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Episode 17

transformed: The Intersection of Business and Digital Transformation

Higher Digital has just published the next installment of its new audio interview feature, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promises represented by both.

In this feature of transformed, President Joe Gottlieb invites Aimee Leishure, former SVP of Business Transformation at Laureate, to discuss the important differences and intersections between business transformation and digital transformation. Listen to the episode to discover the many ways that both business and digital transformation can impact and enhance the student experience in higher ed.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:02)

Welcome to transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new whys, the new whats and the new hows in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence culture, strategy and tactics planning, and execution people, process and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. 


Joe Gottlieb: (00:35)

Hello. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president of Higher Digital. And today I am joined by Aimee Leishure, former SVP of Business Transformation at Laureate. Aimee, welcome to transformed


Aimee Leishure: (00:55)

Thanks Joe. Really excited to be here. What would you like to talk about? 


Joe Gottlieb: (00:59)

Well, given your background, I would love to talk about digital transformation as viewed through the lens of business transformation or vice versa, if you prefer.


Aimee Leishure: (01:11)

That is a massive topic. Oh, where would you like us to start? 


Joe Gottlieb: (01:16)

Well, I think it would be good to start with a little bit of background on Laureate for those of our listeners that don’t know it. And then a little bit of context for your business transformation work there. What was going on at Laureate at the time and how did that produce a fertile ground for this very, very important practice? 


Aimee Leishure: (01:38)

Sounds great. Let me give you a little bit of background on Laureate and education. So Laureate had acquired about 80 institutions in 28 different countries. At our peak, we educated about 1 million students per year and in my own estimation had about 15 million alumni. The thing about acquiring 80 institutions is you name the technology, you name the business process. We did it, we owned it. It was there. Anything from some of our largest universities where you would literally have people running things on laptops with servers under their desks to maybe somewhere in India, one of our very small schools, they were running SAP. And so, lots of opportunity, lots of positive opportunity, and many times places to scratch your head. Transformation for me, I was thrown into the middle of this as an opportunity. About 10 years ago, we started with our finance back offices. 


Aimee Leishure: (02:40)

We set up five shared service centers where we supported our order to cash process, record to report process, and the procure to pay process. We implemented PeopleSoft and auxiliary systems. It took us about two and a half years to implement globally. And we did it for about 10 less than budget. So that’s good. I feel like that’s a feather in our cap that we were so successful at doing that. We pivoted to the front office, how could we start to impact our students in a positive way using technology? We studied and mapped our student experience. We studied the enrollment to graduation process. We also figured out what were not only best practices, but also best-in-class technology. Sometimes that was large like student information systems and sometimes that were smaller opportunities like chat-bots and mobile and portal capabilities. 


Joe Gottlieb: (03:37)

Wow. Okay. So I knew we were going to be talking for a reason. So many places to go from there. You mentioned the massive portfolio of technology that accumulated from all these acquisitions. So that’s one thing to feather into this, but then this very methodical effort to bring together shared capabilities across that diversity of schools and starting with the back office and then moving into the whole front office. So really excited for all the places where this is going to go, but maybe we start at the very top and maybe we descend upon this topic, first of all, with this general notion of digital transformation versus business transformation. And it’s almost silly to distinguish them when you actually get to the bottom of it. But I think that there are lots of reverberations in industry over language and what people think something is versus what it actually is. And oftentimes these labels come along with the way the practice has often been done and sometimes separately, so business people talking to business, people, technology, people talking to technology, people. They use different handles, different labels, different language, and that’s part of the problem, right? So did you find that that was something that needed some branding that needed an approach that really proactively cultivated and engaged these different stakeholders? Let’s start with that. 


Aimee Leishure: (05:21)

Yeah. I definitely think common language often says these things are separate. I think when people think about digital technology or digital transformation, they’re instinctively thinking about technology. What technology do I want to put in place? What do I want to buy? What’s best in class? I think when you start to talk about business transformation, on the other side, you start to think about processing. Sometimes you think about the organization of people, but many times processing, how am I going to get something done? I look at those and marry the two of them. And I think it all comes back to defining the strategy and upfront defining the outcomes that you want to happen. I believe you need everybody at the table, especially when you’re talking higher ed you need a voice, a representative from all your functions, from your academics, from your leadership. What are the outcomes? How do we want to positively impact students? How do we want to do that through both the business processes that we have and what digital capabilities do we want to have? I would say one more thing to add to that is just, I think technology is moving so fast and there’s so much advancement. You’re seeing, you’re hearing so much about AI and machine learning, data analytics, and even cybersecurity. You really have to figure out what technology you need to put in place to drive business transformation and business impacts. 


Joe Gottlieb: (06:58)

Yeah, so we are both of the same fabric in terms of our emphatic orientation around getting everyone at the table. But let’s, double-click on that a little more to see, you know, see how far this can go. So one of the things that I’ve always felt is that technology should take a back seat. Technology should be part of the how, of what you want to get done in business, and it should be driven by your strategy. So you got to, you start with strategy and you think about how to take our strategy to be whatever we want to be. For example, an institution that’s going to focus on one type of learning versus another, or, or these different this program versus that program, or what have you, right? And then you have your, your, your, what you need to do to perform, to deliver on all that. 


Joe Gottlieb: (07:49)

And that’s a lot of business stuff, right? These processes that you talk about, technology becomes an enabler for how those processes become automated and how and how they should evolve. However, you mentioned hot technologies, right? Like hot technologies are an example of something that, you know, maybe you let a hot technology lead you to a place where it challenges you to do something new and different. For example, how do we harness AI? How should that trigger a new level of thinking for how we automate certain things that we haven’t ever pondered in the past? And so while technology should normally take the back seat, sometimes you let it take the front seat and you let it challenge you. So did you, did you find that occurring in any of any of these, these, these efforts? 


Aimee Leishure: (08:34)

I think one of the most important things we did was we mapped that student experience upfront and what it from, from anywhere from the original contact with a student to bringing, enrolling that student to their life cycle all the way to graduation, and then even as they become alumni, because we really do believe in lifelong learners and that, that your student is going to come back again. And again and again, um, I also would say, I go back to, what outcome are you trying to drive? Are you trying to retain your student? Are you trying to bring in, bring your student on board when your student is there, how are you going to communicate and reach that student? Where does that student want to be reached? Because that’s sometimes is not exactly always where business wants to reach them. I might want to send you an email, but that student’s sitting in Starbucks on and needs an SMS message to remember to re-enroll, uh, or, or the classes are gonna start on Thursday or so forth. 


Aimee Leishure: (09:37)

So that to me was the life cycle of the student. And then how do you incorporate technology in, in, in to reach that student? I do think you always want to pause and you want to know what is advancing out there, because it’s not only the problem that you have, or the challenge you have today. You might be sensational at something today, but there’s technology that’s going to, that needs to be in place so that you are sensational 12 months from now or 18 months from now. Uh, like we said, the technology’s moving really quickly. And if you don’t pause and look and see what is out there in the ecosystem, you might miss an opportunity. 


Joe Gottlieb: (10:16)

Wow. So I think that sets up a very smart juxtaposition of first of all, grounding yourself in this student experience, the entire life cycle, as they a very, very, the top driver of everything else. Right. So really thinking about that, the voice, your value proposition is delivering to the student then within that, looking at how can technology serve us in that ultimate mission, right. When a lot of schools are going through the student experience thing, a little bit, a new, and sometimes many for the first time, right? Like, like I think we think of higher education as having experienced many years of success, centuries, frankly, um, in a bit of a supplier centric model. And we’re shifting to a more consumer centric model where we really, really are thinking about what would be ideal for the student, how do we optimize the student experience as we make education more accessible, more, more successful, more productive with better outcomes, right? 


Joe Gottlieb: (11:17)

That’s a great new thing that’s happening. However, you did also mention the fact that, that there is leverage and wisdom in having a technology platform that is more capable of serving those needs, and that requires proactive effort to, so whether it be, um, technology, architecture, or common services that yeah, you can lean on or modularity and granularity of those services. So you can be smart about how you’re optimizing performance and making adjustments in more granular ways. Did you, did you also channel that level of sort of proactive effort with technology under a certain service sort of API that therefore was putting you in a better position to make technology take a back seat to all those things you wanted to accomplish with the student experience? 


Aimee Leishure: (12:10)

Yeah, I think let’s, let’s put it this a little bit and talk, um, just kind of about the pandemic and where higher ed has come during this pandemic. And now my credit to all of the executive teams out there to all the leadership teams to the academics have had to learn new technology to the it teams that had to put them in place and, and, and continue to be able to educate our students, um, at all levels from pre-K all the way to, to gray, to continue to educate. Um, they are technology helped is helping us move through this pandemic and will continue to help us move through the pandemic. I think people expected us to, to jump 10 years, uh, in the evolution of technology, I don’t think from your, you even mentioned it was, um, education has been around for a really long time. 


Aimee Leishure: (13:08)

It moves a little bit slower. It often it moves a little bit slower than we’d like it to move, especially those of us that really enjoy transformation and enjoy technology. And how can it make things easier and deliver different outcomes? I think it, we probably thought it was going to jump. I think it’s coming back a little bit more, but I do think you’re seeing a pivot in your student. Um, students want to be efficient. They want to, sometimes they’re gonna want to be in online situations in a hybrid situations. I think they’re going to want those choices and those opportunities, um, the pandemic has forced us to think to be creative, and hopefully we continue to see that thought process going forward. That really be, I think that would be the best scenario. 


Joe Gottlieb: (13:55)

Yeah. Agreed. So another thing that I wanted to ask you about Aimee was, you know, you’re, you had a, you were with Laureate for 20 years. Um, of course we’re all curious to know what you’re going to be up to next. I think you’ve told me that you’re not quite ready to share, but they’re your, your assignment, your, your, your role before the four or five years you spent on business transformation was as a senior finance executive with Laureate. And so I’m wondering what you were able to leverage from that experience. And maybe more importantly for our listeners as they contemplate their transformations and they assemble their teams and they draw upon their diverse skills, you know, how can the financial side of the house bring some very unique perspective and usefulness, um, and of course their direct responsibility in their role, 


Aimee Leishure: (14:50)

Uh, to, I think, first of all, I always think that whenever you’re thinking about transformation, you start to think about the art of possible possible what is possible going forward, but there needs to be strategy that aligns with possibility. You don’t just want to start racing towards something without delay, without deciding what the outcome you want. How do you want to impact the student or your, uh, your employee team, your employee base your school? What, what are you trying to accomplish? I think the thing with the, with finance as my foundation is always being, uh, metric and outcome driven. So what are the goals? How do you align the talent to those goals? How do you anticipate measuring those? What are the KPIs that you want to measure? What are the objectives and key results the OKR is that you want to, to accomplish? Um, I also think from a finance perspective, I always reach back into the, the old, uh, ROI or the return on your investment. 


Aimee Leishure: (16:00)

How much money is this going to cost us? Um, and then how are we going to, um, uh, how are we going to measure that going forward? And I think that’s anywhere from you start to look at that strategy. How soon can you have that strategy come into play? What are the tollbooths you need or toll gates that you need to get through? Um, and who do you need to keep updated? And then how do you make sure you’re being a fiduciary with those dollars with people’s time with careers, with the schools and the outcomes you want to drive, because you need to be agile enough to, to respond. If something isn’t going well, then you need to kind of pause and regroup. If something’s going really well, how do you step on the gas and move a little bit faster? 


Joe Gottlieb: (16:48)

So I love that. And I imagine what you had at Laureate was, well, I hope I wouldn’t want to, hopefully not so unique that it’s hard to reproduce, but it seems to me that you had the, the financial landscape, the financial synergy landscape. If I may, you know, invent a topic, um, uh, of the entire organization and the entire business model to then create a return on investment opportunity with your transformation, right? You were looking at, wow. If we do this set of things a bit better, or a bit differently, or in a consolidated form, we’re going to take Laureate’s primary financial metrics and take them from X to Y. And therefore, if we’re all aligned and United and doing that as the strategic imperative, we’re going to go make happen, then that’s going to motivate us to spend money and then have this return on investment calculus, uh, available to which would therefore make us feel good about spending money, exerting a massive effort to change, right? To then unlock those KPIs. That’s quite a bit different than if you have departments left for their own devices, hoping to fit their investment in change in this next year’s budget. So much harder, right? To, to find synergy because the numbers are smaller and therefore your ability to find leverage across a greater whole is more elusive. Did you go, did you leverage that? 


Aimee Leishure: (18:21)

We definitely did. I think what you find common, regardless of where you are in the world, when you’re educating students, you are always looking to grow your enrollments. You are always trying to make sure that you are educating your students in careers, where they can find jobs. Um, uh, I think one of the, one of the interesting companies is now called, uh, and they, and they melded together. They, there was an acquisition, um, MC burning glass does a full analysis on, um, what jobs are the jobs in the future. And, and they work with gov, not only governments, but schools with businesses so that we make sure you’re, you’re, you’re educating, you’re giving careers in the right place. And therefore your graduates can find jobs. I mean, what are the outcomes that students want? They want, um, promotions. They want to be employed. They want raises. 


Aimee Leishure: (19:16)

They want to be able to advance themselves in their careers and do better for their families. If you keep yourself focused on this, these are the outcomes you’re expecting. What is the pathway to get there? What, from a functional or process, point of view, what technology, not only what technology should you be using, but what technology should you be teaching your students to use so that it is so that they have an opportunity in the workforce to know what technology they need to use in that workforce. Again, what is the strategy? What are the outcomes? What are the metrics? How are you going to measure them? What is the life cycle and how can you positively impact the people? 


Joe Gottlieb: (19:57)

So I know you have, um, you have several things you’d like to do with any business transformation. So your kind of go-to approach. Um, let’s, let’s feed that in here. Let’s share a little bit about how you kind of size up each of these things and how you like to get started with your, uh, with your category. 


Aimee Leishure: (20:14)

Yeah. So, yeah, and you’ve heard me use them, but let me just use them concisely. Um, I always focus on people, process technology, change management communications, keeping my customer at the forefront of all my decisions. We haven’t spent a lot of time talking yet about change management and communication, but they might even be Mo those two areas might be more important than anything else that we’ve talked about. Um, how, how are we going to change? How are we going to align the teams? How are we going to communicate? Not only to our internal teams at our organizations, but how are we going to communicate with our students, whether those are new students and bringing them on and having them become part of our culture, our environment, our family, at our institutions, or whether those are students that are moving into their, into graduating and moving into their careers, how are we communicating with them? Career advancement, career opportunities, internships, all of that becomes part of your change management communication. But I think if you keep focused on those five categories of people, process technology, change management communications, you can think through any challenge and or opportunity that you have. 


Joe Gottlieb: (21:34)

I would agree. Yeah. I like those tools and, um, the whole notion of communications. I mean, it’s interesting to see how I, I was an engineer in school. So I got an undergraduate degree in, in, uh, my BS in electrical engineering. And I could, and this was a bit old now. So it was a while ago, but they were already starting to add communication skills to even the engineering disciplines, right. Because they were starting to realize, okay, engineers got to work in project teams and, you know, the board have the ability, we better ability. We have to communicate with each other the better it will be. And I think that’s grown over time, but it’s still always a challenge because some personality types are more comfortable with communications than others. Therefore, you know, some require a bit more of the, um, of that sort of training, but so critical, particularly given the subject of change. 


Joe Gottlieb: (22:29)

Right? So when you combine, you know, communications challenges and the challenges of change and change management, you’ve now have emotions. You have personality types that work, right. That’s why I think your five categories are so awesome. Um, so now let’s start telling some stories, uh, examples, right? So I’ve got a, a set of questions here. I want to run through with just sort of really try to pinpoint some examples. Cause I know our listeners love, you know, the theory is great. It’s great to orient around how these things fit together. Um, uh, like, like blocks in a diagram, but let’s talk specific. So share a few experiences were experiences where you learned the most from starting with it. 


Aimee Leishure: (23:12)

Yeah. So, um, uh, I’ll tell one of my favorite stories though, is that it was pretty traumatic as we were going through it. Um, I was sent in to help. We were in the process of having a failed a student information system, uh, implementation. Uh, it was Harry. We were three months before a go live or an intake. We were three months before an intake. We had to get the student information system up and running. Uh, our previous system had been fully customized. It was not ready to take in new, a new enrollment. This was a new, a new, this was our primary enrollment. It was going to be for 70,000 students. Um, and the old system was literally burning to the ground. We weren’t ready because we had customized too much of a solution we had over-engineered it? It was, we took on everything all at once, all new integration, different pieces of technology around the SIS. 


Aimee Leishure: (24:15)

Um, and we had gotten too creative. We had to go in and figure out how are we going to get this thing live and how are we going to get it ready? And everyone trained, um, to be able to take in our students, we, we survived it, but I would say barely it was a nail biter. And it took a lot of people. A lot of armies of people. It took a lot of people stepping up and taking leadership roles and being creative on how to get it done. Um, our students, uh, were not happy with us. We, we did not do a great job for our students. So this was a place where we really had to also figure out how we were going to communicate and use change management skills and what could we provide to our students? Um, the second intake, what much better, much, much better. 


Aimee Leishure: (25:08)

Um, and I think one of the pinnacles of my career was when the S the president of that university said to me, we got there and Aimee, thank you for coming in and helping us get there. The greatest part is that my students are sitting in the classes. They know where to go. They are in the, in the classes ready to learn. They are not wondering around the, the green spaces, uh, of my, uh, of my campus, wondering where they’re supposed to go and asking questions and standing in long lines. So the end of the story is fantastic. The whole middle of the sausage-making was really, really ugly. 


Joe Gottlieb: (25:48)

Yeah, no, that’s a great, a great example. And, um, you know, one of the things that, uh, it, it makes me think about is just, you mentioned the customization, so customers that are, so there’s such a temptation, there’s so much, uh, you know, it’s human nature for us. And I think in it to indulge a request for customization can often feel like an opportunity to serve the customer. And so it has gone through several well already multiple decades now of trying to reinvent itself as a more customer centric organization, add value to the business, right? And so the various iterations of that have been, uh, been evolving over time. And in this new, newer age of software as a service where we are reliant software providers and the, the, the technology trajectory of that delivery model, which is one version of software that is configurable for you, but should not be, cannot be customized by you. 


Joe Gottlieb: (26:58)

We’re still having this temptation in the, in the world while we’re still operating software of our own to do this customization. And we still find ourselves tempted to ask those multitenant SAS providers to do extra backflips for us. Um, you know, uh, can you carve a separate instance for me? Can you run this separate process for me, but in the end, what happens is they just can’t maintain it for you. They have to move on, therefore you are on your own, and it’s linked to this other topic we talk about, I know both of us, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast, right? And so it’s, it’s not being tempted. It’s not being drawn into what looks like a quick fix and a richer thing, but ultimately over the long haul is going to slow you down and make you less rich and less able to fulfill your mission to students. So let’s talk a bit about that one, and maybe some examples that, where you’ve seen that pop up. Yeah. 


Aimee Leishure: (27:52)

I think that then there’s multiple layers of this onion so we can peel back some of them. Um, I think one of the things is always build versus buy. Um, do, should I buy something out of the box, such as the SAS environments that you, that you’ve described here, Joe, or should I build it internally because then I can customize it and I’m special and my processes are special and my students are special. And, and so I should develop something, um, and build something that is only good for my university. And, and quite frankly sometimes makes it harder to grow and even to expand your technology. So I think there’s the first, first component is always build versus buy. I think the other thing is, and I always want my it partner sitting right next to me. Um, cause I love to swim in the deep end of the pool, but I will quickly raise my hand and, and reach for my it partner so that, um, th the specialists that can pull all of this together, that can integrate all of this together. 


Aimee Leishure: (28:57)

I do. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my career, though, I think at one point I thought I T specialists were black and white, you know, the, the, the ones in the zeros and ones. And that was, that was how we coded. And that’s how everybody started back in the day. But I think what I really learned is that I T specialists are often some of the best artists that I’ve ever run into. And going back to exactly what you said, customer service, I think it’s all related to customer service. I want, I can develop, and I want to give you what you’re describing. Um, and so I think that’s where you start. When you start to talk about business transformation, that person in the middle that can soar can hear what the customer wants, whether that’s an internal customer or an external, and can translate and work with an it specialist to develop it. 


Aimee Leishure: (29:45)

Um, and now let’s also, you also brought up SAS environments. SAS environments are really interesting, especially in a higher ed institution. When you divide a budgets and you give, uh, authorization to different teams that they can buy what they want. Essentially you can go and buy just about every SAS environment that you, you make it up. Somebody out there is probably doing it and probably selling it and you can buy a component of it. That’s great. At the same time, you have a huge ecosystem within the higher ed institution that needs to work together. And it all comes back to a technology team. That’s got to make it work together, all of the ins and outs to get the data that you’ve made to drive the outcomes that you want to have. So while SAS environments are phenomenal, you still need that strategic it partner at the table to help you decide what your strategy is, what the student experience is, the technology that needs to play and how it’s going to work and integrate within all of the different exercises that we need to get done to make students successful 


Joe Gottlieb: (30:58)

As fascinating. What, how you, you, you, you latched onto that, which I think is very, very spot on. And that is, it seems to me like in the, in the higher ed world, uh, SAS has almost been equated with this sort of convenience to acquire, right? It’s just, oh, you know what? It’s just SAS, right? We’ll just sort of set up by an account and we’re off and running. We have functionality that they were able to provide to us, and that’s great. But as you said, if you, if you want to be able to make this all sustainable in a form that your institution can, can leverage for effectiveness in whatever their strategy and mission is, um, you need to, you need to not be tempted by the convenience of easy acquisition, and you need to impose the discipline of planning and standards and coordination and architecture and say, Hey, well, yeah, let’s figure out how to maybe all buy the same one. 


Joe Gottlieb: (32:00)

And here’s how it’s going to fit into our architecture. And notice, we thought about a couple of the things we’ve already bought that we have to make, keep, keep going, right. And here’s how it’s gonna fit with those things too. Right? And this becomes this discipline and gosh, darn it. It runs directly in the face of academic freedom and, and this, this mantra that higher ed has had for forever, right? And we have to find a way to parse that effectively. So we have to make academic freedom, all about academic freedom, the what the you communicate, and, and whereas the mechanisms for communicating the mechanisms for handling back office, the mechanism for handling front office, we’re not adding a ton of value there. We should leverage what’s available and easy to maintain and take advantage of. And we should rise to the occasion of we, we, we deliver great courses, right? We, we, we go after a certain type of student, we have a culture. Uh, we have a history that we share and we communicated in these forms. There’s plenty of distinction and differentiation opportunity around those things rather than focused on, oh, I sell differently. Therefore I need a different sales system. That’s 


Aimee Leishure: (33:21)

Right. And I think, Joel, you and I both worked in a number of institutions where when you go in and you look at the institution, and one of the things that sometimes breaks your heart is the different functions or different departments have bought very, very similar SAS software. And so you start to see, you don’t end up with a best in class solution because you might have three versions of almost the same software. And they, they all have a very large intersection, maybe even a 60% intersection, a little difference delivered 40% different, but instead, and now you’ve spent all of this money as an institution you’ve invested in technology and you don’t have a best in class, um, solution for your students because you’ve, you’ve, you have different SAS environments, and now you still need them all to work together because the admissions team wants to love their solution. And the marketing team wants to love their solution. And the, the enrollment team wants the love, their solution. And they’re using three different pieces of technology, all which really are very, very similar. 


Joe Gottlieb: (34:36)

You know, you hit a nuance there, which I think can help our listeners to recognize this when it’s happening. And that is oftentimes the best solution is the one that has compromises, but the compromise is allow you to step away from the shiny light of what might be perfect for you or you at that time or your department or a situation, but instead contemplate, anticipate the need for these systems to talk to each other, the need for us to have consistent data, which is increasingly appreciated. I think, across, you know, you know, business people and technical people in any industry, right? And so it is what is the right compromise where we get enough of what we want from the shiny object, but we also get the ability for this all fit together and be sustainable and have good data flows so that we can actually do the things that maybe we’re not thinking about when we’re checking out features and falling in love with a system to serve our immediate needs. And it’s human nature, right? I mean, this is, this reminds me of a strategic planning, um, precept or, or tenancy that happens. And that is, you know, you fall in love with the top strategy and you sometimes miss the second best strategy that everyone can align behind. And everyone understands versus the, maybe the best strategy that a few leaders can understand and really believe it’s the best way to thread the needle, but no one gets it and, and you can’t get alignment behind it, or it’s not feasible for some other reason. 


Aimee Leishure: (36:08)

Yeah. You and I keep coming back to a, maybe even a theme here for transformation, and that is setting strategy is taking the time to put the right constituencies in the room, having everybody represented to, to align the strategy that, that you want. And I think I would say to you, that’s probably a three-year strategy. I think a lot of times people used to use five-year strategy. I really have pulled that back into three years because I think five years is too, too far out your technology changes. Um, but, and I think three years, you need a plan because you can’t get everything done immediately. I also think if we get a little bit more tactical, when you’re defining strategy, how to sunset systems, otherwise they just hang on forever. And that’s, that’s your, you pick a new strategy or new technology that you want to input to put in place. 


Aimee Leishure: (37:07)

How do you get done using the old technology that you’ve had, or if you’re upgrading it, how do you upgrade it? And in the best way, um, I also think, and again, a very tactical comment, but data, um, cleaning data and making sure this is the old adage of garbage in garbage out, and it still works to this day. Anytime you’re moving to a new system, whether that’s one that you’ve built, if that’s what you want to do, or one that you’re buying, or one that you’re using in a SAS environment, making sure that you’ve got clean data so that you are getting to the outcomes again, that you would like, 


Joe Gottlieb: (37:44)

Yeah, it just reminds me all of all the good housekeeping that is important to do in, in, um, in business and technology. I look like you could, we could extract this because that’s what we’re doing in this conversation, but there are processes lying around. There are documented things and, you know, you know, guidance provided, um, that have nothing to do with technology and are all about business process and how people conduct their, the, their operation that also has to be, um, pruned back. You know, it has to be refreshed, take the old out, you know, when you, when you do something new, because you are motivated to get something new, that part is clear, make a part of that task, removing the part that it should be able to replace. And for sure, we have this problem with technology. And I think you’ve probably seen one of the drivers for this is when you make that financial case, oftentimes the necessary financial case involves eliminating maintenance costs on older systems so that you can reclaim that budget, put it towards something new and do the necessary job. 


Joe Gottlieb: (38:53)

And it’s hard work. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and figure it out, but do the necessary job saying, okay, you know what, we can shut down this, this, this, and this. If we add this new system and maybe make, do with a new form of a, of a processor too, in the form, that our providers are able to provide it to us and maybe a bit different than what we’ve been doing. And again, this is a trigger for customization. We often try to customize a system to repeat our current process versus step up to the change to adopt something that’s already, maybe state-of-the-art or more typically automateable available in the system, et cetera. So that becomes that, that sort of good stewardship looking forward. 


Aimee Leishure: (39:36)

Absolutely. I think that, I think the, the topic that you’re also bringing up is just continuous improvement is whenever you are developing a strategy, whenever you are putting in processes, whenever you were focused on your people, your process, your technology, you are always, um, you, there always needs to be a continuous improvement loop. What’s working what isn’t working, what’s coming out. What does your student want? What, how do we want to continuously improve? There is not a set it and forget it anymore. It is a constantly an evolution of becoming bigger, stronger, faster, 


Joe Gottlieb: (40:12)

Better. Yeah. So I think we need to park what I’m about to say for another time, because it would, it would devour more than one session on its own, but you mentioned three-year versus five-year, I’ve become, I’ve done a lot of strategy work in my career, just literally focused strategy work. And I’ve become a big fan of continuous strategic thinking and, and, and critical process. So, uh, strategic sort of criticality as a way to challenge any current situation and or plan, but to put it, keep it in a box and a process that’s running, uh, as an ongoing thing, I like the concept of a three year plan for something you’re going to need more than one year to complete. But that’s when you’re channeling a lot of energy into some strategic comparatives that hang together, let’s say, or implementing a new system, or let’s say you’re, re-inventing, let’s go put it back to the business lens. 


Joe Gottlieb: (41:06)

You’re reinventing all of your back office, or you’re reinventing your student journey, right? So those will be heavy, heavy, big endeavors, where you do need to look beyond a one-year horizon, but in the ongoing leadership and management of a higher ed institution, right. Strategic thinking should be constant. And should there be a flow of that dialogue that’s going on? But I want to, I’m sorry, go ahead. Well, I was going to, like I said, a park, that one would definitely want to talk more about another time, but I wanna, I want to ask another question about, you know, so what were some of the experiences you had that you found the most surprising and by surprising part of what I’m fishing for here is where you, you, you kind of went in with a, somewhat of a hypothetical theoretical model. And what you found on the ground was a little bit, you know, different in practicality terms. Um, and therefore you learned a lot and was a bit of a surprise, but you, you adapted you evolve. Yeah. I 


Aimee Leishure: (42:03)

Think one of the biggest things and, and probably one of the teams that can most impact your student and the success, but sometimes when you start to talk strategy and technology, you, you forget to put them in the room I was involved and it, and honestly, this was a lesson I learned more than once. Um, but making sure your academics are part of your solution, you have to remind yourself that your academics are really your, your forward facing representative of, uh, your institution with all of your students. If things are going really well for the student, the academics going to learn about it, if things are going really crappy for a student or they’re unhappy, or their technology doesn’t work, or they can’t figure out how to get on zoom or their student information system or their learning management system, who’s hearing about it first, it’s the academics. 


Aimee Leishure: (43:00)

I would also say if your academics are informed and communicated with, and part of the solution there, they, again, forward-facing with the students be patient, we’re going through some, we’re going through this. W you’re going to see results in this. I know it was a really rough semester is the first time we put in our student information system, but we’ve got bigger, stronger, and faster, and we’re going to get better at this. And next semester, you’re going to hear it. You’re going to see it better. Those academics can represent. You can really represent your, your institution and can make a difference in the lives of your student and how they even handle change within an institution. So I think making sure you have academics in the room, um, I’ve also just talked about communicating, making sure you’re communicating, making sure you’re giving the, um, the messages, not expecting people to always know the messages that should be given, but handing those messages to the academics, to forward facing, uh, representatives of your community. 


Aimee Leishure: (44:07)

Um, I would say any time, uh, of one thing that, that, uh, I have a little, I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, especially when it comes to transformation. Um, and I can remember when I first started leading transformation, you know, you go out and you Google, what are the most things that the most important things I need to learn from transformation and you rate them and you go, maybe I’m better than that. I can do it bigger and I can go stronger and faster. And I don’t need to line everybody at first. You know, so-and-so told me, this leader told me that I need to go get this done. I’m ready to go. Let me out of the gates. And I’m off to the races. Um, it just pay attention. There’s this lessons learned are coming from people who have done years and years and years of transformation. 


Aimee Leishure: (44:54)

Um, one of those messages, sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. And I think you said that earlier, it really is true. If you have an elephant in the room of something you’re not willing to deal with, uh, or you don’t want to deal with is much worth your time to have the difficult conversation to address the adrenaline, the elephant in the room. Um, I would also just, there have been times where in a transformation I’ve disagreed with somebody in the room, how we should move forward or what is needed, or where we need to spend time, what we need to invest in. Um, I genuinely have learned and believe people come every day to do a good job at their, at their, at their job, that they are invested and they really want good outcomes, especially at an institution, especially when you’re talking about students in education and bettering lives. 


Aimee Leishure: (45:49)

There are times where you’re going to butt heads, where you’re just going to see a different point of view and there’s, then it is not a point of failure. In fact, I really think it’s a point of success where you say we’ve gotten to, to, we can’t get to agreement. We need somebody else involved in this conversation. We need somebody else to help us, uh, navigate what the most important outcomes are. Let’s, let’s elevate this to the next level. Let’s elevate this, let’s go talk to a CEO. Let’s go talk to the chief operating officer. Let’s talk to somebody who has more experience, or maybe a different lens than the, then the two people or the groups that are, uh, um, dissenting, um, and, and find a path forward. And I think that’s, that’s really important. And I think that was surprising to me. Uh, I also would say, let’s say one more thing, uh, aligning leadership upfront. And when we started a transformation, particularly back in finance, we thought, oh, if we make the support team happy, if we make the, the accounts payable teams happier and that their technology is better and their processes are better, this is going to bubble up and impact everybody. Um, I would say the opposite way, get your leadership aligned. What are the goals? What are the outcomes? What’s the strategy. And then bring that back down into the organization and you will have a much more successful transfer tech transformation. 


Joe Gottlieb: (47:15)

Wow. There’s some great points, um, to, to bring this to a, a great close Aimee, I want to, you mentioned alignment, which of course is so critical with leadership, but you, you used the term elevate. And what I was thinking at the time was when you’ve got a conflict, you’ve got a disagreement, you know, elevate rather than escalate. And that just the subtlety in the terms of the tone, right, is let’s bring it up word to people of leadership that are responsible to help make those calls and make those decisions and may have experienced, you know, that will, would allow us to be guided by that, and that can occur at any level. And when you’re changing, it comes up all the time. Right. And so, anyway, um, I think that’s a good place to land this plane, as I’ve heard other podcasts, folks say, Aimee, thank you so much for joining to me today. And of course, thanks to our guests for joining us as well. We hope you have a great day and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of transform.

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About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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