Education Industry

How to navigate change management in K-12 schools

August 3, 2021

Welcome to part one of our series on change management for schools. This article is written by our friends at Emmet Consulting, an independent strategy consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there has been a 2.6% increase in Australian independent school enrolments over the last 12 months — that’s the highest level since 2008! But, with growing enrolments comes increased competition. There’s a lot of pressure on K-12 schools to continuously improve the student enrolment experience, boost marketing efforts, and nurture the next wave of applicants. 

To manage these expectations, schools are turning to a range of edtech software systems, like new websites, communication tools, or school CRMs to improve processes and stay ahead of the curve. But, what’s perhaps the most important reminder when introducing any new piece of technology, is that people, not just the systems, will ultimately deliver success. It’s easy to get caught up in the initial excitement of a new tech tool, but without serious consideration to how schools will navigate change management, the project can fail. 

So, how can schools balance the need for new technology while navigating the risks and changes that come with these projects? Below, we’ll dive into four common reasons why school projects involving significant change can falter, and how you can avoid them.

 

1. People first, new systems second

Naturally, a project built around implementing new technologies tends to focus on the chosen platform and how to get it set up. But, what’s often overlooked are the people who will be impacted by and use the technology day-to-day. 

Let’s say, for example, your school is implementing a new school CRM to streamline your admissions processes. The product will come with a bunch of exciting features, but if your team doesn’t adapt to working with the new school CRM, the system will be under-utilised, and business case benefits linked to the initial investment will fall short. 

So, how can you avoid this? A simple rule is to ensure that any major technology-driven change includes just as much emphasis on the team as the technology itself. Here are a few questions you might like to consider asking to cover change implications for teams and the technology:

  • How does the technology match the capabilities and experience we have within our school today? 
  • How can we support our team to ensure they’re being upskilled and feel ready for this investment? 
  • What do our main processes look like today, and how might they change to maximise project benefits for both the school and our team?

 

2. Multiple departments, one team

The thought of someone in your school implementing a project that could impact the way you work without engaging you may sound quite unusual, but it happens all too often! That’s why we recommend starting your project with a simple stakeholder and impact mapping exercise. This helps you to understand which teams will be impacted and how. From here, you’ll be able to see who needs to be engaged and involved with the project from the beginning. 

In most cases, the amount of involvement for some departments will be limited. You might reach out to teams, offering a role in the project, only to be told that it’s not material enough for them to take that step. But extending that hand is what matters most. The fact that you took the time to consider those impacts and consult those involved can help set the tone for a highly collaborative period of change. 

Consider these simple questions to get you started:

  • Which departments across the school might be impacted by the change? 
  • How might they be impacted, and to what extent?
  • Who should we engage in an extended project team, and what role should they play in the decisions we need to make?

 

3. What's in it for us, and what's in it for me?

‘What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)? It’s a question we’ve probably all heard more than once in our working and even personal lives. And yet, just like many of the points above, it’s often forgotten when we’re under the pressure of a major project or change program.

Approaching someone about a change to change how they work, or for their help, isn’t always easy. But imagine if you could approach that conversation with the added lens of how that person - or even team - may be able to benefit from what you’re doing? When impact mapping, it’s important to not only think about potential problems, but the benefits you can bring to others too! 

Staying with our example of a new school CRM, many would assume that most benefits will be for the school’s Marketing or Admissions teams. But, what about those in Advancements or leadership? Did they know that they’ll gain access to more detailed, real-time reporting and information? Can you now provide the finance team with improved inputs to their enrollment forecasting? And what about those entrusted with the challenging task of managing student transport? Could they use some extra insight as to where our most recent applicants live? Taking note of these benefits is critical to the measurement of your project and the motivation and engagement of teams across all departments within a school.

As for the WIIFM, taking just a little time to think about how your project could positively benefit the people you may need support from can make an enormous difference in gaining engagement over objection.

 

4. Staying the course

As touched on earlier, new projects inject a lot of enthusiasm and energy into a school, but the reality is that those projects take time and hard work. Sometimes, projects will fail not because they weren’t the right fit, but because execution lacked focus or the required follow-through. 

So, to wrap up, our final recommendation is to set expectations from the start and remember the old adage of ‘good things take time’ — and determination. Projects of any scale inevitably involve a change in both technology and the way we work. That change is rarely straightforward, but holding on to why you started, remembering the business case, the ‘WIIFM’ and the need to engage those who work in other teams can make all the difference in a successful vs. stressful change management journey.


If you’d like to learn more about navigating change management at your school, get in touch with the team at Emmet Consulting for more information.