The idea of disruption as the cause for organizational innovation has become the focus of many contemporary business leaders and thinkers. The notion of significantly changing business processes and practices to drive innovation has great appeal. As an organizational development practitioner, I know that change from the status quo is often necessary for organizational growth, so the notion of disrupting the status quo makes perfect sense. But how does disruption fit into the higher education organization? Higher education institutions are known for fighting to maintain the status quo, meaning that disruption in higher education is needed even more.
What disruption can be introduced to higher education in 2016 that will have a significant impact on organizational growth and performance? To understand what disruption is needed in higher education, one must first understand the typical organizational reactions of higher education institutions. Most institutions of higher learning have become outcome driven, focusing intently on graduation rates, retention rates, student learning outcomes, faculty credentials, fiscal outcomes, alumni giving, as well as, external rankings and reviews. When these measures fall below expectations, institutions typically respond by developing programs, policies, and procedures to increase the deficient outcome. The development and implementation of programs take time and effort; committees are formed, problems are identified as strategies emerge from best practices employed in the higher education sector. What can disrupt this tried and true process and better address institutional issues?
The necessary disruption in higher education is simple yet powerful. Instead of focusing on programs, policies, and procedures institutions must instead focus on individuals. Higher education institutions are social organizations composed of individuals such as students, applicants, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and trustees. The natural tendency is to group these various categories of individuals into understandable cohorts for which general programs, policies, and procedures are applied. The necessary organizational disruption is not to focus on cohorts of people but instead to develop profound and meaningful relationships with each individual associated with the institution. When individuals succeed, the higher education enterprise will succeed. Instead of developing retention programs, help each student to succeed. Instead of creating alumni outreach programs, connect with each graduate. Instead of creating faculty development programs, help each faculty member be the best educator they can be. Instead of asking trustees to participate in college committees, help each trustee to understand all of the nuances of the institution.
Why don’t institutions focus on individuals? Institutions do not focus on individuals because it is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It is easier and more efficient to focus retention efforts on cohorts of identified students in need rather than focus on helping each student succeed. It is easier and more efficient to set faculty development policies rather than to ensure each and every faculty member has reached their academic and teaching potential. It is easier and more efficient to ask trustees to participate in an occasional committee rather than to learn fully about all aspects of a very complicated organization.
Just imagine if higher education institutions did focus on every individual. Every student would be encouraged to succeed, every faculty member would fulfill their instructional potential, every trustee would be full vested in institutional oversight, every alumnus would remain connected and dedicated to the success of their alma matter. Focusing on each individual is the disruption that produces the greatest organizational improvement and is why this is the big idea of higher education in 2016!
Originally published on LinkedIn January 3, 2016
©2016 Kenneth Clough