Tribal Group Blog

Tribal Group Blog

How to take your university through a transformational change

Posted by Chris Davies on June 22, 2015

Change – even transformation – has become a consistent theme at universities around the world. Successful management of change, however, remains a challenge for many organisations. In a series of blogposts, we'll explore how Tribal is helping universities make change a success – and in this first one, we will look at why a Transformational approach is one worth taking.

Why Transformation?

The last five years have seen higher education go through some dramatic changes. The increase in annual fees in England and Wales has encouraged universities to think of their students more as customers. In Australia, government has explored the use of deregulation to change funding structures – a contentious issue, but one which could change the structure of the HE sector dramatically. In the US, meanwhile, new operating models are starting to disrupt traditional approaches to higher education – with the likes of the University of Arizona showing how technology can change the student-university relationship.

Any institution that has successfully navigated the last few years cannot rest on its laurels. New challenges are guaranteed to come along tomorrow.

But here’s the rub: however dramatic these changes may have been, they are only the challenges for today. Any institution that has successfully navigated the last few years cannot rest on its laurels. New challenges are guaranteed to come along tomorrow – driven by technology, regulatory and policy changes, the emergence of new competitors (either physical or virtual), or even the effects of geopolitics (what would the effect of greater international tensions have on numbers of international students?)

...understanding how technology, process, organisation and culture work together to achieve a result for today and for tomorrow.

The dynamism of the HE environment puts a premium on getting change right – that is, making sure change is implemented in a timely way, but that it is also sustainable. In our experience, achieving that means taking a comprehensive approach to change – understanding how technology, process, organisation and culture work together to achieve a result for today and for tomorrow. Taking this approach – a Transformational approach – addresses many of the typical problems that we see in change programmes:


How a Transformation approach helps

New technology and processes are introduced – but behaviour doesn’t change Culture can be powerful in defining behaviour – and Transformation looks at how culture should change to enable behaviour change.
Programmes take longer to deliver than planned Some programme delays are inevitable – but many arise from not being clear about scope and priorities. Transformation focuses on getting that clarity from the start.
Change doesn’t deliver the scale of benefit expected Achieving benefits means understanding all the elements that contribute – and Transformation recognises that real benefit comes when organisational, process and technology change are introduced together.
The organization changes, but doesn’t keep pace with further change outside Transformation helps universities develop the skills, tools and culture they need to become continuously improving organisations.


How to make Transformation happen

Managing a Transformational approach to change need not take longer than a typical change programme – but it does depend on having a structured methodology. At Tribal, our Transformation methodology is rooted in our experience of having supported hundreds of universities with change initiatives, all across the world.

Our approach suggests that there are five stages to a Transformation exercise:

  • Vision and Strategy: understanding why Transformation is needed, and what the institution will look like once the Transformation programme is completed. This gives everyone an understanding of what is meant to be achieved, and why – which should provide a motivation to start the process.
  • Foundation: the Foundation process turns the Vision into a concrete design for the future. The key activity at this point is developing a Target Operating Model for the institution: a high-level design that describes how process, organization and technology fit together to meet the Vision.
  • Solution Design: having created the Target Operating Model, the next stage is to detail each of the elements of that new model – from workflows that define the way processes get applied, to new job roles arising from a change in organization, to detailed technology designs.
  • Delivery: the process of implementing the Target Operating Model – including configuring and deploying technology – is simply described, but clearly forms the bulk of the project. Having invested enough time in the first three stages pays real dividends at this point, as it gives institutions a clear sense of what they are aiming to deliver – which is crucial when managing a complex and dynamic change programme.
  • Closure: the Closure stage fulfils two purposes: it ensures there is a smooth transition from project to business as usual, and; it allows the institution to capture what it has learned from the project process. This helps to prepare for the process of continuous improvement that a Transformation should help to kick off.

What next?

This post is the first of six. In the next five posts I will look at each of these steps in a bit more detail – outlining what institutions should do to complete them, and illustrating how some institutions have approached the work.

But for now, please do leave comments on this outline: is Transformation a priority for your institution, and what kinds of challenges has it presented for you?


Picture of Chris Davies

Written by Chris Davies

Chris Davies is Tribal’s Director for Transformational Change. He has over 17 years’ experience designing and leading Transformation programmes, in higher education and more widely - in sectors as diverse as the NHS, policing, defence and hi-tech manufacturing. He is currently helping a number of UK universities make the most of their investment in Tribal’s SITS:Vision student management system, looking at how people, process and organisation change can complement new technology.