Every industry is unique; education is unique enough that many resent anyone who calls it an industry. But across industries and into the world of education, institutions, organizations, and companies are composed of people — people who develop a culture, with norms and roles, who sometimes have issues communicating, and who can be more or less effective at their jobs.
The idea that each occupation requires unique treatment works well — for certain industry-specific consultants, at least. But the barriers raised by “that doesn’t apply to us” mean that colleges, universities, and school districts are often prime targets for organizational development (“OD”) and other systemic change efforts.
Indeed, some tools are even more important in education — such as role mapping. Tradition, shared governance, and natural crossover can bring some rather blurry power relationships, particularly in higher education. Clarifying the roles of each group and increasing communication between them can dramatically improve performance, cutting costs, improving education, or raising enrollment.
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. That data is often readily available or easy to acquire, but not yet analyzed — or the results have not been used yet.
Many colleges must cut costs and increase both enrollment and academic support, even while they compete with online institutions. New opportunities for saving time and money must be found while increasing service quality. There are many tools to help; most have been developed by academics, but have mainly been used in the corporate world!
Tools for tuning schools and colleges
A process consultant carefully intervenes in a group or team to help it to accomplish its goals. Using a process consultant (internal or external) can help to reduce conflict, increase meeting effectiveness and speed, and increase the satisfaction of everyone involved.
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 performance indicators
Strategic performance indicators are valuable for comparisons to peers, analyzing trends, and planning.
All involved parties, including students and the faculty, should participate in the selection of indicators. Once the indicators have been chosen, the figures must be made reliable if they are not already; norms must be established; 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, so that the Board and officers have one set, Student Services another, etc. A student “fact-sheet” 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 and other forms of research
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.
Interviews and unobtrusive measures can also gather information can focus efforts, evaluate changes, processes, and methods, and ensure that decision-makers and planners are using accurate and valid information.
Unobtrusive measures covers a wide gamut, and can include academic records, years to graduate, transfer-out and dropout rates, absenteeism and lateness records, turnover, grievance statistics, studies of policies — anything that is either already collected or can be collected without people noticing (hence the term “unobtrusive”). Aside from not interrupting people as they work, unobtrusive members get around the Hawthorne Effect, where people act differently when they know someone is watching the outcomes. Interviews are tricky — they are valuable for gathering qualitative information, but interviewers tend to bias the results with the slightest of nonverbal cues. Today, open-ended survey questions can often stand in for interviews, especially given their lower cost.
In the end
Any technique that works in industry is likely to work in education, because, while certain problems are more important and others less so, and some issues are more prevalent than others, both education and industry deal with people; power, communication, culture, and roles are all key factors in effectiveness. While an industry-focused consultant may understand some of these problems better, in the end the consultant is best used to facilitate processes and uncover information; decisions are always best made by the people involved. Use whatever tools you can, and you can make your organization more effective.