Creating Successful Changes in Education using John Kotter's Model: A case study(Part 1)


John Kotter is among the most celebrated author on Managing Change. His ideas are worthy of being implemented in educational institutions as well. In this article, a case study is being discussed, using the first four steps of his Eight Step Process of Successful Change, described in detail in his book on "Our Iceberg is Melting". The next article will discuss Part 2 of the process of disruptive change.

Introduction

In the West, there are too many experts who research into what is possible as the best alternative in a given set of circumstances. Managing Change is a real need for any educational institution. John Kotter's book on "Our Iceberg is Melting" has summarized the core points in terms of the Eight Step Process of Successful Change. (Paperback Edition, published by Macmillan, pages 130-131).

Let us first look at the "Eight Step Process of Successful Change" described by the author. I would prefer to call it disruptive change, as such a change drastically changes the status-quo and infuses a great amount of positivity and optimism. Many educational institutions, particularly self-financing engineering colleges are in such an existential crisis. Most Managements do not have a long-term view and adopt all short-cuts to stay relevant. This should not be the case. We will discuss the nitty-gritty, after first having a look at the Eight-Step process.

The Eight Step Process of Successful Change has eight inter-connected steps. They are 1) Set the Stage 2) Pull together the Guiding Team 3)Develop the Change Vision and Strategy 4) Communicate for Understanding and Buy In 5) Empower Others to Act 6) Produce short-term Wins 7) Don't let up and 8) Create a New Culture.

In this article, we will take up for discussion, in the context of the case study, the first four steps outlined above. The quotes in terms of supporting points are quoted as such and then extrapolated in the context of the real-world engineering college. Of course, this article is written from a Consultant's perspective. It will hopefully open the eyes of the Management of any other educational institution that finds itself in more or less, the same state of affairs. Furthermore, the Change Process on more or less similar lines was attempted with great success in an Engineering College, situated in AP, in a small town that is around two hours from Vijayawada. The circumstances were similar as well.

In the main, in this article, we will cover a) The context of the engineering college b) Create a Sense of Urgency c) Pull together the Guiding Team d) Develop the Change Vision and Strategy, and e) Communicate for Understanding.

The context of the engineering college

This is one engineering college that has been around for close to fifteen years. I had been associated as a Visting Faculty Member for Personality Development and the specific guest lectures for the MBA students. No particular details are mentioned here, except to mention that this college is now facing an existential crisis in terms of ever-decreasing students and demotivated faculty members.

It offers the usual engineering courses. It is situated in Western Tamil Nadu, near a town well known for its poultry products, and is some forty kilometers away from a bigger town. Both the towns are district headquarter towns. There is a dog-eat-dog culture and unless the college becomes a branded college with quality placements ( the ultimate litmus test), the college cannot survive at all. This college is neither here nor there. It has a fairly good record of placement, but most of it is off-campus. It is still nowhere near the four major competitors that are situated in a fifty-kilometre radius. Students have too many choices now. Even when B.Sc degree holders are admitted to the second year of the engineering course, there are fewer takers.

The college has never had a Principal who had stayed for a longer duration. The Management consists of a man and his wife who has several businesses and the college is just one of them. There have been reportedly some politics between the teachers, who often play games against any Principal, and feed the Management with juicy stories they would like to hear. The students are taught "just like that" and research facilities are almost nil. Yes, the college reportedly admitted around 45% of students just around the Corona time and has somehow managed online classes, according to reports. The students are angry that the teachers do not teach them more of what is demanded by the industry.

Create a Sence of Urgency

John Kotter says "help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately". The College Management should do exactly this. It should immediately appoint a full-time CEO, with industry experience, particularly in change management. Such professionals are available aplenty in cities like Coimbatore and are aged around 45. The CEO should be mandated to communicate with all stakeholders across the spectrum and obtain useful feedback, on which urgent action should be taken? The CEO should relieve the Principal from all administrative duties like attendance, student discipline, hostel management, relationship with the local community and industry, and so on. The line of demarcation of responsibilities should be made clear to both the CEO and the Principal. Immediate action should be taken on minor concerns. Such concerns are the quality of hostel food, the college infrastructure, and so on.

Pull together the Guiding Team

"Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change -- one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and a sense of urgency". (page 130).

In this case, the Management had good relationships with suppliers, but not the process of delivery. For example, the canteen contractor acted more like a dictator, as he was so close to the Management. ( this was the situation years ago, but now there is reportedly a new canteen contractor). In a post-COVID situation, in 2021, the challenges are going to be even tougher. The CEO should be mandated to bring about the urgent change, while the Principal should support him by strengthening the educational inputs. Even here, it takes a little more than elementary common-sense. For example, there are just retired production managers, IT experts, supply-chain management experts, and so on, with thirty-odd years of experience, who have settled down in the bigger town. They are hale and healthy and one just needs to tap them. Such managers can be motivated to offer good suggestions on managing change, apart from the short-term challenges of improving educational standards and the placement records. They need to be urgently employed on a full-time basis. Management should check their business assets to find money.

It is pertinent to note that the superb deemed Universities like the Vellore Institute of Technology
and SRM University are so famous today, only because they dared to invest in world-class Faculty and infrastructure. A good name does not come from heaven. A brand develops over a period of two decades. The college has already wasted too much time on "just like that Management" of resources. The actual process should have been on building a viable brand.

Develop the Change Vision and Strategy

"Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality". We are discussing disruptive change. Such a change should be a drastic departure from the past. In the changed context, engineering colleges that do not offer quality placement, particularly in Tamil Nadu, will just shut stop. While one does not know how the New Education Policy will take shape, it can be reasonably assumed that the educational inputs need to far beyond the syllabus, with a big practical orientation. For instance, take an internship. It is ridiculous for most engineering colleges to just give a letter, requesting the industrial organization to offer an internship. In this case, the CEO should immediately build a rapport with all industrial organizations and also make the particular faculty member compulsorily accompany him to discuss the nitty-gritty of any internship. Most organizations expect the student to at least do the basic IT support work, even in production. So, equipping the students with the skill-sets and the attitudes should be tacked as a priority and the role of the Principal will be the key variable here. Merely having a very ambitious Vision is not enough. The strategy is key to the process of disruptive change and this is extremely vital.

There are too many drastic steps that should be taken, but the visible steps should be appreciated by the students, their parents, and the immediate neighbourhood. For example, the college could conduct an annual rural food festival on the campus, and the various groups of people from the neighbouring villages can be motivated to participate and sell their preparations to the public. This will help the college build a good rapport with the community.

Communicate for Understanding and Buy In

"Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy". (page 131).

As already mentioned, there needs to be perfect communication between the Management, the CEO, and the Principal, and one detailed meeting on progress, with complete minutes of meeting and so on in the electronic form, at least once a week. This is just the first step. The communication between the three main change-agents should also include sessions with teachers, non-teaching staff, the students at all levels, the local Panchayat President, and the local villagers in groups. The communication can also include the canteen contractor and other suppliers and so on. Every single baby step taken should conform to the overall Vision and Strategy. For example, learning from the rural food festival, on matters related to coordination, communication, delegation, and so on, can be useful communication points for better performance on even other initiatives. As already mentioned, roping in industry experts, who might have retired, but are still hale and healthy will be a big key to the disruptive change. The trick is to infuse optimism. The change process will take sixty months, but improvements will change all brand perceptions of the college, in less than 36 months. Detailed plans and execution are very much needed at every step.

Conclusion

Every educational institution has to serve society. It can no longer merely produce mere graduates, even in engineering. The context of the engineering college in this case study is one that calls for disruptive change, some ideas of which have been discussed above. Part 2 of the case study will discuss the other four steps of the Change Management process.


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