Cross the Bridge: A Practical Guide to Building Vibrant Culture

Many Indian universities have started recognizing the need of being flexible and responsive to befall their academic goals with the trends of the global higher education. In fact, quite a few of them have started defining goals and strategies in this regard. However, what these institutions, perhaps, may not realize is that there is an important bridge called ‘culture’ to be crossed for a smooth transitioning into a vibrant varsity.

Even the most well-outlined plans may fail to deliver their promise if the institution’s culture is pushed to the lower rung of the ‘change’ ladder. Shawn Parr, CEO of Bulldog Drummond, resonates this fact in his article ‘Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch’.  According to his viewpoint, “Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death. There are significant benefits that come from a vibrant and alive culture. A vibrant culture provides a cooperative and collaborative environment for a brand to thrive in.”  This holds true for the higher education sector too. Hence, universities and the academic leaders must realize that culture can be an exponential tool in their armory for an effective change management.

In our concluding part of the series ‘Vibrant Varsities’, we bring a concise, practical guide for the institutions to cope and manage change, taking culture’s influence into consideration.

Define the Problems and Change Objectives

The first step is to identify the barriers to the strategic change. An in depth review should answer why your institution needs to become responsive to the changes.  Another focus should be on the type and scale of change. Whether it should be structural, cultural, process or all these three?  Do you want to make all the changes right away, or take an incremental approach? You must also include problems such as lack of resources,  leadership conflicts and policy issues in your action plan. Let’s say,  the problem is the lack of modernization in the current curriculum. The desired outcome might be a technology enabled learning (TEL) course structure. To achieve this, you will have to find out which is the right technology, who are the innovative educators and will it increase the student engagement. In a nutshell, after you have established the key problems, there would be much more clarity in proposing specific and detailed outcomes to each of these problems.

Form a Team of Change Agents

Change means a potential threat to the existing way of doing things. This translates into likely resistance from the stakeholders in the institution.  It is at this juncture, that the institution can bring the right and  like-minded senior academic leaders to the table to wear the cap of change agents or problem solvers. These change makers are willing to take the institutional change personally; believe that the changes they are bringing are genuine; and can even change their leadership style to accommodate the changes.  They can lead, inspire, influence and motivate the academic and student community to make the change happen and give it an image akin to a campaign.

Forge ‘Change’ Network Alliances

A Harvard Business Review study shows that network centrality is critical to the success for the change agents, irrespective of their formal position in the institution.  In order to sell the idea of ‘change’ to the ‘change targets’ (people who will benefit from the change) and ‘change haters’ (people who resist the change), the change agents have to build alliances with other academics.  Whether they route it through their personal, formal or informal network, either way, more people are expected to join the mission and extend their support.

Adopt an Organic Approach

An incremental approach to change can yield better results than a radical transformation. This is because, the stakeholders in your institution may not respond suitably, if the changes happen too quickly. Hence, the change makers can initiate the process by entrusting one department at the university with this responsibility, challenging them to diagnose issues and develop creative solutions. Based on the outlook, views and feedback of this department,  the changes can be extended to other departments as well. This way, the relationships and networks will multiply, making it relatively an effortless exercise to implement the changes across the entire campus.

Communicate the Changes to the Top Line

For a continuous improvement in the change process,  it is imperative for the vice chancellors and deans to be aware of how things are unfolding at the bottom. The wealth of information collected from different departments can back the decisions made by the leaders and also measure the impact of the changes in the institution. A continuous evaluation of the change management initiatives will also help to reaffirm the organizational commitment at various levels and across different stakeholders.

Implementing changes in the university culture are difficult, but not impossible. They do not happen overnight. To embrace the changes successfully, the institutions as well as the change makers are required to exercise the virtues of patience and lead by example.

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