I recently heard a presentation at a national conference regarding “disruptive change.” What’s happening in higher education right now might not meet the official definition of “disruptive change/innovation” as coined by Clayton Christiansen, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.
But in any case, it is most certainly true that there is so much action going on that it’s no wonder administrators feel their heads spinning.
One day when it was time for me to report at my college’s weekly Senior Leadership team meeting, I had to pass. I’m usually the third person to present, but because we were meeting in an alternate location, I wasn’t in “my” chair. So I had to listen to all the other vice presidents report before I did.
The meeting was so overwhelming — we were discussing all the initiatives we have going on — that I thought if I report today I am going to do one of the following: scream, curse, throw things, or cry like a baby.
Instead, I harnessed that energy and created a chart to present at the next meeting. It’s nothing fancy, but it allowed me to get my head around all the overlapping initiatives and to discuss them in a meaningful way (see chart).
Once I understood that all the new things happening “to” me and the college were all headed in the same direction, I felt a calm wash over me. Well, yes, we still have a lot to do, but at least these activities aren’t working against each other.
That’s something one can never just assume! All the initiatives are heading the college in the right direction and supporting our mission — to educate/train, retain and graduate students with the goal of their becoming gainfully employed in their area of expertise.
Here are my suggestions for managing multiple initiatives:
- Make sure that you not only understand where they are all headed and how they are interrelated, but that you relay that vision to your senior leadership team, your deans and department chairs, faculty, and other entities that will be intimately involved in the projects/activities.
- If you don’t have senior leadership’s full support, then figure out how to get it. Big initiatives rarely go anywhere without the president’s and other key leaders’ backing.
- Be sure to budget for each of the initiatives through someone’s budget. The projects don’t have to have their own budget code, but most things don’t happen for free. Some division or department needs to receive the money and account for the spending.
- Report on each initiative on a regular basis to all the groups mentioned earlier.
- Break the major initiatives into smaller tasks so they are manageable. Perhaps create a time line for each one. You may want to create a spreadsheet with all the initiatives side-by-side and the time line for each.
- Break tasks into manageable time frames, such as “what we will accomplish this year.” For example, Complete College America (Georgia) goes through 2020. Seven years is just too long a time span to wrap your head around.
- Delegate portions or all of a project and activities to others throughout the college. No one person can manage all that is going on at a college.
- Expect the chosen managers to whom work has been delegated to report regularly.
- As the chief academic officer, attend as many state/national meetings as you can that pertain to these major initiatives. In the past two years, I have attended four campus strategic planning retreats, two statewide summits regarding Complete College Georgia, a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Summer Institute, a SACS-COC annual meeting, an Achieving the Dream conference, a First-Year Experience conference, a League for Innovation in the Community College Innovations conference, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual conference.
Again, if I can’t see how something fits in at the organization, I’m lost! These meetings provide invaluable information and motivation.
- Send/bring other people in your organizations to these kinds of events. Even when times are lean, the value added to your own activities by better understanding these state/national initiatives and learning what others are doing (their mistakes and successes) is almost limitless.
- Take time to reflect on and count your successes. Sometimes you just have to sit back in your chair, drink a cup of tea, and think about all that you and your colleagues have accomplished. After a period of reflection, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to continue on — toward student success, retention, graduation, and gainful employment for your graduates. Best wishes!
About the author
Dawn Z. Hodges is vice president for academic affairs at Southern Crescent Technical College in Georgia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.