By Katie Brown, University Registrar at Aspen University.
"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuous improvement is a hot topic across all industries, but for institutions struggling with limited resources, continuous improvement practices can be hard to apply within your department. Implementing continuous improvement initiatives is daunting, especially if your institution doesn’t already promote change and innovation as a part of its culture. The creation of a departmental audit to regularly review your practices is a great way to utilize the resources that you have to make updates to your processes. If you have the budget, there are pre-made products to help you conduct a department audit. If not, use the following tips and best practices to create a department audit that works for your needs:
Brainstorm the “why” behind your project. Having a clear concept of why you’d like to do a departmental audit helps center yourself and focus your goals. Are your processes outdated and need to be revamped? Are your practices inefficient or not serving your students? Your enthusiasm for your project will help bring others on board.
Gather your resources. Utilize guides/standards from your accreditors (both institutional and programmatic), AACRAO best practices, and cultural initiatives to create standards that your department should be able to meet and demonstrate with evidence. When solidifying those cultural standards, include your team in the process. Have discussions about how they want to represent themselves as a team: approachable, friendly, diverse, etc.
Establish a timeline. Be cognizant of the times of year that are busiest in your department so that you can work around those times. Also, be realistic about who and what resources you have to help you complete your project so that you can scale your audit and create a more accurate timeline for completion.
Achieve stakeholder buy-in. People are often naturally resistant to change, but if you can get people excited about what you’re doing, or at the very least understand why it’s important, they will be more receptive. As appropriate, involve your teams and other departments in decision-making and process review. The feedback of those who work with students and systems directly is invaluable when reviewing practices and their being involved will help with buy-in.
Don’t ignore the low-hanging fruit. Inevitably, some of the updates and ideas that come from your audit will be large-scale projects that can’t be completed quickly. However, don’t ignore those quick-fixes, like updates to forms or email templates. They may seem small, but those changes will add up and make a huge impact on your teams. These changes will also make your teams feel like they have more agency over their work and agency over improving the student experience if they can see changes they suggest be enacted quickly.
Measuring your success. Once you have your audit created, it’s time to complete the audit and measure your success. Maybe just the completion of your audit is your success measurement. Or maybe you’ve set yourself specific metrics for efficiency improvements. Regardless, demonstrating your success will help your audit gain momentum.
The implementation of a department audit can be a great way to regularly evaluate your processes for efficiency and scalability and then make changes as needed. Making those changes and establishing a cycle of continually reviewing and updating processes will allow your departments to keep ahead of the curve and react to changes more agilely. Creating a working environment that is not stagnant can also help encourage creativity and improve team morale. These tips will get you started on your continuous improvement journey, but your openness and team input will determine where you end up.