A great deal of potential change in higher education has been identified. These changes are also all happening simultaneously. It would be wonderful if life provided just as much change as we humans could handle and wait patiently to deliver the next round. That isn’t how change—or life for that matter— works.

So how can change be made easier or more palatable? Whether you are an individual or a leader managing a team through change, having greater knowledge of what change management really is helps a great deal.

Thing One: Getting Smarter About What Change Management Is

Change management is defined as the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required outcome. Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change.7

That definition didn’t say a word about a project management spreadsheet, which is what most people think of when grappling with organizational change. Absolutely there will be spreadsheets in any change initiative, but the human side of change is what the art of change management is about.

Tasks can be legislated, assigned and tracked all day long, but that doesn’t mean the workforce embraces them. Many times, that is how change efforts fail. In fact, nearly every time a change effort fails, someone did not shepherd the human component.

Thing Two: Realizing Change Management Really Does Work

Effective change management is a success enabler. Research on thousands of initiatives shows a direct correlation between how well the people side of change is managed (change management) and how successful the effort is.

Thing Three: Secure All Constituencies Affected by Change

For change to work, a high degree of collaboration is needed from those who want to see the change implemented with ones who will be affected by the change. It’s that second segment that is the most overlooked.

The easiest way to ascertain if a change effort is on the right track is to ask the simple question “Who here are the users?” or “How are the users represented?” If the change team can’t answer that question or the response sounds something like, “Their supervisors will get them on board,” you have a problem.

Disengaged users will avoid at best, and at worst, even sabotage your change efforts. If the change desired makes their work harder (and you didn’t do your homework to figure that out), they will not embrace the change.

Thing Four: Don’t Outsource Your Responsibility For Managing Change

Ron Ashkenash in the Harvard Business Review notes:

“The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped. In fact, instead of strengthening managers’ ability to manage change, we’ve instead allowed managers to outsource change management to HR specialists and consultants instead of taking accountability themselves – an approach that often doesn’t work”

This is closely tied to Thing Three. Managers are often completely overlooked, overwhelmed and then responsible for a mission-critical change effort, which adds to the anxiety of the change effort. Think about change in your own institutions. Who in your reporting order is managing your change?

Thing Five: Adopt a “Bucket Approach” Way of Thinking

If you are a manager helping your staff through change, here is an easy way to gauge whether or not your efforts are on target.

When employees adapt or adjust to change, they make a choice to invest their valuable resources. Time, effort, cognitive and physical energy are all invested by employees to make sense of their changing workplace. Employees must learn new information and skills, change their behaviors, and even think and feel differently. Quite frankly, it can be exhausting.

Not only can a turbulent workplace reduce employees’ commitment to their organization, but multiple changes may also deplete employees’ resources to the point where they become dissatisfied and are no longer able to invest high levels of involvement in their work.

Once their bucket is empty or near empty, these workers—your workers —look elsewhere.

However, many employees are successful through change, so what do they do differently? They believe the change will impact their job positively. Not the institution’s view of success, but their own personal job satisfaction.

Who Can Help With This?

If you are a part of a large institution that has the means to drive large complex change initiatives, you are in luck. Most likely they will have the resources to shepherd change. However, if you see that various constituencies might be left out, you have a duty to raise a flag.

In smaller institutions who may be struggling with change, there are a variety of models and resources that are worth investigating to assist yourself in dealing with change or to support your teams.

If workers feel the change will help them refill their bucket somehow at some future point—more time saved, better outcomes, better networking—whatever it is that drives that individual, the change will more likely be perceived as “good.”

It behooves managers that are managing through change to actively monitor where their employees are in regard to their buckets. Is the bucket leaking? Or is it filling? Are you helping them see the positives? Are you enlisting those that are doing better to help those that are still struggling? Peer and manager support through change is vital.

The moral of the story is that the tighter you as a manager are with the perceptions and feelings of the staff navigating change, the more successful you will be.

Learn more in our whitepaper: Succeeding in the Maelstrom of Change: Unique Challenges in Higher Education.