Field Notes: Practical change management

October 15, 2018
  • Change Management
  • Competencies
  • field notes
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"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

by Ginnifer Cié Gee, EdD, Director of Strategic Planning and Assessment, The University of Texas San Antonio

Change is both a blessing and a curse in higher education.  Sometimes it can be laborious and painstakingly slow and yet other times you can come back from the weekend and find yourself in a new division, with a new boss and a new title!  

The following will provide a practical strategy for helping staff adapt to major university change. The example below is taken from one division’s approach to change management after massive structural modifications.  A workshop was created to orient staff into the new structure while helping them understand emotions associated with change. The details of the workshop are listed below in hopes that you may adapt this process to tackle your specific institutional change situation.

First, let’s highlight the changes 250 staff in this example were experiencing:

  • New Vice Presidential division created with departments taken from other divisions

  • Different leadership style of a new Vice President than some were accustomed to

  • New titles, new roles, new reporting lines

  • New promotions (your co-worker is now your boss)

  • New direction and purpose of the university (new direction and purpose for jobs)

  • Implementation of aggressive Strategic Enrollment Plan

  • Office space shifting, renovation, and relocating

Second, why was a workshop needed?  As the divisional leadership discussed how to manage this change, we began by asking these questions:

What is SEM?  Does everyone know what SEM means?

My colleague and I were both enrolled in the AACRAO SEM Endorsement Plan and argued that SEM can be a tricky concept to understand especially if it is not in the normal vocabulary of a university.  Since this was a new term for many staff, management felt it was necessary to educate everyone. This became objective #1 for the workshop.

What is a SEM Plan and what does it mean for our university?

The university adopted an ambitious SEM plan and implementation had already begun.  Asking people to shift their job functions without an understanding of the vision is problematic.  We wanted staff to fully understand what a SEM plan was, what our specific SEM plan was and how we were going to reach our university goals.  This became objective #2 for the workshop.

Why was this new division created and how does every department and every person fit?

There was a sense of uncertainty among some staff.  Many had been employed with the university for 10, 20, even 30 years and to suddenly be removed from a structure that was familiar was jolting.  The management wanted staff to understand the strategic thinking behind the reorganization and reiterate the importance of every single staff member. This became objective #3 for the workshop.

The following will explain the delivery method of the workshop, highlighting the 3 main objectives.

Objective 1: Understand Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM)

Taking a creative approach, we asked groups to draw what they thought “SEM” looked like.  The results were imaginative and theoretically/conceptually accurate. This exercise was useful in that it showed the staff they already understood this concept in theory.  This allowed for a robust discussion about SEM pulling from ideas they had created.

Objective 2: Understand the University’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan

We discussed each phase of the plan and how each part impacted various departments in our division as well as which parts of the plan were shared with other divisions.  This was framed with a discussion about what the university five and ten year goals were. It was useful for staff to see the destination we wanted to reach and how the SEM plan was the ‘vehicle’ we were using to get there.

Objective 3: Understand the division of Strategic Enrollment and your place within it

Our university and the division had big goals, none of which would happen without the talent and dedication of each staff member.  We spent a healthy amount of time discussing where they fit into the student lifecycle and how their specific job could move the needle on our goals.  This was beneficial to staff who never interact with students directly, helping them see their critical role in the process.

We also felt it was important to discuss the elephant in the room, change.  Emotions to change can vary and by explaining this, people were allowed to have their emotion, yet understand the process to move forward.  The Satir Change Model and Kübler-Ross Change Curve are two good models to use in explaining emotions associated with change.


90% stated they agreed or strongly agreed to an increase in knowledge/understanding about SEM, the new division, and their place within it.


  1. Conduct a trial run with a small group first.  The staff had questions/concerns that we had not anticipated.

  2. Address why the workshop was created.  There was a wide range of perceptions as to why staff had to attend this ‘training’.  I don’t know, my boss told me to come, networking, learn more about the new division.  Manage the expectations at the beginning, make a clear and concise statement about why everyone is there and what new knowledge they will leave with.

  3. Allow time for participants to be creative and get to know each other.  This was a rare chance that people from different areas interacted. Allow relationship building time.

  4. Gamify it. To establish important facts about the university (like enrollment and retention goals) we had a friendly competition.  People were learning and having fun at the same time.

  5. Mix up the sessions to include all levels/departments and have your Vice President attend.  The support of the VP is crucial.

  6. Thank them for sharing part of their day with you.

  7. Let them leave with something in hand.  We provided a handout of terms, and small keepsake token symbolic of SEM.