An Analysis of Change Maturity in the HE sector

Change teams will all need to be at the forefront of refocusing their institutions as we move beyond the Covid-19 crisis to a ‘new normal’. In this webinar Fola Ikpehai, SUMS consulting, invited delegates to analyse the level of change maturity within their University and the actions required to raise their maturity as they seek to re-brand and/or raise the profile of change management in order to ensure the success of their institutions beyond Covid-19.

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Fola explained that in her experience technical change is much higher on the agenda than people change, which was confirmed by a poll of delegates on the webinar, with 56% feeling that their institution prioritised technical change.

So why is this?

Technical change is easier. This is because although the project may involve complexities regarding a new building or technology, it is still easier to be clear on the end goal, whereas people change is more open and has to balance many different people’s opinions and feelings, which quickly gets very complicated.

What stands in the way of successful change?

We all know what is required to ensure successful change. However, ‘knowing what to do’ and actually ‘doing it’ are two different things.

Change Maturity = not just about knowing, it’s about doing.

Fola then outlined some key barriers to change which go some way to explain why, even if we know what to do, successful change management can be so difficult:

Sponsors in name only

A sponsor may be named for a change initiative who doesn’t have the necessary time or capacity to devote to the project.

Language is not real

Using too much technical jargon to explain what we’re doing and the different phases of change, which can be a barrier to people properly understanding and engaging with the change project.

Politics, power, personality

Rather than properly considering what the priorities should be for that particular institution, there may instead be a culture of whoever shouts loudest gets their initiative approved.

No links to BAU improvement

Why are we doing this, what are the links, what is the improvement, what are the benefits? Often people feel that the answers to these questions are not clearly enough defined.

Inflexible approaches

This relates specifically to change teams and the idea that there is too much bureaucracy and form filling, which leads people to become frustrated with what they perceive to be an inflexible approach to change.

Mindsets, attitudes, behaviour

This relates to organisational culture, which can present a barrier to change. Often it’s the case that organisations have become so used to the status quo that they are unsure how to even approach change.

These barriers are designed to complement a ‘what’ not ‘how’ approach. They are based on barriers to change and weaknesses identified by the Change Community of Practice; and in recognition that individual institutions will adopt different approaches (the ‘how’) based on their current needs and culture.

Dimensions of Change

Fola then moved on to talk about what a change maturity assessment might look like and outlined the different dimensions that are considered when assessing an organisation’s change maturity (NB. these dimensions are not mutually exclusive):

– Leadership

– Focus

– People

– Approach

– Process

Change maturity can be assessed across the following phases:

Strategy & Planning

• Active, enthusiastic, trusted sponsorship.
• Vision fully aligned with strategy.
• Appropriate levels of competency across University.
• Toolkit aligned to local needs and culture.
• Change Activities commence early.


• Leaders encourage participation.
• Emphasis on behaviour and attitudes.
• Change management competency evident at all levels.
• Root causes on non-compliance are understood.
• Clear milestones for Project and Change management.

Embedding & Sustaining

• Accountability for delivery of long-term benefits clearly defined.
• Benefits consistently tracked to verify ROI
• Mainstreaming Learning and Development to address identified gaps that emerge, and keep skills up to date
• Actions identified and undertaken to ensure change is embedded in BAU
• Success is measured against clear criteria

Benefits realisation:

Fola concluded the webinar by discussing the ‘benefits realisation’ aspect of a change project. A benefit is an outcome whose nature and value are considered advantageous by those impacted by the change. It answers the question “so what?”.

It is important to remember that benefits take time! When change is introduced, all organisations go through several stages of development before full benefits are realised. So when you reach the end of a change programme it is unrealistic to expect all benefits to be immediately evident as the Change will not yet be fully embedded and there won’t have been the culture change and re-skilling required for all the benefits to be apparent.

Have you got any advice for people trying to start bottom up change?

This kind of change is less about programmatic change and more about people in teams recognising that things could be better. If I was a manager in a team like that I would hold an away session (even if it has to be virtual) and complete an exercise such as ‘start, stop, continue’. I would then pull the outcomes from this into a clear narrative and present it to management or leadership. I find that when you want to build change from the bottom up leadership needs to have a reason to embark on a change project and so it is always more likely to be successful if you can demonstrate your thinking and objectives. This means leadership can see that you are not coming to them simply with problems but that you have thought of potential solutions.

Fola Ikpehi, Principal Consultant, SUMS Consulting

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