept on three campuses, studied previous attempts to use Baldrige or EHE within CSU, and interviewed individuals who had effectively used such an approach in other organizations or sectors.

“Facilitator knowledge and skills were instrumental factors ... in helping secure commitment
from leaders and teams and dealing with resistance during the process... .”

Kenneth DeVane, quality improvement project manager, business solutions services

Project status. Approximately 60 individuals participated in the five pilot projects. Overall responses to the projects were positive, with 84 percent of individuals indicating that they would recommend the process to others. Participants also described the work as “open and constructive sharing of opinions about our unit” and noted that they were able to identify areas where improvements were needed.

For CSU, the engagement of various leaders and participants in an EHE/Baldrige-based assessment process will be a multilayered and repetitive task. When looking at the system as a whole, the CSU leadership team considers it to be in the initial stage of change management, with the efforts of different campuses and divisions within the system in different stages ranging from “unaware,” to “gaining attention,” to “institutionalizing” change.

From the perspective of Robert Gardner, vice president for administration and finance and CFO at CSU-San Bernardino, a particularly active campus in the CSU Challenge project: “The value of the EHE process to CSU was the disciplined approach based on a logical and integrated framework. The process gave staff opportunities to evaluate their jobs, impact, and overall roles and responsibilities in their organizations. Employees were excited to be invited [to participate] and to be able to assess how they might improve current operations.”

Project Leaders Learn by Doing

The institution administrators who were tasked with leading the NACUBO Challenge 2010 projects offer a number of insights about the learning curve of their various initiatives. Here are a few key ones:

Take a Page From Peers' Reports

As Challenge 2010 project participants concluded their work, they developed final reports, assembled for a one-day event in mid-2011, and reviewed and discussed their individual projects. Project overviews were also presented in three well-attended plenary sessions on the opening day of the NACUBO 2011 Annual Meeting in Tampa last July.

One of the intentions of Challenge 2010 is to spread the word about effective processes and provide real-world examples of initiatives and outcomes. The Challenge 2010 Web site is accessible to the public and shares many details from the various project teams.

  • Leadership commitment is critical. One criterion for project selection was sponsorship and institutional support. The importance of leadership commitment and continuity of support was considered by several project leaders as an essential ingredient to progress and the ultimate success of a change initiative. Leadership support should not be regarded as a static concept, says Nana An, assistant vice president of university budget and finance resource center, American University, Washington, D.C. “It may be essential to 'manage up' and 'manage down' as a project develops. Our experience underscored the importance of visionary, initiative-level leadership to energize a change initiative.”

    Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York, identified strong leadership of the president, senior administration, and the CIO as critical to the success of its project.
  • Gain attention and create a sense of urgency. At Marist College, the Challenge 2010 project focused on assessing the IT department's overall customer service, learning outcomes for the department's student employees, and support for the student body as a whole. However, project leaders ramped up the sense of urgency by aligning the assessment to the school's existing continuous improvement plan, which supports its accreditation preparation.

    To keep project participants engaged and on a schedule, said Reba-Anna Lee, assistant director, information technology, “all assignments had due dates as well as guidelines for keeping a standard format of feedback.”
  • Identify and engage beneficiaries and constituents. Broad participation in the planning and implementation process is important. For the University of Georgia Personal Financial Consultation Program, the project team knew that it needed to draw attention to the new program and the benefits it would provide to faculty and staff. “We made the decision not to communicate this new service campuswide during its introduction,” said Lydia Lanier, senior director, financial management and education center. “Instead, we began with a pilot group of 30 top administrators, with the thought that this group would be candid with its feedback and provide the information needed for continuous improvement.”
  • Expect resistance. Work with opinion leaders and likely early adopters. Understand your institution's appetite for change and start with pilot projects that have meaning for the institution. “We found that facilitators needed strong skills regarding the use of Baldrige, improvement concepts, and presentation and group management,” said Kenneth DeVane, quality improvement project manager, business solutions services, California State University. “Facilitator knowledge and skills were instrumental factors not only in guiding the assessment process but also in helping secure commitment from leaders and teams, in planning and assessments, in dealing with resistance during the process, and in ensuring appropriate follow-up after the sessions.”
  • Be able to answer the question, “What's in it for me?” Meet people where they are, not where you would like them to be. This was particularly applicable at California State University, a system so complex and large that introducing and engaging various leaders and participants in the EHE/Baldrige assessment process would be a multilayered and repetitive task. The CSU project leaders looked at the system as a whole and considered it to be in the initial stage of change management. But, they approached the numerous campuses and divisions in the system recognizing that each was in a different place—anywhere from “unaware,” to “gaining attention,” to “institutionalizing change”—and approached the change process accordingly.
  • Have short- and long-term goals, and set priorities. Look at both impact and amount of effort required. Focus first on high-impact and low-effort projects. At Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, the project leader realized that the Challenge 2010 work would be a stretch for an institution with its particular traditions and culture. For that reason, “we determined that it would be far more appropriate to move incrementally in introducing and building support for the new framework—building understanding and grassroots support as the project progressed—rather than mandating adoption of the framework in an across-the-board manner,” said Gloria Regalbuto-Bentley, vice president for organizational development.
  • Move slowly. Manage information carefully, and methodically time-release pilots. “From this experience,” said UGA's Lanier, “we realized that we could use regularly scheduled communication throughout the year as opportunities to market our 360PFC service. With each opportunity that presented itself, we followed the same planning structure as we did with the first pilot group: Define the target group, develop a communication plan, perform the 360PFCs, create a follow-up plan, and assess the data received for the group. ... After much repetition, the action plans became habit, and with each stage and new group, we held steadfast to the principles of successful change: attention, engagement, commitment, and action.”
  • Leverage successes. As the pilot becomes effective, the word will spread and you will be asked to do more. An area of particular focus for the Marist initiative was the development of metrics and the gathering and analysis of outcomes and peer-comparison data. The goal: to use that information for establishing baselines and future goals. Each of IT's 14 divisions has established a series of outcome measures and, based on an assessment of current outcomes and the standards of peers, has identified specific improvement projects and targets.
  • Link the initiative to highly respected, well-established, or mandated processes, such as strategic planning, accreditation, or benefits changes. Rogue Community College project leaders knew the revised accreditation standards used by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities emphasized assessment even more than its previous framework. Denise Swafford, administrative coordinator and accreditation liaison officer, noted: ”Assessment is obviously the central theme of the Baldrige/EHE framework, which can be applied to both the whole institutions and its parts, so it has been a valuable tool in the accreditation self-study process.” In addition, RCC found that the EHE categories correlated very well with the NWCCU accreditation standards.
  • Measure progress and track outcomes. This is a difficult process, but vital to assuring progress, making midcourse corrections, and documenting and reporting outcomes. For the University of North Texas Health Science Center, “the Challenge 2010 framework was particularly helpful in planning and measuring our progress as we developed our project,” said Jason Hartley, executive director, facilities management. “We used assessment strategies with each stage to ensure that the project would be thorough and successful.”
  • Communication is key at every stage. Careful planning and attention to drafting the best messages and using the most effective channel for each constituency is vital. Two-way communication shares needed information, increases collaboration, builds helpful relationships, establishes trust, and heightens the likelihood of attaining the desired outcomes.

    “A communication review has become a routine element of our overall strategy,” said Lanier. “One of the most crucial ingredients in our communication strategy is to determine the most effective way to reach a specific target group. For example, our first external target group consisted of 30 top administrators at the university. We had many discussions in the beginning about the best way to contact this pilot group. Our decision to have one-on-one conversations resulted in the most effective outcome.”

SUSAN JUROW retired senior vice president for professional development, NACUBO, managed this and two other grant projects funded by the Lumina Foundation. BRENT D. RUBEN is executive director, Center for Organizational Development and Leadership, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.