To strengthen the efficiency of the higher education sector we need a coordinated approach to change management which measures the benefits.

You won’t get the benefit

How many of you working at universities and colleges know of change programmes and projects which are going on?

Of those directly involved in managing these changes, how many of you know what the benefits are which justified the decision to make the change? And, of those still with me, how many of you can put your fingers on the financial benefits as well as qualitative, service improvement benefits?

Lastly, if the business case for change did establish the financial benefits, how many projects can demonstrate that they have tracked these efficiencies through the life of the project to ensure that they continue to be delivered – or indeed, if other efficiencies not established at the outset have come to light?

Measuring the benefits

I suspect that the number of people reading this blog who have made it through to the end of my series of questions with positive answers is low.

I remember reading an application for funding not so long ago from a university which had two pages of justification for the funding. It made great play of the improvement in the student experience, the enhancement of the working environment for staff, resultant improvement in outcomes and improved links with the local community and industry. And then the very last sentence in the section said (and I paraphrase – but not much), ‘and of course the project will deliver financial savings as well’.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting, and added immense value to the project application, if an assessment of those savings had been made?

The disappointing thing is that once all of the work has gone in to identifying the qualitative benefits, it does not take much more effort to calculate what those benefits will deliver in financial terms. The two, more often than not, go hand in hand.

How to manage change well

As institutions begin to recognise the importance of co-ordinating their approach to change management, more Project Management Offices (PMOs) are becoming established.

These PMOs are staffed with people who have experience of organisational change in other sectors and industries. Often they are surprised by the lack of awareness in higher education of what a well-managed change programme looks and feels like.

Heather Lawrence, the Business Improvement Officer at Strathclyde, has grasped this nettle, and – with a little funding from the Innovation and Transformation Fund  – has put together a guide to ‘Benefits Realisation’ management. ‘Benefits Realisation’ is the jargon term for what I have just described.

Just because the Diamond Review has reported, central government’s appetite for information on the efficiency of the sector is undiminished.

If the sector can use a methodology like the one Heather has published, the case for the efficiency of the sector can be strengthened immeasurably.