Colleges are often prime targets for organizational development ("OD") and other systemic change efforts. Shared governance, where practiced, leads to blurry power relationships, and very different groups need to work together regardless. The roles of each group must be clearly defined, and communication between groups is essential. In many schools, there is also competition for limited resources.
Because of the many factors involved in academic performance, student retention, and other outcomes, it is also hard to determine a clear "cause and effect." This makes it hard to know what is truly effective without using data to map actions to results.
Many colleges are also faced with the need to cut costs while increasing academic support. In some cases, the students or their families are faced with lower incomes, and cannot pay tuition increases, and are challenged by the high cost of textbooks; in others, colleges must work harder to recruit students; and, in some cases, schools or colleges are facing budget cutbacks or large expenses for maintenance and construction. New opportunities for saving time and money must be found while increasing service quality.
There are many tools which can help colleges to face these issues. Most have been developed by academics, but they have mainly been used in the corporate world!
Tools for tuning schools and colleges
In many educational institutions, meetings are a part of everyday life and governance. Using a process consultant - internally or externally - can help to reduce conflict, increase meeting effectiveness and speed, and increase the satisfaction of everyone involved. A process consultant carefully intervenes in a group or team to help it to accomplish its goals. The consultant does not try to help the team as an expert; instead, the consultant helps the team to help itself. The process consultant must:
- not make value judgements or deal with content issues, and ask questions instead of offering expert advice.
- concentrate on the way the team works, rather than what it is working on.
- stay silent even when issues the consultant knows or cares about are discussed.
- help the team solve its own problems.
- understand group dynamics, conflict resolution, and manager/leader development.
Process consulting also requires a client who is willing to listen and change some habits if needed. Process consulting is as difficult for the client as it is for the consultant, but the rewards usually far outweigh the efforts and risks.
Our first process consulting assignment within a university reduced meeting times to 1/3 of their prior length, while increasing effectiveness and greating increasing satisfaction with the committee. Process consulting is often “low-hanging fruit” and can energize people and prepare them for further changes.
There are many processes in any organization, and education is no exception. From the registration of students in higher education to the creation of report cards in secondary schools, there are complex processes which may result in errors, wasted time or effort, or dissatisfied students. Work-flow mapping provides a way to cut the waste, improve the quality, and/or lower costs, while increasing student and staff satisfaction. We have more details on this work-flow / process mapping page.
Strategic and performance indicators
Strategic and performance indicators valuable for comparing your school to peers and to past performance; analyzing trends; and both long- and short-term planning. All involved parties, including students and the faculty, should participate in the selection of indicators. Wherever possible, new indicators should be compared to the college's results in previous years, and to similar schools.
Once the indicators have been chosen, the figures must be made reliable; norms must be established (based on previous years or peers); and the indicators, their norms, and their implications must be clear. Ideally, strategic and performance indicators become part of the college's planning process.
Strategic indicators may be set up for each area of a college, so that the Board and officers have one set, Student Services another, etc. A student "fact-sheet" that describes the characteristics of the student body is often helpful to the faculty and staff, including those at the lowest levels.
One of the most effective ways to use strategic indicators is as part of a balanced scorecard. There are many more details on strategic indicators on that page.
Helping institutions to implement changes - often changes which most people would agree are long overdue - in the most effective way, minimizing destructive conflict and resistance. This includes maximizing participation and involvement to enhance decisions and increase motivation for change.
Role and responsibility charting
Role and responsibility charting (essentially, mapping out each person's roles and responsibilities) is critical in education, where there are many constituencies, all of whom may claim responsibility for a task or decision. This can be accomplished by setting up a team of leaders from all groups, charting current perceptions of roles (or responsibilities - preferably both, but not at the same time!), and then setting up specific and unique people or groups to handle each role. This method also serves as a communication and conflict resolution tool, making it especially beneficial.
An objective, external facilitator can advise on the best way to implement these procedures without the appearance of bias or favoritism, thus encouraging participation while minimizing non-constructive conflict
Using role and responsibility charting may help to reconcile differences between constituencies; make decisions easier to make and implement; create an atmosphere of shared understanding and cooperation; and prevent duplication of effort. Even if no consensus is reached, there will be a greater understanding and the people involved will know where the conflicts are.
Surveys can provide invaluable data for decision-making, consensus-building, progress-checking, and focused change, and the data can be linked to key outcomes so a cause-and-effect relationship can be shown. There is a great deal of information on surveys at Toolpack’s web page. Often, universities have extensive free or nearly-free survey capabilities; those in other sectors of education can often make use of the universities’ outreach or internship programs.
Other forms of data collection
Using interviews, unobtrusive measures, and direct observations to gather information can help to focus efforts, evaluate changes, processes, and methods, and ensure that decision-makers and planners are using accurate and valid information.
Unobtrusive measures can include anything from studies of memos and policies to old surveys to absenteeism, lateness, and other "behavior" records; turnover, accident, and grievance statistics; and performance information (productivity, costs, re-work, complaints, etc).
Simply observing people bypasses the problems of self-report measures: there can be no covering up, no false reports. People can discuss real, indisputable actions as they occur. For some techniques, such as process consulting, direct observation is necessary and a part of the process. Direct observation can be used to check the validity of other data collection methods (to reduce bias, observation should be done by someone who does not have an investment in a particular point of view).
Unfortunately, observation takes a great deal of time, preparation, and, therefore, money (except in experimental work where people volunteer their time). Unless the actions observed are defined very tightly and are very simple, interpretation and coding are needed. This takes time and adds the possibility of bias. There are also sampling issues: which people to observe, when and where to observe them, and whether the observer should be visible or hidden. The presence of the observer may change what is observed, but hiding presents ethical issues.
Interviews allow probing for deeper answers, elaboration, and examples, and immerse the interviewer into the social system for a greater understanding. Good interviewers can also elicit more honest and more sensitive information than surveys. By using interviews, future change agents can also introduce themselves and establish rapport and trust. However, they are expensive and prone to bias.