Go Big or Go Home…A Big Tech Initiative Needs a "Big" Vision

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Is Your Vision “20/20”?

If you’re going “big” with a technology initiative and implementing at “scale” (however you define scale), you, like us, need to have a big vision. As change leaders, you’ll be setting that vision and implementation strategy. Too often, we set those visions in isolation. That’s a mistake. Your project cannot “go big” if you don’t think about the mission and vision of your whole college — the one that’s on your website and that you and your colleagues live by — and the vision each area of the college has for itself. You need to have 20/20 vision.

Colleges are complex organizations and change leaders need to recognize and work with these different “layers” of visions, determining how and where this new initiative aligns with these layers, and communicating that alignment clearly to institutional stakeholders.

If you're working with an iPASS project now, like we are, you've already given some thought to how your iPASS initiative will help provide a solution to some aspect of your institutional vision. But layered beneath that aspirational vision are more grounded, specific visions; we see our role as change leaders to stitch those layers together to create a coherent whole that iPASS will address.

Drilling Down and Rolling Up

To create a vision for a “big” implementation you will need to “drill down.” Who are the different stakeholders and unit areas this initiative will impact? Care and attention needs to be given to each stakeholder group, listening to the vision and goals they have for their area and how they enact those in daily practice.

At Guttman, we needed to listen and think together with each area about ways our initiative could support and strengthen those visions and achieve their goals. We needed to make sure the units’ visions fit into our larger project vision. And, our initiative needed to integrate and enhance their daily practice.

For instance, we know our culture is high touch for high impact on the part of faculty. When we met with the faculty, we were happy to hear that they viewed the advisor’s role as pivotal to the success of their learning communities and programs of study. In essence, faculty were keen to help advisors do their jobs well, so they wanted a tool that would allow advisors to provide feedback to faculty in a more systematic way. Formulating our iPASS vision with this in mind helped develop synergy with the faculty’s goals, creating early buy-in.

Beyond faculty and advisors, we also knew other offices would want or need to use our technology. So again, we set out to develop a more nuanced understanding of just how each department “lived” its own vision. The Financial Aid Office is committed to helping students complete the financial aid process and get the money they need to attend college. When we met with the director, we learned that on the ground, that vision is realized daily through tracking that already takes place in our student information system, but the vision suffered when communication among financial aid counselors and advisors was lacking. Aha! We saw our opening: iPASS could foster student success with financial aid tasks by enhancing referrals between user areas. (On a side note, we also created a “sense of urgency” for change, as advisors and financial aid counselors had met several times about creating such a referral system.)

“Rolling up” a vision is just as important as drilling down. Like all change leaders, we needed to make sure that our project vision was aligned with our institutional mission and vision and with the goals of our strategic plan.

At Guttman, our institutional vision is to support student achievement in a dynamic intellectual environment and our primary mission is to increase the number of students who persist and complete their degree. Our iPASS initiative focuses on increasing student success (that is, to significantly increase our persistence and retention rates) while developing sustainable, scalable practices.

Having a project vision that fits completely within that institutional vision layer helps ensure long-term institutional resources and support.

The End Result...We Can See Clearly Now

In order to create a cultural change, leaders need to work to make sure that everything is clear and all the layers are aligned. Think of it like a set of nesting dolls. An individual unit’s vision and goals need to fit within your initiative’s vision and goals. In turn, your initiative’s vision and goals need to align with your institution’s strategic plan goals and, most importantly, its mission. Having all the layers “nested” together, you will have a vision that is 20/20: a critical step in a successful “at scale” technology implementation.

To learn more about our approach to our iPASS initiative, read our first post, Go Big or Go Home...Implementing Technology at Scale.