Isabel Thottam

by Isabel Thottam

Change management refers to the process of leading individuals, teams, or an entire company or organization through structural change. It can be difficult to navigate because there are several different layers affected by change management: the individual people, the team or department, and the overall institution or organization. Isabel Thottam leads us through the steps for implementing successful change management.

To most people, change is viewed as a burden and is not always welcomed, especially when rushed or poorly handled. This is why 70% of change initiatives are doomed to fail.

Higher education institutions are particularly under pressure to change because the field of education is constantly evolving. But addressing change in higher education can be a huge task because there are so many different groups of people involved: stakeholders, faculty and staff, and students.

So how do you initiate a successful change management when there are so many people and systems at play?  By following these four steps to successful change management, colleges and universities can shift with desirable outcomes.

  1. Identify Areas of Improvement
  2. Present the Case for Change
  3. Implement Change
  4. Review and Evaluate Success

When handled effectively and approached in a positive manner, change can be received well by your organization or team and reach successful outcomes. This is especially possible when leaders maintain transparency and address the why, when, and how the change is going to occur throughout these four steps.

1: Identify Areas of Improvement

Most institutions and organizations fail to implement change because they spend too much time talking about or suggesting change, and not enough time understanding or evaluating areas of improvement.

“Knowing what leadership wants to achieve—and having a clear vision of how much better things will be if the contemplated initiative is successful—is key to effective alignment and core project communications,” said Jeffrey Bradfield and Cole Clark of Deloitte’s Higher Education consulting team.

Where do you begin and how can you ensure you’re implementing a successful change management? You can’t conduct this successfully without first fully understanding how your organization is currently operating and where the problem areas are.

In higher education, you might require change for the following reasons:

  • New technology gets introduced
  • Academic programs or curriculum are changed or rescheduled
  • Financial budgets are cut or restructured
  • Departments are reorganized
  • New leaders are hired

How to Effectively Assess What Needs to Change

In order to have an effective change management, you cannot rush the process and must take the time to focus on your execution. To begin, ask questions about the strategies and tactics that are currently being used. Below are a few sample questions to consider.

  • How does this team communicate? Does everyone prefer the same type of communication (e-mail, in-person meeting, phone calls, etc.,) or have you identified what types of information are communicated differently?
  • Has any communication between departments been lost in translation over the last few months, and if so, do you know what went wrong?
  • What are the goals of this department? Are the current systems in place reaching the long-term goals?
  • What are the biggest issues the department or team faces? Have you addressed these concerns with anyone? Do you have any solutions for improvement?

Whatever the reason for change within your organization, make sure you take the time to outline the problem areas and identify what could or would need to change. If you do not have the answer, you should ask around for suggestions and feedback.

Do not simply observe what’s happening and decide for yourself what needs to be changed—engage your employees in the conversation. Doing so allows you to maintain transparency within your organization, which will benefit you later when you start to initiate change so that it does not come as a sudden surprise. Keep them involved in the process as much as you can!

2: Presenting Your Case for Change Management

The biggest hurdle you will face when implementing change is people. You will need to present the case for change both to stakeholders in the organization, leadership, and all employees within the company who will be affected by proposed changes. Depending on the size of your institution, you may have to present the transition to a large number of people—and you can’t make everyone happy.

Here are a few ideas to consider when presenting your case for change.

Confidence Is Key

If you are not confident about the changes you are presenting, it not only shows that you do not understand how the organization operates, but it also sends a message that you are unsure about making the change. If you spend time identifying the problems and determining the solutions, you should be confident that there are systems that need to evolve. Therefore, you should be able to present your case in a positive manner that excites and motivates people to also want the change.

Be Cautious When Addressing What’s Wrong

When you are suggesting a change, it means you have to address what is wrong with the way some people have been working and why change is needed. Tread carefully when making your case because you do not want to mention any names or sound as though you are blaming a particular person or department for creating the problem.

Discuss the Problems and Outline Solutions

Change will be a difficult case to make to stubborn employees, or people that do not understand your perspective. That is why it’s incredibly important that you take the time to identify the areas of improvement and the answers before you present the case.

When you are presenting the case, don’t list all of the flaws of the current system. This approach will lead to a defensive reaction from people who do not see the need for change, which is why you need a clear outline to a solution. Instead, list the reasons why the proposed change is a better idea.

One approach to avoid defensiveness is to mention the current system in progress and lead a discussion about the pros and cons of the way it operates. Then, present the proposed change and list the pros and cons of switching to the new system. Try to focus more on the pros of the new system, with the biggest con being the hurdle of change. Structuring your conversation this way should help employees see that the benefits of the new system far outweigh the burden of change.

Determine A Timeline

Lastly, and most importantly, be sure that you have a timeline set for when these proposed changes would occur. Change management fails when leaders do not give a timeline and it sends a message to your team that this is just an idea—that it’s all talk, no action.

Setting a timeline for everyone to follow will set up expectations and thus lead to a successful change management. When you are presenting your case be sure that, if everything is approved, you also confirm the timeline is understood by everyone.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

3: Successfully Implementing Change Management

It all comes down to this moment: the day change management gets implemented.

When you start transitioning into the change, it’s important that you remain confident, transparent, and cautious. The first weeks of the new process are going to require patience since there will be so many moving parts.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind while implementing change.

Be Transparent About Everything That Changes

A huge issue leadership tends to make when proposing change is a lack of transparency to the rest of the company. Team members will respond better to change and the implementation of it will be more successful if they are kept in the loop about what is happening and when. Holding secret meetings to talk about change or suddenly initiating change without much conversation or instruction to faculty and staff will only lead to disgruntled or frustrated employees.

Maintain A Positive Attitude

Since we tend to focus on the negative aspects of change, we dread having to learn new systems or report to new bosses. But when handled effectively and approached in a positive manner, change can be received well, especially when you maintain a positive attitude during the entire change management process. If you appear pessimistic or fearful, how is the rest of your organization supposed to feel? If you truly believe in the benefits of change management, you must inspire that same confidence and positivity among the rest of your team!

Be Prepared and Address Problems As They Arise

Don’t be naïve and assume you can implement change management without any issues. Problems are always going to arise, but how you handle them will make all the difference. More importantly, address the problems as they arise—don’t leave them on the backburner to deal with later.

Before implementation begins, consider what problems could arise and think through how you could resolve them. Here are a few examples of problems that can present themselves while you are implementing change management in higher education.

  • Faculty and staff could become disgruntled
  • New initiatives might be abandoned too early, or completely
  • One person might end up with too many tasks
  • Poor communication between departments

Analyze and Celebrate Success

After all is said and done and the change has been implemented, take the time to analyze what happened, how it went, and what problems arose that still need to be addressed. Then, start to analyze success by setting goals and tracking the effects of the change.

More importantly, celebrate success and share any positive news with everyone. Discussing success, whether it’s big or small, reinforces the positivity of the change management and creates a sense of accomplishment among your organization.

4: Review and Continue to Re-evaluate

Don’t initiate change management, implement it, and then walk away hoping for the best. For the process to be successful, you have to conduct a review of the implementation and continually re-evaluate to ensure that it was, in fact, successful. In order to do so, you must set measurable goals and hold staff accountable for reaching them.

Set Measurable Goals and Accountability

In order to track how effective the change management implementation is, you will want to set goals for each department or team that endured a change. It’s also advised that you set a measurable goal and that everyone understands the metrics for measuring success.

Here are some ideas of what colleges and universities can measure goals by.

  • Productivity: the amount of output per hour of work.
  • Efficiency: the amount of output per unit of input.
  • Turnaround Time: the average time it takes to complete a task.
  • Volume: measurement of the amount of projects completed per staff.

Whatever goals you end up setting, hold people accountable for achieving them. This can be maintained through employee performance reviews, department evaluations, and surveying feedback from those involved in the change management process. You might also suggest conducting quarterly reviews or conduct check-ins every few months to track progress and hold people accountable.

Change management is never an easy process, but as long as people understand the overarching goal of implementing change, your process will operate easily. It’s all about addressing the why, when, and how the change management is going to occur. Moreover, when leadership approaches the matter with transparency and positivity throughout the four steps outlined above, it’ll be much easier to get everyone to buy in and work alongside you toward success.


Tung, Leong Chee.  “Why Creating Organizational Change Is So Hard.” Gallup, 22 May.  2014.

Clark, Cole and Bradfield, Jeffrey. “Seven principles for effective change management.” Deloitte, 2019.

This article is from our May 15, 2019 issue. Read the full newsletter here!

About the author:

Isabel Thottam is a freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. A graduate from Emerson College, Isabel has self-published two books, “The Labradoodle Who Lost His Doodle,” and “Joy Comes In The Morning.” She writes on the topics of career, technology, sustainable food, mental health and has been published in Fast Company, Glassdoor,, Fortune, Edible Seattle, Paste Magazine, and more. In addition to writing, Isabel works for a small, family orchard in Washington State selling fruit!

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