How IT leaders can help colleagues across campus be more receptive to change
Like death and taxes, technology change is unavoidable. But while change can be disruptive, it need not generate resistance in the campus community. By embracing an inclusive approach that goes beyond purchasing and implementation considerations, IT leaders can help transform an institution’s culture to become more receptive to tech-related change.
This can mean rethinking long-standing practice that may give short shrift to the user perspectives.
“IT, many times, is focused on the technology implementation, but there is also a human element to technology change,” says Beverly Magda, associate provost at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, who spoke at UB Tech® 2019 on managing the effects of technology change. “That sometimes gets overlooked with the rush to get the technology implemented on time and within budget.”
Despite such pressures, IT leaders need to view themselves as more than technical leaders, says Brent Ruben, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Organizational Leadership in New Jersey. Equally important is assuming responsibility for communication and culture related to any planned change.
“Consider the rationale for the change and the ways in which this rationale is communicated across the institution,” Ruben says. Without such an underpinning, the potential beneficiaries can become impediments to innovation.
Best practices for tech transitions
Open communication is a must at every stage of the process. Colorado-based Howard Teibel, founder and president of Teibel Education Consulting, advises having honest conversations with those who will be affected by change, rather than simply touting the anticipated advantages of the technology.
“Get out of the convincing business and into the engaging and listening way of being,” he says. Conversations should include candid admissions of projected disruptions, requests for guidance on design requirements, and assurances that feedback will be considered. Tech users should feel that they have been heard, and they should see the rationale or value of the proposed change.
“Value doesn’t mean people need to like it,” Teibel says. “It does mean there needs to be language that articulates the ‘why’ behind the initiative and how the changes will benefit the institution.”
The earlier such communication takes place, the better, Magda says, adding that campus leadership must be involved early and kept involved. “The leaders may need to reinforce the need for this change throughout the entire project.” Officials can also provide vocal support.
Effective communication includes listening as well as informing. Too often, IT departments are seen as disconnected from the concerns of academic departments or other units, says Teibel. But efforts to collaborate with colleagues across campus about their technology needs will pay off in the long term.
“If IT departments are serious about engaging in truly transformational work, such as fully shifting to the cloud for cost savings and economies of scale, IT needs to learn how to listen to the concerns of departments before focusing on implementing solutions,” Teibel says.
Certainly, losing sight of the impact of tech change on people has long been a reality (the Luddites are a case in point). But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“It takes time, effort and funds to do this on the front end,” Magda says. But such efforts can make the experience of bringing on new technology more positive for all concerned.
4 steps to ensuring smooth tech transitions
Advice from Brent Ruben of the Rutgers Center for Organizational Leadership in New Jersey
1) Communicate and explain the need for change institutionwide.
2) Engage faculty, staff and other stakeholders.
3) Confirm the institution’s commitment to and identify champions of the change effort.
4) Put the commitment to change into action.