Why Transformation Efforts Fail

Guided Pathways is a transformation effort aimed at inherently highly bureaucratic, political, and culturally entrenched institutions: colleges and universities. Therefore, the chances of epic failure are real. I have already witnessed pockets of failure unfold at some campuses. That said, while I’m extremely careful to point to “management gurus” and/or “corporate management studies” (see my warning: Reconsidering ‘Good to Great’), there is one piece of management research that resonated with me because of what I’m seeing and hearing from the field. I appreciate the work by Harvard Business School professor, John P. Kotter, who documented organizational transformation efforts. He arrived at eight key lessons about why transformation efforts often fail.

According to Kotter [1], transformation efforts fail because of at least one of the following reasons:

1. Not generating a sense of urgency
2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition
3. Lacking a vision
4. Not communicating the vision clearly and often enough
5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision
6. Not planning for and creating short-term wins
7. Prematurely declaring victory
8. Not embedding changes into the culture

Consider using this chart to take stock of each lesson to assess if your institution is exhibiting any transformation failure symptoms.


Why Transformation Fail
Guided Pathways Planning & Implementation Challenges
Strategies to Alleviate Challenges
Not generating a sense of urgency


Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition


Lacking a vision


Not communicate the vision clearly and often enough


Not removing obstacles to the new vision


Not planning for and creating short-term wins


Prematurely declaring victory


Not embedding changes into the culture



Here is a fictional example based on what I’ve seen and heard from the field.


Why Transformation Fail
Guided Pathways Planning & Implementation Challenges
Strategies to Alleviate Challenges
Not generating a sense of urgency
A culture of complacency and student blame is firmly planted at the institution. For example, if college personnel state, “Students go to that class to fail,” it is met with shoulder shrugs. It’s deemed acceptable. The attitude extends beyond particular classes. Overall dismal student persistence, transfer, and graduation rates are often blamed on the students.

A relatively small core group (aka, usual suspects) is leading the charge to generate a sense of urgency. Because of a lack of clarity around Guided Pathways at the campus, this group is often viewed as state-level mandate apologists and corporate takeover enthusiasts.
Create a structure based on cross-functional teams, each responsible for specific aspects of Guided Pathways planning and implementation. Each team has a lead. All leads come together on a regular basis to form a team. Intentionally invite and encourage those with concerns to participate in this structure. Ensure faculty are represented.

Meet with people one-on-one to dig deeper to understand their concerns and address them accordingly.
Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition

The institution relies heavily on traditional academic governance. This approach impedes a genuine cross-functional coalition composed of creative and nimble teams that can help shepherd the Guided Pathways work in a reasonable pace.
Create teams. See above.
Lacking a vision

The institution is using the existing college vision for the Guided Pathways work. It’s insufficient. Those working on Guided Pathways planning and implementation don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also a challenge to garner the much-needed buy-in and ownership from the broader campus.
Using the structure described above, ensure each team has a well-defined purpose. Team leads, in collaboration with members, help to create vision statements for each team and for the overall Guided Pathways work.
Not communicate the vision clearly and often enough

The college continues to struggle with clarity, coherence, and consensus about Guided Pathways.

There lacks a clear and concise elevator speech to explain the “Why” of Guided Pathways for the college’s context.
Establish a Guided Pathways-specific vision, and ensure to calendar touch points throughout the year to continually communicate the vision and current work.

The touchpoints could take the form of workshops, forums, convocation, Flex day activities, speakers, etc.
Not removing obstacles to the new vision
Unproductive meetings are a major obstacle to staying on track with the vision.

Removing obstacles is often about the work. If people perceive the work to be productive, attitudes and behaviors begin to change.

Ensure team meetings are productive. Have pre-meeting meetings to prep, set a clear meeting agenda, designate a facilitator, start and end the meetings on time, and follow-up on any concerns from the meetings. If concerns are not addressed in a timely fashion resentment begins to fester and dysfunction ensues.
Not planning for and creating short-term wins
People working on Guided Pathways feel like they are in a perpetual idea-incubation state. Teams produce a multitude of ideas, but there’s little to no movement toward actual implementation, even with “low-hanging fruit” ideas.
Take stock of “low-hanging” fruit ideas and present them to the powers that be and to the line workers responsible for implementation to execute thoughtfully at the earliest time possible. Set a timeline for each idea, who is responsible, and how it will be evaluated.
Prematurely declaring victory
A big deal was made that a faculty-driven Guided Pathways structure was created only to realize it neglected classified staff representation and student representation outside of the usual suspects (e.g., ASB student leaders).
Take stock of Guided Pathways team members. Is it truly cross-functional?

Address a lack of or inadequate representation through recruitment announcements, personal calls, one-on-one discussions, etc.
Not embedding changes into the culture

As a result of program mapping and scheduling Guided Pathways work, the broader campus has learned that Career & Technical Education has produced positive student outcomes because it has been creating programs based on the needs of business and industry and the schedule has been based on the needs of the students

The institution has failed to attempt to broach conversations on how to scale CTE’s approach with the broader campus. 
Leverage the findings from Guided Pathways discussions and work to educate the broader campus of what is getting results and how to scale what is currently working.

Work to embed changes in a small number of programs. Scale   thoughtfully with programs willing to make modifications to their practices. Choose the “low hanging fruit” programs (i.e., programs with faculty support and willingness to do the work).

I hope you find this exercise useful.

For related articles see:

Guided Pathways: Addressing Concerns

Reconsidering 'Good to Great'

Educators Beware: "Best Practices"

***

Contact me about customized trainings or ongoing coaching support to help your campus plan and implement grants, projects, or comprehensive efforts such as guided pathways.  Use the contact form on the right (bottom of the page for mobile users).

(A. Solano)

Post a Comment

Copyright © Continuous Learner. Designed by OddThemes