Meeting the challenges of Higher Ed implementations

25 June 2019
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Raymond Gallacher, HE Consultant at Inoapps

Let’s divide our industry into two facets: one is primarily technical, say creating an extension that fits the gaps that our clients identify. Two, the process change. That is where we meet the customer, their people on the ground floor.

Gathering those strands together, I’m going consider elements of resistance: Budgets restrictions, Time restrictions, Shortage of resources, Lack of key skill sets, Poor requirements.

Could the list go on and on? Without a doubt.

Rather than the technical, I’m going to start with the personal. I don’t just mean the effect we have on our clients as people, but that means that I’ll offer something from personal experience.

Our scene is set in a recently arranged training area. They, the ten people in front of me, are new, and so am I. After ten minutes of my first presentation, someone broke the silence.

“I don’t understand any of this, and I don’t think anyone else does either.”

For the sake of this post and the privacy of our clients – and, of course, genuine empathy on my part -  we shall call her Cath. On my first day of training clients, we had chosen classroom-based and blended delivery. The room was theirs:  a classic clean, dry computer lab style environment with bad corporate coffee and a tea urn that dispensed a brown liquid that was recognizable as anything at all.

Cath was not enjoying her first day and neither was I. She had the shakes – so did I, I just hid mine better. But Cath was something else; Cath was angry. We were less than an hour into our training program and had hardly worked our way around the client’s new dashboard. So, Cath had come into the room prepared and loaded for stress.

She was not alone, there was an entire cohort from our latest HE client, all sitting quietly, all unhappy to be there and, like me, hiding it better by staring into cardboard cups of something unnatural as the little byplay went on.

Cath was my first personal challenge and the best thing that ever happened to me. I calmed her down by listening and by answering her questions as honestly as I could. I explained that new systems meant investment. Much later I would do that in a prepared fashion – not off the cuff. Let’s look at Cath’s fears.

Remember all those challenges I listed. One more – resistance.

How we are perceived? How is our sudden presence on site perceived? We are seen as a threat, possibly training people out of a job they have had for a number of years.

If we are not that stark a threat – possibly a subtler one. Never underestimate the fear and insecurity of the adult learner. New processes often result in a change of role. Now, what if that role is not an improvement in the trainee’s eyes? (This is not an unfounded fear, rationalization often leads to the creation of new but more insecure roles.) Equally the accompaniment to learning something new is the fear of failure.

So, what can we bring to bear to overcome these challenges?

Posture. I don’t mean this in the way we stand, more in the attitude we assume from the first moment we come in through the client’s door. Are we there to command, to help or to serve? I think something of all these things. The true definition of professional is, “Those with a body of knowledge fit to pass to a layman.” That should be our start; a helpful professional who sets the atmosphere – that there is no failure, we just haven’t approached the problem in the right way.

We cannot control other people’s employer, but we can bring positives to the space. Let them know that your presence is evidence of an investment and that investment is evidence of an employer with a future. Personal future employability is a dividend of this.

Bring confidence and good examples - If other people have made a success of the change process, the, it must be possible and manageable.

Bring good processes and models. Good documentation and process which is easily understood and makes sense to the client base will create a solid foundation for working towards the implementation. Show that we have the tools to lead. If we set a clear and reassuring direction, trust building will follow.

I now expect resistance and treat it constructively. I wouldn’t say that it makes me happy, but I am happy to accept it as part of the journey.

Having identified this bump in the road to change – do I have a solution?

We can’t create a solution to how people feel – we can accept it as part of the method.

Looking back to Cath and her coworkers - why did I just jump straight into the product? After all, dealing with people is supposed to be my strength. Why not make your first step one of inclusion – understanding where the client is beginning? Are they starting from a place of confidence?

Are they on board with the project?

Do they feel that they are stakeholders?

I should have stressed that the training would result in a new and transferable skill and they would come away from the training a more employable, more rounded worker, and that we were all going to have to move from training to newness to be part of the economy.

And lastly, “If I learned this – anyone can.”

In the second part, I want to address how we begin and how we can overcome early resistance, templates as tools and the human factor in creating a self-starting environment for digital transformation.

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