ITLPviii Kotter Breakout Topics

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ITLPviii Main Page > Group Kotter > Kotter Breakout Topics

From Jim Loter, UW, 5/3/2007

One of my first tasks when reading material that was developed for business is to apply the "higher ed filter." I ask: What about this is relevant or irrelevant to the higher ed sector? What about it needs to be altered to adapt to our business model?

So far, I have two strawman topics for discussion:

(1) What drives change in the higher education sector?

On page 4 of the Kotter article: "Part of the reason [leadership] has become so important in recent years is that the business world has become more competitive and more volatile. Faster technological change, greater international competition, the deregulation of markets, overcapacity in capital-intensive industries, an unstable oil cartel, raiders with junk bonds, and the changing demographics of the workforce are among the many factors that have contributed to this shift."

Which of those factors are contributing to accelerated change in higher ed, and which are relatively immune to? Are there others that are unique to our sector?

We hear all the time about how "things are different" now, but why, for example, are systems that have processed student enrollments or have issued employee paychecks like clockwork for 30 years suddenly considered antiquated and insufficient? What's driving the (real or perceived) need for change that requires a higher degree of leadership?

Another way to think about this question is to consider how I sometimes respond to people who complain their computer is "too slow": Computers (and applications) don't grow slower over time (provided they are properly maintained); their capacities remain constant. What changes are (a) the demands made upon them (demand for increased functionality), (b) the cost of repairing them (obsolescence), and (c) the need for them to interoperate (changes made in other computing environments).

So, taking them in turn:

(a) What drives the demand for new functionality?

(b) What drives obsolescence?

(c) What drives the need to interoperate (and what changes the ways we interoperate)?

(2) To what extent are we (Universities) hamstrung by financial and organizational models that keep our units (colleges, schools, departments) autonomous and siloed?

If we map our university's (the UW) organization onto a business model, schools and colleges can be see as product lines and central offices are similar to functional departments. Yet, each "product line" typically also maintains its own complete set of functional departments -- HR, finance, admissions, IT, etc. The situation that often arises is that units along the vertical/functional axis of the organization are in competition with one or more units along the horizontal/product axis. Add to that the fact that, in the IT sector, "central" IT units tend to operate as cost-centers, and you have a situation where there is little incentive or opportunity for units to hand hard-won control over to the central IT division by paying them for them privilege.

How can leaders effectively align (or marshal) resources that are not under any one unit's control in order to achieve a more productive and well-managed end?