Managing change in a turbulent teaching and learning environment
In the previous article we discussed emotional intelligence and the ability to overcome challenges. In this article we look at Michael Fullan’s (1997) eight lessons of dealing with and managing change within organisations by borrowing from Peter Senge’s (2000) concept of a learning organisation. Institutions of higher learning such as VUT operate in very complex, dynamic, uncertain and challenging environments due to intense knowledge explosion, the knowledge economy, the knowledge society, globalisation, technological advancements, internationalisation, marketaisation and commodification of knowledge and fierce competition. These processes continually force us to think differently and to act in nano seconds in order to effectively deal with and manage the change process around us productively.
When we are faced with planned or unplanned change, we tend to develop a response strategy that will assist us to mitigate the change process. In developing such a response, we readily acknowledge the ineluctable duality of strategy, that is, operating within the reality of complex, unpredictable contextual factors in institutions of higher learning and the pressure to align our practices and services with internal and external demands, such as student success rates, student experience, research outputs, and internationalisation, for example, while maintaining our competitive edge. As we deal with the complexity of the change process, we continually ask: How can we build a learning organisation at VUT, within our faculties and departments in order to manage change effectively? What is a learning organisation?
Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross and Smith (2006) view a learning organisation as a place where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire and where people are continually learning how to learn together. This according to Kelly, Luke and Green (2008) is knowledge management which calls for an institution of higher learning to develop a deep capacity among its entire constituents (i.e. students and staff) to be at the forefront of knowledge and skill in learning and teaching and the support of learning and teaching. Garvin, Edmondson and Gino (2008:110), propose that a learning organisation is ‘a place where employees excel at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge’. For Kim (1998) and Schein (1997) a learning organisation increases an organisation’s capability to take effective action for transformative and fundamental, progressive change.
Michael Fullan (1997) proposes that the eight lessons for managing change can assist us to become learning organisations.
These lessons are:
1. You cannot mandate what matters.
2. Problems are our friends, without them we cannot grow.
3. Change is a journey, and not a blueprint.
4. Vision and strategic planning come later.
5. Neither centralisation nor decentralisation works. (They should be given equal power).
6. Immerse yourself into the change process.
7. Connect with the wider environment.
8. Everyone is a change agent.
With these lessons in mind, we should remember that change happens when we make the form, content, orientation and future of activity (teaching and learning) different from what it is at the moment because the heart of change is movement, transition and discontinuity. In other words, change often has a trajectory and the path of change is unpredictable but we need to guide the process.
In our quest to achieve our vision, we should be committed to quality education; quality leadership at all levels of the institution, challenge existing attitudes, create new values; and explore knowledge creation and dissemination; support access to a wide spectrum of academic, vocational and technological teaching, learning and research activities, and we should partner with local communities in order to contribute to national objectives regarding skills development, empowerment and economic growth. In realising our mission we need to: (a) exploit existing capabilities and develop new ones; (b) diversify our sources of (energy) skills, competencies, tacit knowledge and experiences; (c) learn from our mistakes and successes of the past; and (d) plan and implement change carefully, holistically and in a participatory manner (Stadler, 2007). In the process, we align strategies, processes, culture and performance, information architecture, organisational architecture, and our human resources management systems to achieve the transformation process and differentiation within our institution.
In essence our main strategic challenge is managing change in our teaching and learning engagements as we struggle to transform our institution into a vibrant, inclusive learning organisation.
Prof Connie Moloi