Setting the Pace for Change

By Emily Rogan

A change expert shares her thoughts on how community colleges can prepare themselves for — and actually usher in — change.

At the League for Innovation in the Community College’s 2016 Innovations Conference in Chicago, Jill Channing, associate dean for humanities and social sciences at Kankakee Community College in Illinois, gave a presentation on accepting and adapting to change. In the aptly named “Because That’s How We’ve Always Done It,” Channing offered strategies for community college leaders to confront change in a positive, effective way.

If you weren’t at the conference or didn’t catch the presentation, Channing shares some key points below.

When Jill Channing first joined Kankakee Community College, she spent a lot of time listening to her colleagues and learning about the school. At the end of her first year, however, “I began asking a lot of questions,” she says. “Why do we do it this way? Is this really the best reason to do this?” Channing became interested in change and resistance to change on both a micro and a macro level and began to research the topic.

With support from her administration, Channing has become her college’s resident expert on institutional change. “Change models that work for business aren’t necessarily applicable for colleges,” she says. “It’s a unique experience.”

Here are four points to consider as community colleges tackle change.

1. Determine whether your college is ready.
At the conference, Channing asked participants to assess whether their schools are ready for change. “I asked questions about whether your college rewards or punishes people for taking risk and being innovative and trying change,” she says. It’s important to consider how employees feel about taking a chance on something new.

In addition, institutions need to address both critical barriers and what is truly needed to implement change. “Understanding the time and commitment needed to address change can be frustrating,” she adds.

2. Can you chip away, or do you need to blow it up?
For Channing, the best metaphor for change is a small pickax slowly chipping away at stone. “Sometimes you have to realize it takes picking away at it and do a little bit at a time,” she says.

But what about when legislation demands immediate change? The first thing to do is address and calm people’s fears so they have the mindset to change, Channing says.

“Think about what’s good about the change. Even a mandate isn’t coming from a harmful place; it has good intention. Talk about the possibilities,” she says. Consider that unintended consequences of change can be positive, she adds.

3. Address resistance instead of squelching it.
“I always ask the question, ‘What are we not thinking of here?’ and try to push groups to think of all perspectives and what could happen as a result of change,” Channing says.

People who resist change don’t necessarily have bad intentions. They might have difficulty thinking ahead and imagining differences. She describes this as “organizational inertia.” Fear, anxiety of loss and “leaving their comfort zone” make change difficult for some. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings and use data and clear communication to help people accept change.

In fact, some resistance is good. “It’s creative abrasion,” Channing says. “You don’t necessarily want everyone to agree; you want people to challenge ideas and not engage in group-think.”

4. Deputize departmental change leaders.
When it comes to getting buy-in and support for change, top-down leadership is not as effective as cross-departmental leadership. To find these departmental change leaders, “think about people who work well together and have credibility within the institution, whom others will respect and follow their lead,” Channing says.

The college president can direct change while allowing the grassroots effort to take hold. “Support those people and give them authority to make decisions. Guide and direct them, but let other people lead to a large extent,” she says. “Use your power to remove barriers,” such as funding, she adds.

And because the pace in higher education can be slow, “recognize and celebrate the small victories along the way,” Channing advises.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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