I have written frequently here about change. But I have typically been on the receiving end. I changed jobs just a couple of months ago. I weathered and helped manage a huge curricular change–not of my own making–while I was department chair. But now I find myself in charge of leading a change. And as with all change, there is grumbling (is there ever NOT grumbling about change?) and there are pockets of discontent. Change happens, but how? And what should you do when you have a leading role to play in making it happen?
Without wishing to give too much away, the change is this: converting a program into a free-standing college. And I am the interim (more on the benefits and perils of being an interim in a future post) director of the program, tasked with writing a proposal that articulates this change and argues for its approval. The proposal will then move through the various administrative and shared governance channels. My goal? Get the proposal approved within four months (which, as many of you know, would be fast by the standards of most university bureaucracies).
So the time seemed ripe for a few observations and lessons learned along the way:
1. Know the players. Who are your allies? Who are the people (committee chairs, administrators, etc) who will play a role in the approval process? Who are your possible adversaries? You know, the ones who object to every idea, just because. Or who might have good reason or cause to interpret the proposal as a problem or threat? Mapping the terrain of participants early on will help you to build alliances and anticipate bumps in the road.
2. Meetings before the meetings. Before I even started work on the proposal, I gathered together a group of faculty leaders for a preliminary conversation. My basic message: “Tell me what the big questions and issues are so that I can be proactive in my approach.” You can’t really do this until you’ve done #1.
3. Follow Up and Through: Vigilantly follow the path of the proposal. Don’t allow it to languish in committee. Not sure where the proposal is in the process? Don’t wait for someone to tell you, call the committee chair/dean/whoever and find out. It’s unlikely that others are as invested in the efficient and timely approval of your proposal as you are. You need to be proactive.
4. Elevator speech: I learned this one the hard way. You need a succinct and pithy statement of what you are proposing and why it should be approved. In other words, something that you could communicate in a 30-second ride on an elevator with someone. I say I learned this the hard way because sometimes the only way to hone this speech is to be tested. I got grilled at a committee meeting about my proposal. Somewhere in the course of responding to their questions, I hit upon my elevator speech. Now I have it for the next round of questions.
5. Keep your cool. You love your proposal. You don’t know why anyone would object to its eloquent beauty and persuasive objectives. But they will. Don’t respond with defensiveness. Launch into that elevator speech. A moderate and reasonable tone, which can still be assertive and forceful, is remarkably disarming when others are being combative.
So far, my proposal has cleared two hurdles. Next week it’s on to a new one. I’ll keep you posted.