Making change happen as an education leader

Leading change is one of the hardest tasks faced by leaders across the higher ed and VET sectors.

In what has become a fast-changing education industry and world, the strategic imperative to change is clear; without evolving continually, Australian educators are likely to be outpaced by local and international competition and fail to deliver the education and skills students and employers want.

If change is now imperative, how can leaders successfully make change happen in their organisations to position them for both the knowns and unknowns we will face in the future of tertiary education?


1. Bank on leadership skills


Change management in education requires focus, consistency and accountability. Most importantly, it needs to be led from the top. Without complete buy-in from the leadership team, the organisation is likely to fail in any effort to bring about the desired change or the culture needed to achieve it.

This means ensuring leaders or leadership teams have the right attributes or skills in their toolkit to be able to implement successful change. These skills includes leading the change through ‘being the change’, being able to respond to feedback and embracing a facilitative communication style.


  • Being the change you want to see


Every time a leader or leadership team creates an experience, delivers a communication, or takes an action, it will either support or undermine the change effort. Through being a visible example of change, leaders can indicate how important it is and keeping it at the top of everyone’s priority list. 

Leaders need to integrate being the change into the more strategic aspects of their remit, including determining the desired result from the change program, communicating the case for change to employees, encouraging alignment across the team and maintaining everyone’s accountability.


  • Being responsive to feedback


Leaders will typically need to incorporate the feedback they are getting from internal and external sources during a change effort. While they will be guided by a North Star and engaging their crew as they steer the ship towards it, ignoring clouds on the horizon would be a dereliction of responsibility.

This means being able to respond to feedback. While change projects are going ahead, leaders can and do use methodologies like agile that better enable them to integrate feedback on an ongoing basis, pivot their initiatives and ultimately get change done that matches the needs of the market.


  • Being a facilitative communicator


While responding to feedback will be well received by teams going through change, employees are also hungry for facilitative leaders who proactively foster opportunities for open communication and collaboration. It’s clear this communication is necessary to execute comprehensive change.

Leaders should cultivate free-flowing horizontal and vertical communication, while involving and empowering everyone who is responsible for pushing the positive change forward. They should ensure this includes clients, who have a huge stake in the future plans of their organisation.


2. Build a strong and committed team


Not everyone is enthusiastic about making change happen. Likewise, when trying to implement a change management initiative, the individuals who you want to be engaged and involved may not understand exactly what it is they have to do or have the right skills to make it successful. 

Leaders should have an holistic focus on building a strong and committed team if they want to effectively steer change. Those involved should demonstrate the target mindset and behaviours leaders are seeking and have the opportunity to improve their skills to achieve success.

This might mean tough decisions. Often higher performing, motivated employees are more effective change agents than those who are disengaged. Personal drive, a positive mindset, and being a team player are some of the character ingredients of people who see change through to the end.


3. Be relentless in the pursuit of impact


Leading change requires a certain amount of grit and determination - from leaders and teams. Those who are successful are usually willing to pursue impact relentlessly, and that means they are able to hold together a dual focus on the smaller details and the bigger picture to help drive change forward.

From a high-level view of the strategic intent of the change and the impact it will have on different parts of the organisation, to a nuts and bolts understanding of the various components in motion, leaders need to be constantly vigilant and attentive throughout the process to keep it on track.

And that might mean always. Because as the cliché goes, the only thing constant is change.