Managing Change

“Change is endemic in the education sector”

I doubt anyone could disagree with that statement. There certainly wasn’t anyone at today’s workshop that disagreed. External regulations; legislation; funding changes; competition; doing more with less (or the same); new technology; new staff; and new ideas are just a small sample of some of the drivers for change that we face on a daily basis.

The workshop was organised to support projects from the JISC Transformations and Course Data Programmes. 19 delegates were present from across 13 institutions. Coventry University provided the perfect setting for the workshop with change evident from our first view of the campus and some of their new builds.

During the first half of the workshop John Burke (Senior Adviser, JISC infoNet) provided an overview of change management, starting with some of the theories of change. Complexity Theory provides a more realistic description of change across the UK’s education sector. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing looking at the statement below, how comfortable people are in this environment is another question.

“Success lies in sustaining an organisation at the border between stability and instability.” (JISC infoNet)

Small wonder then that John described the different theories as not requiring you to pick one, but a list from which  all would work with different people at different stages.


That’s why it’s important to understand the culture(s) you’re working with when implementing change.  Culture is one aspect of change, along with people and processes.  When John asked attendees to define ‘culture’, we got a near perfect answer. Culture comprises the:

  • shared values between a group of people; and
  • history of the individual/team/department/organisation—“the way we do things around here”.

Using a table from the ‘organisational cultures’ section of the Change Management infoKit, you can quickly get an idea of the cultures embedded across your team. Print out a copy of the table for each person. If possible remove the headers, if not ask everyone to fold that first row over so they can’t see it. This stops people from filling out the form in accordance with desires rather than what reflects the current situation. Ask the members of your team to circle one word from each row that reflects the team’s culture. Collect the responses and tally up the results. If you want to be quite detailed about this you might collect individual responses—responses from your team members about their personal preferences. The image below is a snapshot of my (Andrew Stewart) personal preferences, showing that I lean towards ‘Innovative’.

Not only does this give you an understanding of a team’s culture, it gives you a picture of how they currently work. Adapt your methods appropriately to ensure the most effective outcomes. If you need to work more closely with a particular individual you might want to pay closer attention to their personal preferences.


In this context the process, means the various stages people go through during a change initiative.  Conner and Patterson (1982) outline 8 stages: contact; awareness of change; understand the change; positive perception; installation; adaptation; institutionalisation; and internationalisation. Angehrn describes a much simpler model using four phases to the adoption of change:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Appraisal/Trial
  4. Adoption

During the first two phases it’s vital to increase confidence, phases 3 and 4 are all about motivation. During a change initiative people will go through a whole range of emotions from denial, fear, frustration, optimism, hope, scepticism, and excitement. It’s important to be aware of the emotions people feel throughout the process to support them accordingly. As people are unique, you are dealing with all emotions and people at all the different stages at the same time.


Leadership and team roles are vital to change management. The following steps were devised by Kotter (1995) and provide a fantastic summary of leadership when managing any change initiative:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful, guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements
  8. Institutionalise the new approach

John also mentioned a 9th step, “Be Tough”. Not in a physical sense, but be prepared to argue your case. With that in mind you might ask yourself the question “do I believe in this” before leading change yourself.

EduChallenge Simulation

In the afternoon, delegates had the chance to put to practice some of the techniques they had learned during the morning session. EduChallenge presents the user with a real scenario using a fictional organisation. Users can carry out a number of different actions to try and get individuals from the organisation to adopt change. I always worry about this part of the day; will people see the value in playing a game? Simple answer, yes—absolutely. It mimics real life unbelievably well in a short time span. Although delighted with their results and having enjoyed the simulation, one delegate described how they were “emotionally drained”. Managing Change is difficult, it will be draining at times but you have to stay resilient. That’s the reality of it.

Top Tips

  1. Change is difficult! Be aware of that from the outset.
  2. Understand the type of change you’re implementing.
  3. Understand the culture(s) you’ll be working with.
  4. Lead the change, remember Kotter’s 8 steps and be tough when necessary!
  5. Use the Knowing-Doing Gap to identify where individuals are on the adoption curve.
  6. Remember that you are dealing with how people perceive your actions. Best intentions aren’t always seen that way.
  7. Have a meeting with your project team to share intelligence; who are the key influencers across your organisation.
  8. If you know of resistance, bring it out into the open. Provide people with the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns. Be open and authentic when replying.
  9. Language is critical—inviting people to a ‘meeting’ or a ‘staff development workshop’?
  10. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes!