Born This Way: IT as Agents for Change

Standish Stewart, Vice President of ITS and Chief Information Officer, Cuyahoga Community College

Standish Stewart, Vice President of ITS and Chief Information Officer, Cuyahoga Community College

March 2020 was a turning point for every institution. Not only did students, faculty and staff have a deadly virus to contend with, colleges and universities had to turn on a dime to remotely deliver courses and services. The personal and professional stress was immeasurable, and information technology departments worked around the clock to provide impactful solutions and support during an uncertain time.

Though a return to some semblance of normal is now on the horizon, the Information Technology Services team at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is eager to keep one thing that grew out of these impossible times: their role as change agents within the institution.

Change agents are trusted advisors who partner with colleagues to develop, implement and refine a new way of doing something. They embrace the opportunity to experience a current process from the user’s perspective in order to understand how the ideal process would function. “We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t cut it. Their openness enables a group to dream big, while their pragmatism helps keep the dream connected with reality. They make sure their colleagues take the time to develop and implement the correct process rather than a quick fix.

Sounds easy, right? We IT folks have never backed away from a challenge before (Y2K, anyone?), so let’s look at four strategies that can help your team embrace the role they were born to play.

Strategy #1: Build Strong Relationships across the Institution

Let’s face it: People are more open to advice and feedback from their peers. It’s human nature to trust someone who has lived your reality, so get out there and experience the institution from your colleagues’ perspective!

“Our go-to method for building strong relationships is to volunteer during peak times so that we can experience firsthand the challenges and opportunities that confront our students, faculty and staff.”

Our go-to method for building strong relationships is to volunteer during peak times so that we can experience firsthand the challenges and opportunities that confront our students, faculty and staff. We’ve learned so much about how our systems operate in real life—the hurdles that go unseen because colleagues are too close to their process; the pain points that could be relieved through an honest review of the status quo.

Strategy #2: Be Curious

IT professionals are naturally curious, so use this trait to your advantage. We ask a lot of questions as we work to understand why a process exists and how it operates, and we keep asking questions until we can describe the process in clear terms to another colleague. New ideas begin to emerge, leading to “what if” and “in a perfect world” conversations that enable us to create the best experience possible.

Ask your colleagues how the process would operate if they could make any change imaginable. The sky’s the limit! Explore a new way forward together.

Strategy #3: Resist Defaulting to “No” While Remaining Pragmatic

Dreaming is fun, but your feet have to come back down to the ground at some point. The key here is to remain open yet pragmatic. Many of us have heard the old complaint that IT is the “Department of No.” While you can’t green light every idea, you can help your colleagues feel heard while helping them craft a doable change.

Instead of defaulting to no, we use a dream board to capture every big idea and then discuss options by reframing the big ideas into something we can implement within our resource constraints. Once all ideas are documented, we categorize must-have needs (Phase I), next-level improvements for which resources are available (Phases II – X) and outer-realm transformations that aren’t possible right now but may be in a few years (Phases Y and Z).

Strategy #4: Invest Time at the Beginning to Save Time in the Long Run

Coming up with a new or improved process is exciting, but it’s crucial to invest time at the beginning to ensure you’re ready to implement. Technology only makes bad processes worse, so take your time to think through every detail, specific corner cases and alignment to your end goal before building and launching a new path forward.

The time you invest at the beginning will prevent post-launch issues, build trust in your capacity as change agents and encourage others to partner with your team as they look to improve their delivered experience. Slow and steady really does win the race!

IT teams around the world stepped up when everyone needed their expertise, creativity and determination. Together, with colleagues from every department, higher education institutions achieved the impossible.

So let’s keep moving forward, sharing and leveraging our go-to change agent strategies and working collectively toward an even better tomorrow.

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