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Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

It’s July. This month, along with BBQ’s and family trips, can often be a great time for college and university administrators to reflect, regroup and implement changes within campus structures. When addressing the implementation of changes, countless books, webinars and strategies have been developed to help ensure success. While the suggestions leading to success can be different, one thing we do know is change is hard and without a unified effort, any implementation will be sure to fail. While change management is important, one piece that can often be ignored is the campus culture leading up to it.

When thinking about change management, it is critical that college and university administrators remain cognizant of the various intricacies and consider every possible stake holder in their action research. However, even when implementing the smallest of processes, if the campus culture leading up to the transition isn’t healthy, any measure of change management will be very difficult to maintain.

Changing campus culture can hurt. Maintaining a healthy student-centered college or university can bring about challenges. It requires sacrifice, a strong sense of humility and an active presence with faculty and staff.  Consider this… when trying a new work-out or exercise routine, maybe even coming back to one that you had mastered a few years prior, it can leave you a bit sore. What seemed great at first now feels like a self-inflicted wound that simply won’t heal.  Mid-workout thoughts of “Why am I doing this?” or “Am I really paying money to feel like this?” scream through our minds as we count down the minutes until the workout is complete. Change is hard. In an effort to change your current situation, you merely exercise and while it sounds simple, because we all appreciate when A + B = C, there are factors surrounding this simple equation that can muddy the waters.

Now take this into account. What is the culture of your current living situation? Do your family members actively exercise? Is it relatively normal for you to eat out a few times a week but still choose the healthiest options on the menu? Do you work so much that finding the time to go to the gym or even for a walk seems impossible? Have you established a culture that would make it really difficult to ensure a successful change? Change is hard, but culture hurts!

When looking at culture from a campus perspective, this is also vital. From the onset of hiring a new success coach or faculty member, are we ensuring that this person is receptive to the college or university culture we are constructing? This also needs to be paired with a little (really – a lot) of self-reflection. Does our student success team feel like they have a voice? Do success coaches and faculty members feel ownership of our campus and their position? Are they being heard? This is where the “hurt” can really gain momentum. Change is great, tough, imperative and exciting.  Yet if we have not developed a campus culture that is strong enough to withstand the “hard” part of any change, inevitably we hurt student success and retention.

The tone of any campus culture starts with the institution’s administration. While it’s great when a simple equation works, higher education can be one big gray area. With this in mind, we can avoid the “hurt” if we establish a culture that can move through the “hard” part of any change. That is when we are sure to have a pathway to success.

Small Change….Big Impact

Small Change….Big Impact

After 30 years, a few of those years belaboring the decision, I decided to move from very blonde to very brown hair (my natural color). Now if you are reading this and immediately got annoyed, I promise this post has a valid objective.  Keep reading. While a part of me feels like I have somehow found myself in a witness protection program, what I am most surprised about, is how “hair” has guided a part of my identity, that now feels lost in translation. Well that’s foolish, you say. Hear me out.

The social dynamic of the change in color has been fascinating. I work in a shared space with other companies. While there are often exchanges of “Good Morning” or a quick smirk on the way to our designated spaces, that is really where the communication ends. Now, cue hair change. It is 10:00am. I have been at my desk for a little over 2 hours. The count is currently, seven. Seven people that I have only exchanged “hello smiles” with have now directly addressed me. The comments are ranging in niceties, but so far have been positive. (Who knows what they are actually thinking. I like to think it is all wonderful and gracious mental rhetoric, or even WOW, Stunning!) However, what I do find interesting is the very outward, noticeable change of the color of someone’s hair has created the opportunity or ability for individuals who may not have, engage with me (or about me for that matter). All seven of these professionals, I have never interacted with before. Even more interesting, I still do not know the names of at least four of them. While I am happy to meet new people, and engage (Be mindful, that is really the essential function of my job), I am also aware that they really don’t seem to mind what my name is, or what I do, but rather hair… only hair. I am also not offended by this at all. I am just surprise that anyone outside my immediate teammates even noticed. It is a big change, yet I am relatively new to this particular office setting. I suppose I wasn’t even sure that anyone outside of my particular office mates knew that I existed.

When thinking about a college setting, students often feel this same dynamic. Should Suzy Student decide to change a physical attribute, or simply looks tired, sad, or lost, do we notice? Do we engage or do we pretend to not see her, for fear of getting caught in what may be a loathsome conversation? While Suzy may or may not appreciate the acknowledgment of the difference or change in her demeanor, she will acquire a sense of satisfaction that she is not invisible. This sense of individualism has been a catalyst to many institutional tag lines. “Large School, Individual Attention”. We as educational professionals realize how these interactions are indicative to the ultimate success of college students. Acknowledging life in and out of the classroom is critical to our core competences and vital to retention efforts. However, with so many faces, so many names and often times so many physical differences, it can be almost impossible to catch everyone’s everything.

Now cue the campus advising and success coaching team. When applying for these positions, the job description should be just that. Success Coach A will be expected to know everyone’s everything. This however, is not limited to students, but faculty and staff as well. You will also need to be extremely proficient in putting out the proverbial fire at a moment’s notice. Finally, Good Luck! Small print: Your reports are due every week at 5, but we may ask for these numbers 10 times leading up to Friday, depending on who happens to ask for them.

Maneuvering through this dynamic is what a success coach does best. They thrive in it, actually. Hats off to you. Your work is noticed, acknowledged and you are not invisible, especially if you decide to change your hair color. Now get back to work, you have an unexpected team meeting in 5 minutes and your numbers need to be ready…ohhh and Suzy Student is waiting for you in your office. What does she want? She didn’t tell me, she only wants to talk you.