Successfully adapting to change

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  • IHBHBHOmlH5

    Successfully Adapting To Change

    By James R. Baird

    D uring the 1986 spring quarter, just after the budget session for the state legisla- ture, the university administration in- formed all departments that an eight percent budget reduction would take

    place the following fiscal year. When we got the of- ficial written notice of the actual reduction, our de- partment had been given a 12 percent cut amounting to $100,000 in appropriated funds, the largest per- centage cut of any department on campus.

    As department director, I had the task of imple- menting this budget reduction while maintaining services and trying to maintain staff morale. As we met in our departmental executive committee meeting the following week and discussed our op- tions, we decided to take an in-depth look at na- tional, regional and industrial trends. We also looked at changes that were being made at the university and the services we were providing in order to determine the best way to make this bud- get adjustment.

    Previous budget reductions had already reduced our departmental appropriations by three per cent and had trimmed most of the excess fat from our department operations. It also had a distinct nega- tive effect on our staff morale, the level of staff productivity and the general perception of admin- istrative support.

    Our department had already implemented a mate- rials charge for some of our Graphics, Photography and Production services, but most of our distribu- tion and engineering services were performed on a non-charge basis because they were considered

    James R. Baird is with the Instructional Media Services Department at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

    36 Tech Trends

    "priority" services. Any cuts in appropriations for these services would affect them significantly.

    We knew that other departments within the uni- versity were also experiencing budget cuts, that oth- er previously appropriated services were becoming charge back services, that morale was approaching an all time low, that productivity was down in many places and that support of research, not instruction (in spite of some talk about improving instruction), was the main focus of the administration.

    At the same time, however, there were signifi- cant positive changes taking place within the uni- versity. The administration had appointed a com- mittee to coordinate expanding computer repair services, supervise upgrading the campus video cable so it would transmit computer data and to oversee the acquisition of a super computer. A faculty committee had also been appointed to study the undergraduate teaching program and make recommendations for its improvement.

    In a way, it seemed like "the best of times and the worst of times." Budget reductions, low mo- rale and a lack of instructional support on the one hand and exciting new technological developments and talk about improving instruction on the other.

    The changes we saw going on around us seemed to fall under the categories of funding, control, fo- cus (priorities) and format (technological). It seemed to us that funding was shifting to a more non-appropriated base; control was shifting to a more decentralized position, media priorities were shifting to an on-campus instructional/research support focus and technology was shifting to com- puter and video formats.

    It became clear to us that if we were to manage this budget cut in a productive way we needed to do some strategic planning and decide on what we wanted our department to become. Some of the

  • new opportunities for service seemed to have higher priorities with the administration than the traditional services we were providing. Some ar- eas of our department felt threatened with extinc- tion and we all agreed that survival required fur- ther analysis of our situation and the services we were performing.

    We first turned our efforts toward identifying our real concerns. We worried about improving morale, increasing productivity, planning for the future, determining relevant directions, adapting to change, keeping up with the trends and finding the proper niche in order to survive. We didn't want to hide our head in the sand because that would only lead to suffocation. We finally grouped these concerns into three general areas:

    How to stay alive. We were especially concerned with morale and staff productivity. We felt that for us to be successful, our employees would have to enjoy the work they were doing and being em- ployed at the university. We also wanted to strengthen the university's dependence upon our services and make them more aware of the sup- port we were providing.

    How to adapt to change. We wanted to achieve a flexibility that would permit us to adapt with the trends and develop an attitude of change in the de- partment that would be positive rather than nega- tive. We wanted to make that element a central hub in our long range and strategic plans.

    How to plan for the future. We felt a need to de- termine the direction that promised the most se- cure future. We wanted to identify the niches that needed to be filled and determine how they could best be filled. We were concerned with staying within the guidelines of our overall mission state- ment, but to expand in any directions that could be approved.

    With these thoughts in mind, we tried to identi- fy the basic steps we thought were absolutely nec- essary to accomplish our goal. We wanted to list exactly what we would have to do not only to stay alive but to be happy while doing it and remain afloat and solvent in our position at the university. We identified the following as critical: be aware of what was going on around us, identify what was really happening (separate reality from rhetoric), examine every department operation and policy, define specific roles, work for trade offs, work for consensus in all actions, GO FOR IT.

    During this phase we adopted John Nesbit's fa- mous recommendation and asked what business we were truly in. We identified a "mainstream" of university direction and needs that were not being met to determine if we could realistically provide that service. We examined our policies and opera- tions, raised every issue we could think of and dissected every service we were performing. There were no "sacred cows" that were not cor- ralled and culled if they didn't fit into what we wanted to accomplish.

    In order to see our situation more clearly, we compared our department to a cube. (see figure 1)

    To do this we took the four major areas of change defined above and let each of them repre- sent one axis of the cube. (We combined the areas

    of focus and format for this visualization) First we determined what we called the comfort zone. This

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    ,-'I 8

    COMFORT ZONE

    = Appropr ia ted Funding

    = Cent ra l i zed Cont ro l

    = Ins t ruct iona l Focus

    = Bas ic A -V Format

    F IGURE 1

    was based on the traditional services and policies we were used to. Our comfort zone (and that of many other media service departments) was iden- tified as appropriated funding, centralized control, instructional focus and traditional AV formats.

    It was easy to see, by using the cube model, that as we moved away from the comfort zone (see figure 2) the risk increased, the insecurity in- creased and the changes that would have to be made increased. (see figures 3-5)

    We defined movement in one area as " low risk," movement in two areas as "moderate risk" and movement in three areas as "high r isk." We also tried to illustrate the degree of risk by using bold print and a more dense grid.

    It was easy to manipulate the cube and think through the implications of any change we wanted to consider.

    It also became obvious that if we were to re- main afloat and secure in the future, we would have to take the risk and increased insecurity (an interesting paradox) of moving out of the comfort zone and changing our department in some signifi- cant way.

    Through this restructuring process we found it important to negotiate "trade offs." It was critical that we had the freedom to try new things. We needed the freedom to try options that had not been tried before. If the university cut our appro- priations, we needed the freedom to charge for our services. If funding was no longer available to deliver equipment and films to classrooms, we needed the freedom to change our policies and make the equipment available to the departments or the faculty in some other way so their use could continue.

    If we could not achieve these "tradeoffs ," the other options would not be available. As we pur- sued these options we found most avenues already

    OCTOBER 37

  • ;us MOVING AWAY ;0s

    = Change

    ~ = Insecur i ty

    "~ = Risk ~o '

    Comfort Zone

    FIGURE 2

    HIGH RISK

    = Charge Serv ice

    = Depar tmenta l Control

    = New Product /Focus

    FIGURE 5

    o

    t

    J

    o

    /

    38 Tech Trends

    /

    /

    /

    LOW RISK

    = Appropr iated Funding

    = Depar tmenta l Contro l

    = Tradit ional Product

    FIGURE 3

    MODERATE RISK

    = Charge Serv ice

    = Depar tmenta l Contro l

    = Tradit ional Product

    FIGURE 4

    opened, or beginning to open, and we needed only to implement them. We found an administration willing to let us experiment and try any option we had thought out carefully.

    Consensus also became critical to the success of our endeavor. We knew that it would take every person's cooperation if we were to succeed so we involved the staff members in every decision that was within our control.

    The more we moved forward in our plan the more we had to assume responsibility for our deci- sions. This resulted in our developing a "go for it" attitude. The administration supported our decisions and gave permission for our moves, but we were responsible for their success. We took a "bold, but not overbearing," "assertive, but not aggressive" and "gentle f irmness" approach.

    As we continue to evaluate what has happened to our department in the two years that have gone by since that budget cut we see that significant changes have taken place. We have moved from a funding situation where some services were par- tially appropriated and some totally appropriated to where all services are on a partially appropriat- ed basis. The university appropriation covers base salaries which helps to hold the cost down to an affordable level, but there is a user charge for all services provided.

    Because we charge for each service, our service attitude has greatly improved. The idea being that, if we charge for the service, we must do it well. Responses from the faculty have been about forty to one supporting this change.

    Our faculty have been very pleased with the strides we have taken to decentralize the control of our film and video collections. Video tapes are deposited in departments around campus so they are more accessible to the faculty members.

    Because of the hassle in trying to deliver multi- ple video units to classrooms, we have decentral- ized this service by installing video units right in the classrooms where there is sufficient use to jus- tify it and by depositing units in individual depart- ments and with faculty members who are heavy video users. Each unit is remote controlled, and remote control units are checked out to each fac- ulty member who requests one.

    In order to make campus media use more user

  • friendly and also to support a major technological change, we made the decision to stop buying 16mm film and film projectors so we could change the basic on-campus media format to video. While we still have on an off-campus film rental program our focus has turned inward to on-campus instruc- tional and research support.

    Since most of our traditional instructional graphics support had already been taken over by the photocopy machine, our instructional graphics area moved from an instructional focus to a re- search focus. This has also been enhanced by the acquisition of computer graphics hardware and software. The request for support of technical re- search illustrations and visualizations has grown as fast as we can gear up to support it. Visualized defenses of dissertations and theses are a new phenomenon that we are happy to see.

    Finally we modified our engineering department to support campus computer and data cable main- tenance and our television production area to ex- pand its focus to include distance education and telecommunications support. Because of the im- portance to the administration of these areas we have received additional funds to support these services.

    In addition to these external "service" changes, there were other basic internal changes in orienta- tion that affected the total department. We became results oriented rather than activity oriented and changed from a "number of units" to a "degree of customer satisfaction" evaluation system. We changed from a bureaucratic service orientation to a business service orientation and increased the amount of time we spent on marketing and promo- tions. This had the distinct effect of moving us from a conservative orientation to an entrepreneurial ori- entation. The overall effect of these changes has caused our employees to shift from a "have to serve" to a "want to serve" attitude.

    Interesting additional evidence of these changes is noticed by listening to the terms that are used in our management meetings. We find ourselves talk- ing about "cash f low" and what that means to our department. We talk about "opportunity costs" and "sunk costs" with complete understanding. We discuss our "service att itude" continually and watch "customer satisfaction" and "market re- turns" with a careful eye. These terms go back and forth between the members of the group like they were part of our ancient tradition.

    The effect on our organization has been very positive and energizing to say the least. Every de- partment has changed in some way. We are more secure with the administration, our morale has greatly improved, our productivity has increased significantly, our income has more than offset the original budget cut, our customer base has in- creased and the overall quality of our service has improved. As far as we can determine from feed- back we have received, the faculty we serve are very satisfied with our services. 9

    Tech Trends

    We are looking for your practical and innovative articles dealing with the themes and ideas for our Spring, 1990 issues.

    Jan~Feb-- Collaborative Partnerships Ideas 9 Case studies in higher ed and K-12

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    See TechTrends Author Guidelines on page 51 of this issue for style tips, submission requirements and deadlines.

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    OCTOBER 39

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