Engaging faculty improves financial performance

Faculty is at the core of the higher education enterprise. While everyone plays an important role in the success of a college or university, faculty do the direct work of instruction and research. While others at the institution have a choice of industry in which to work, faculty have made a decision to do their life’s work on campus, often at the same institution for their entire career. Whether they realize it or not, they have the most at stake in the success of their college or university.

Faculty and financial performanceBut while they certainly want higher education and their own institution to thrive, faculty can have a fairly narrow view of what that success looks like. From the moment a faculty member entered graduate school, success was measured by his or her own individual performance, and performance as measured by peers. Institutional success is a concept that is not built into their world view. If they’ve done well in their individual efforts teaching and conducting research, they’re likely to think their own success equates ― or is a sufficient contribution ― to their institution’s success. Any broader measure of institutional performance is beyond their experience. And with their loyalty primarily to their colleagues and their discipline, they might not be keeping tabs on the marketplace and the business end of higher education.

Change is necessary for every college and university, yet faculty tends to be the most resistant to change. How can you broaden faculty’s perspective from individual to broader institutional performance and engage them to become a partner in change?

7 lessons in change management No. 1: See faculty members as your partners rather than your opponents. That’s another way of using the familiar phrase “assume good intentions.” Faculty can smell a fraud a mile away. And, like anyone else, faculty will take you seriously only if it’s clear you take them seriously.

No. 2: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Remember that the communication goes two ways; you have as much to learn from faculty members as they do from you. So your mantra might be “educate and listen.” And use every medium for your communication, both electronic and face to face. 

No. 3: Demonstrate that the challenges you face are typical of the industry, not unique to your college or university. The hardest sell for faculty is convincing them that the administration cannot change the environmental factors affecting the industry. (Yes, many believe that you should try.) Faculty often believes that more paying students would enroll if only there were a better admissions effort or that more funds would come in if fundraising were more robust.

No. 4: Make a strong case for change ― a case based on academic, not business, values. Many faculty members assume, for instance, that their institution can continue indefinitely without change, the way institutions have been able to operate until recently. Show how continuing on the present course is not sustainable and that they will not have the kind of students they want to teach or the resources they need for conducting research. And, in constructing the case for change, avoid indisputable assertions (truisms) when possible, instead offering propositions you are open to discuss. For instance, don’t say, “Our tuition is too high.” Instead, you could say, “In light of this comparative information I’ve gathered, do you think that tuition is too high?”

No. 5: Build relationships with the key opinion leaders on the faculty, particularly those who are most likely to resist your initiatives. Their trust, even if they disagree, is essential.

No. 6: Use and respect faculty governance processes. Make sure that every relevant committee and stakeholder group has an opportunity to understand the issues and shape them, and to offer their perspective. Not only does that show respect for faculty, but it also means any opposition you face will be based on facts rather than procedural grounds.

No. 7: If you have contact with higher education leaders at the national level, urge them to engage with national professional associations that can help faculty understand the key trends that make “business as usual” impossible. Faculty at your institution are most likely to be responsive to messages from their profession.

When faculty members have an understanding of the case for change and you’ve earned their confidence in your commitment to transparent communications, you are more likely to have a partner in the inevitable give-and-take of performance improvement efforts. At the least, you’ll replace entrenchment with reluctant acceptance.    

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The State of Higher Education in 2016