Field Notes: 5 principles to guide streamlining

June 10, 2019
  • Change Management
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • field notes

 

"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 connect@aacrao.org.

by Aimee Vitangcol Regoso, Registrar, Andrews University

In Scott Carlson's 2018 article “Sustaining the College Business Model” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he explores case studies of several universities' responses to challenges such as growing tuition revenue; streamlining operations; collaboration and consolidation; and reinvention.

Admissions and Registrar Offices can play a role in each of these solutions, but are particularly well-suited to lead in the area of streamlining operations. Many Admissions and Registrar Offices are already skilled at strategies such as identifying inefficiencies, realigning and reorganizing departments, utilizing Lean Management principles, outsourcing when necessary, and sharing resources through collaboration among back-office administration.

So, how are the decisions made that shape these strategies? The principles below can help guide that process.

1. Identify Ownership with Scope of Responsibility

When identifying an owner, one should consider the following questions: Does it make sense for our office to own a given function? Does it belong with the other functions our office is responsible for? Should it be housed in another office? These questions can be answered within the context of the following areas:

  • Knowledge: What entity has the business knowledge to support the function? Can this knowledge be easily shared with others or does it require a breadth and depth that would make training challenging?

  • Technology: What technology is needed to manage, support or complete the given function?

  • Human Resources: Is there adequate staffing to manage and support the function? Do the employees have the required skillset to match the function?

Next, define the scope of ownership. As the identified owner, does my scope include policy, process, or the entire cycle from creation to implementation and evaluation? Scope is an especially important consideration as one considers whether a function is centralized or decentralized. When processes are centralized in one office, it is easier to manage and adjust when changes occur. When processes are decentralized, coordination is key to ensure long-term sustainability.

2. Train with Accountability.

The importance of training is clear especially in transient communities and specific positions where turnover can be high. At the same time, professional development and growth should be part of the training to avoid stagnation when an individual stays in a position for an extended period. Even more important than knowledge transfer is ensuring those in authority have the skills and resources necessary to accomplish the following: support the institutional culture; develop a strategic plan; establish communication plans; obtain knowledge of the overarching framework for the institution and department; create models and workflow; implement action steps; follow-through; team development and growth.

Once an owner is trained, who holds the owner accountable? Ultimately, it comes down to leadership, mutual understanding of expectations and accountability.

3. Standardize with Flexibility.

The complexities of higher education can lead to complex processes. Establishing ideal models, which can be supported given capacity, can result in economies of scale, cost savings, and improved customer service. These questions can help shape standards:

  • What is the purpose of a given function, process or task?

  • Are similar tasks and functions grouped together appropriately?

  • Are specific steps necessary or can they be eliminated?

  • What are the bottlenecks for a given process?

  • Is there cross-training for critical functions?

Once models have been established, review data to see if the models can handle most if not all cases. If the majority of situations fit into the established models, then it allows room for handling exceptions that are a reality when any policy, process, or standard is established.

4. Dialogue.

Dialogue is one of the greatest assets to any organization. Higher education was once viewed as a slow changing machine, but the current environment has sparked faster change. New policies, programs, processes, and associated technology are being introduced, changed, and, in some cases, are obsolete. As new proposals are made, resources (cost, personnel, etc.) need to be identified to support these changes. In order to create an effective initiative, all parties including policy makers, stakeholders and process implementers need to be involved in the creation of the policy, contract, or initiative. This dialogue reduces ambiguity and heightens the importance of a simultaneous policy and procedure creation. The best customer service we can give is aligning our communication, procedure, and policy.

5. Improve continuously.

Reevaluate processes on a regular basis. Any entity that believes it has arrived is mistaken. Once any decisions are made in ownership, training, standardization, it is necessary to reevaluate and respond to changes in the environment, structure and personnel.

 

In summary, the principles outlined can guide any entity in the actions needed to streamline operations. Sustainability can be achieved through creating a structure whereby ownership is not only identified but also defined; training is provided and individuals are held accountable for what they have been taught; standards are created with flexibility to accommodate most, if not all, solutions; and ongoing dialogue through these steps leads to continuous improvement.