Very often transformation begins with the impatient desire to make things better. But impatience is a double-edged sword. It gives you the drive to make change happen, but more haste can sometimes mean less speed. That’s because any complex change must start with clarity about what you intend to achieve. Without that, programmes can lose their way, and the chances of achieving a meaningful return on investment are reduced – potentially substantially.
In this post – the second in a series looking at transformation in higher education – I’ll look at what’s involved in defining a vision of the future, and what happens if you don’t have it.
Why develop a Vision?
Vision is one of those business concepts that has been much abused over the years. But, a programme without a Vision is a programme that is doomed to fail. There are two reasons for this:
- First, a Vision is something to rally the organisation around. Without a Vision, an institution won’t easily see the point of change. A good Vision helps you to articulate what that new world will look like, in short order.
- Second, it gives you a reference point for managing the programme. Without a Vision, it becomes difficult to manage all the adjustments that happen throughout the life of a complex change programme. A good Vision gives you a clear point to aim for in future.
To put it another way: the Vision is an answer to the simple question, “where are we going?” If you can’t answer that, your programme is at risk.
Whose vision is it?
The second big cause of cynicism about a programme or corporate Vision is uncertainty about whose Vision is actually being set out. Is it the Vision of one person? The leadership team? The whole organisation?
There is no simple answer to this. Different organisations have different leadership styles, and the Vision of one leader can be just as powerful as one that has been developed in committee. Overall, it doesn’t really matter where the Vision has come from, but it’s vital that it is shared by the institution. This matters because a Vision that belongs to just one person can easily be de-prioritised, however good that Vision might be.
Defining your benefits
However you get to your Vision, it needs backing up with a definition of how your institution will be better once the Vision is achieved, i.e. the programme benefits. In thinking about this, it’s best to focus on answering two simple questions:
- What things - relevant to the people who matter (especially students: your customers) - will be improved by this programme? A programme must speak to a need, with some connection to the wider institution. If you can’t make that connection, then you need to ask whether the programme has the right focus.
- How will we know whether the programme has done what it is meant to? Your supporting information for this can just as easily be qualitative as quantitative (perhaps backed up with a quantitative element such as a survey). Whatever the solution, always come back to what you’re trying to do: you need to know if your programme is working, where it isn’t, and where changes are needed to improve its impact. And don’t forget to make a baseline, else you won’t know how far you’ve come.
Turning the vision into a change strategy
The last piece of the puzzle at this stage is to describe how the Vision will be achieved. This is your change strategy. Are you going to get your benefits just by spending on technology, or does the organisation also need to change? It’s important to be comprehensive at this stage: the change strategy should therefore think about process, organisational structure, culture, job roles, governance, and performance management, as well as technology.
Once the programme has its Vision, Benefits and Change Strategy, it’s ready to move on to its next stage – turning all that into a concrete plan for the future. That next stage – what we call Foundation - is what we’ll look at in the next post.