Times they are a changing …🎵

These times are tough and incredibly taxing. We’ve endured two years of pandemic trauma and disruptions to work and home life, and are now witnessing the tragic invasion of Ukraine (see more on what we are doing to help below). There is no question that we are living the fallout from these and other global events and pressures in higher education.

Higher education institutions are navigating multiple uncertainties related to COVID, financials, and priorities. It’s hard to know what next month will be like, let alone the next year. What will be the new demands? How will we have to change in response? We’ve heard much over the last decade of the importance of ‘change’ and being “change-ready” or “change-agile”—but we often feel more “change-weary”.

Times of high pressure can also be times of anxiety and fear. These all make change feel extremely uncomfortable. Our capacity to navigate the demands of adjustment—and to be and stay agile not fragile—is reduced just as the need to do so increases. If we don’t feel valued by and in our workplace, it can feel like we can’t carry on at all.

In our own working lives, it feels like the last three years have brought nothing but change. Saying goodbye to old projects, old jobs, old workplaces—and hello to new ones. Navigating ongoing changes around COVID, home-working, and both ageing parents and growing children. Hold on tight to the rollercoaster!

The change be exhausting —
but it is not going to stop either.

This month’s Remarkable Resource is from one of the world’s most prominent change proponents, first author and academic John P Kotter. The book is important not only because it can help those in administrative roles to foster capacity for change in their organization, but also because it offers insights to assess if and how we’re each building our own best foundation for change.

Indeed, if your hearts sinks at the mere mention of more ‘change’—you’re the exact person that the resource is most needed by.


Change: How organizations achieve hard to imagine results in uncertain and volatile times

By John P Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, Gaurav Gupta

Academia is one long series of changes. Organizational, research, funding, technological, administrative. It was ever thus and will ever be. When we’re in the midst of particularly challenging ‘change’ situations, they can feel so big, so threatening, and all-consuming.

Often all manner of thoughts and feelings occur about why change is a bad idea. While few of us ever overtly say we’re ‘against change’ or ‘anti-growth’, many factors steer us and everyone with supreme reasonableness and common sense to keep things are they. Kotter and colleagues book challenges us to think more about what is needed to build a strong foundation for change.


Survive Mindset

A person’s mindset determines their capacity for change. We adopt the survive mindset when we prioritize preserving what we have in the face of possible change. This causes mistrust, anxiety, and high-energy spikes—which all lead to closure to change.

Thrive Mindset

The thrive mindset conversely seeks to stay more open to possibilities that the change may bring; it draws and creates more urgency, passion, excitement, and freethinking. These build a stronger and more sustaining foundation for change.

People, Teams, and Organizations

People, teams, and organizations that can grow and harness their thrive mindset can best position for change. It’s important not to celebrate openness too early, and remember that the most effective changes come less through charismatic leadership than ongoing determination to see difficult things through.

Leadership Practice

“More leadership is needed from more people” (page 177)—and we need to break misplaced assumption that some mythical leader is going to save us from or in the change. Instead, engage in leadership practice that seeks to realize the potential of ourselves and others to make the most of change.


Different Situations – Different Reactions

Our mindsets are situationally specific. What kind of work changes tend to bring out your ‘survive’ mindset more? And your ‘thrive’ mindset more? Reflect on why you have these different reactions, especially in different situations.

Identify Your Dominant Mindset

Think of the kinds of changes you may be facing in the coming year: what are they possible changes and how do these make you feel? What mindset do you perceive being more dominant within yourself? How about within your colleagues?

Unexpected Opportunities

Reflect on a major work or personal change you experienced in the past. What did you lose during or from these changes? What did you gain from the change that you had not envisaged during or before it? What does your past experience of change teach you about how to better find unexpected opportunities in change?