Tools, Training and Time: How Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business Is Helping Leaders Manage Change

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Recently, we sat down with client Laura Syer, Associate Dean of Finance and Administration at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, to discuss her experience helping her teams lead and navigate change. Here’s what she had to say:

1.     As you think back over the last few months and years, what are the types of changes you have undertaken as an organization? 

Higher education as a whole is changing around the world – shifting enrollment demographics, stakeholder expectations, online learning, lifelong learning, and education funding, are all impacting how we teach, how we hire, how we govern, how we manage, how we research and how we work. Here at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University, we are not only dealing with fast-paced market changes on a regular basis, but over the last three years, we have been managing the integration of three established and accredited schools to form one large college. Following the integration, we realized we needed to assist our employees in navigating this significant change and we made the decision to work with Notion Consulting on this effort. Notion has partnered with us on a series of change management workshops for our employees that have helped us to be better prepared to support our employees and address workplace challenges. We found that dealing with all of the change in a direct way was the best approach for all involved.

 

2.     Tell us a little about why you decided to train leaders and employees on how to manage change? 

Historically, higher education was a sector that experienced little change over generations. However, today, colleges and universities vie for the best students and faculty and manage operational needs in an increasingly competitive environment.  Institutions across our whole industry have had to adjust their organizational models to support the world we live in today – a world with rapidly changing technologies, student needs, innovation and growth. Following the integration of the SC Johnson College, we needed to train our leaders to support our workforce. We also needed to support our individual contributors – emotionally, tactically and physically. We are and continue to be committed to our employees, their growth, development and well-being.   

 

3.     What did participants appreciate most about attending these sessions? Did this differ for your managers vs employees that participated?

Our change management program was focused on facilitating open conversations, gaining valuable feedback and helping staff feel supported. Participants had the opportunity to share what was on their minds in small group settings, and begin exploring and working through the process of change related to the college integration. Participants discussed feelings of ‘loss’ and we made sure to address these types of concerns in the employee working groups. Creating this safe space gave employees an opportunity to reflect on the change cycle, and learn new ways to help them cope and better embrace some of the challenges.

 

4.     What would you say are the most significant positive outcomes you have experienced as an organization as a result of this type of change training for leaders and employees? 

More people are now equipped with the tools they need to manage uncertainty. They are more confident talking about their reactions to change and they are learning how to move through the change curve with greater ease.

 

5.     What lessons did you and your leadership team take away from these sessions that can help managers and employees navigate change?

We recognize now more than ever how important it is to continue the dialogue about the big picture. We’ve made a renewed commitment to communication, and we continue to talk about the vision and goals for our organization.

 

6.     What recommendations do you have for other organizations experiencing change, and considering this type of change training and education for their managers and employees? 

Communicate your vision and purpose in a meaningful and authentic way. Consider hiring  professionals to help individuals and groups discuss, share, explore and process the many aspects of change. Be empathetic. Take the time needed for people to work through what they are learning and discussing. Clarify new roles and support training for people to learn new skills. It’s a journey. Be patient and kind.

 

7.     Is there anything else we haven't asked that you'd like to share? 

We’ve found outsourcing the support and training for change management to be far more beneficial to our organization than if we’d tried to deliver it all in house. Having that outside perspective is critically important for providing an unbiased lens that keeps everyone in check. I cannot thank Notion Consulting enough for the training, personal support, guidance and a positive outlook. In hindsight, I do wish we would have offered more resources early in the change process, and it probably would have been more effective to complete small-group work from the start. This type of valuable training provided a wealth of innovative tools and resources to help our employees succeed and thrive. Notion Consulting has been part of our growth and development at the SC Johnson College of Business and for that, we are grateful!