As part of the planning for WashU’s Workday Student implementation, the Student Sunrise organizational change management team fielded a survey to gather some directional insights related to recent experiences with changes – big and small – occurring at the university. The survey, which pulled from an assessment used by Huron Consulting, explored areas related to experiences with change, accountability, communication, culture and preparedness.
Nearly 400 people, primarily staff who play varying roles in the student lifecycle, received the survey. Recipients, who were selected by the project team and steering committee members, represented all schools and major academic/student support units. More than 60 percent responded.
- The university community is experiencing significant change fatigue. While we cannot generalize to everyone at WashU, those who responded are tired and stretched due to the significant number of system changes, leadership transitions and restructurings that have been occurring. COVID and the shift to remote operations has added another layer of stress.
- There is a desire to re-establish personal connections/trust. WashU is a relationship-driven culture. The number of leadership/staff transitions, coupled with remote work, has left people feeling disconnected from both each other and new leaders.
- A true sense of urgency helps. The COVID pivot was almost universally viewed as a change that was well managed. Communications were clear and broad. Unlike many other changes, COVID had a true sense of urgency behind it and required people to pull together in a short period of time.
- Effective communications are key. In looking at changes that went well (and those that didn’t), success hinged almost entirely on effective communications, including a clear and crisp explanation of why the change matters.
- Communications are sometimes spotty. Communications were viewed by many as being inconsistent and siloed, with some people get too much and others too little. There is a desire for broader communication (and broader engagement generally) rather than focusing on smaller, targeted groups and expecting information to make it to those who need to know.
- Stakeholder engagement can be siloed. Similarly, people want to be involved in decision making and other activities related to major changes. Respondents expressed a sentiment that we should try to include different individuals, where possible, rather than relying on what is perceived to be the same groups of individuals.
- Senior and middle managers want support. Managers want to help their teams move through changes and know that communications could improve. They seek tools, training and other support to do so effectively.
- Opportunities should be explored to better manage resistance to changes, recognize and reward adoption, and get comfortable with ambiguity. Respondents felt that leaders could do a better job at being more active in managing resistance to change and finding ways to recognize and reward those who are exhibiting behaviors needed to embrace change/adopt desired changes. Respondents wanted to see leaders become more comfortable making progress with imperfect information.
How are these insights translating to plans for Student Sunrise?
While the pace of change will likely continue at WashU, the project is taking this information to heart as it develops its stakeholder engagement plans.
“This input was not surprising considering all the changes over the past couple of years and likely not unusual for any large, complex organization,” said Erin Culbreth, associate provost and executive director of Student Sunrise. “Culturally, however, we are really trying to get our team and our governance groups comfortable with making decisions at a faster clip, and with less perfect information. We have full support from our executive sponsor, Provost Wendland, in this regard.”
The insights have helped inform the design of the project’s Campus Teams. Campus Teams currently represent 70 individuals from across the schools and units who will be engaged during the full implementation, including system design, training and go-live.
“We want to build a larger set of Workday Student subject matter experts outside the project team,” said Culbreth. “Because these individuals will be deeply engaged over the next four years, they will be well equipped to help their units understand what is changing and why. This approach also allows us to engage a broader audience in readiness activities down the road once the system is designed and ready to preview.”
To address feedback about providing support, the Sunrise project team has helped its Steering Committee members bolster skills through communications training and change management sponsor training. The project also provides a bimonthly toolkit of materials to help this committee keep their groups informed. The biggest area of support, however, will come from a team of change managers, each working with and within a specific school or academic unit.
To address feedback about providing support, the Sunrise project team has helped its Steering Committee members bolster skills through communications training and change management sponsor training. The project also provides a bimonthly tool kit of materials to help this committee keep their groups informed. The biggest area of support, however, will come from a team of change managers, each working with and within a specific school or academic unit.
“These individuals are partners and coaches to our steering committee representatives and campus team members to ensure information is flowing and input and insights are making their way back to the project team,” added Rostand. “We know this will be a big transition and we want to make sure people know what’s changing and feel supported through the changes.”
View the full report of ORRA findings.