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Episode 7

transformed: Cultural Extremes and the New Class of Disruptors in Higher Education

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 promise represented by both. 

Higher Digital President Joe Gottlieb sat down with CEO and co-founder Wayne Bovier to chat about how to cultivate a culture for change in higher education. They discuss the ways that this continuous process can help institutions become more comfortable and effective with change.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:07)

Hello, and welcome to another Higher Digital podcast. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president of Higher Digital. And today I’m joined once again by Wayne Bovier, our co-founder and CEO. Welcome Wayne. 

Wayne Bovier: (00:19)

Hey Joe, it’s good to be with you again. What are we going to talk about today again? 

Joe Gottlieb: (00:23)

Well, we recently hosted a webinar with a couple of our colleagues on the topic of culture in higher ed, specifically how to cultivate a culture for change. And we actually chose that one word quite intentionally because we didn’t want to talk about cultivating a culture of change for changes sake. We wanted to help institutions think about how they could continue to cultivate their culture for change and be prepared for change and more comfortable with change and more effective at change. And in that webinar, we used it. We started off with a slide that showed a two by two matrix, which our listeners can’t see, but I’m staring at right now. And I want to use it to sort of set up this conversation to go deeper into the cultural extremes that we tend to see in higher ed. And frankly, we see these in a lot of organizations, but of course, at higher ed and Higher Digital, we like to talk about how organizational themes affect quite specific institutional priorities, challenges, opportunities, methods of management, leadership, etc. 

Joe Gottlieb: (01:28)

And so the two dimensions on this axis or the vertical dimension is high quality of change. That is when you make change, do you do it intentionally? Do you do it with great impact? You know, how to measure it? Is it aligned with your strategy? So that reflects on how good is the change that you are making and how effective are you at managing it? The other dimension is commitment to change. And so that’s all about, is it something that you are deeply committed to, that you then support the right changes with the right resources? Do you do it at the right frequency and pace for your organization and is that a durable commitment or not? And so if you consider those two axes, for sure, on the far side where you’ve got high commitment to change, you might get into that danger zone of change for the change for changes sake. 

Joe Gottlieb: (02:23)

If you go on the opposite dimension of low commitment to change, you’re going to encounter aversion to change, which we know can occur a fair amount in higher ed. And we’ll talk about that, but as you go inside those two extremes on the commitment to change scale, there’s an interesting opportunity to examine how organizations and institutions in particular vary with regard to these two axes. And so we, we put fun names on, on the, on the four different types of cultural extremes that sit within this, this range of, of change, commitment and change quality. And so you have very high quality of change and very high commitment to change. We think that defines a new class of disruptors. We’re going to start out with that, but before we dive into disruptors, let me, let me try it out. The four, three other labels that we have for these other three scenarios, and we’ll touch on those a bit later after disruptors, I want to talk about tortoises when you have high quality of change, but a low commitment to change. 

Joe Gottlieb: (03:23)

You’ve got that tortoise slow and steady, but moving along and making very, very good progress towards the end of the race. If you now drop below the line where you’re now leaving the domain of high-quality of change, and you’re entering the domain of low quality of change, here’s where we get into areas where we certainly want to avoid on the far, right, when you have a high commitment to change, but low quality, you’ve got what we call the Hare. So clearly the opposite of the tortoise and that’s that institution that’s just scrambling about changing a lot, but not with very good quality. And then last but not least, if you’ve got a low quality of change and a low commitment to change, we feel like you might be called a statue. So really stuck where you are perhaps thinking about your beauty from the day that you were crafted by some sculptor, but not able to be able to adjust and, uh, and, and really, really evolve with the changing times. So I want to pause there, Wayne, having tried it out, those four, uh, four names for these domains and these different types of scenarios. What are your top level reflections on that? 

Wayne Bovier: (04:31)

Yeah, I mean, there are a couple of things that are interesting. When you take a look at the, you know, from a macro perspective of the higher education market, the change aversion and low commitment to change really kind of resonates. I almost see it as kind of a gravitational force as an industry that is, you know, like any gravitational force, if you want to get out of that, right. You’re going to need to put a lot of energy and a lot of power, right. I think in rockets, shooting up into space, right. There’s a reason why higher education has been in general as an industry, having an aversion or averse to change. And that has to do with the fact that, you know, for centuries, the institutions have been structured a particular way across the globe. Um, and they’re rooted in a lot of, kind of historic, you know, kind of access to knowledge, right. 

Joe Gottlieb: (05:38)

That’s been reinforced by success and reinforced 

Wayne Bovier: (05:41)

By success, right. But with technology right in the, access, right. And the need to access to education and so on is really, really transforming and disrupting the industry like every other industry. And so the, I think there’s an acknowledgement, uh, you know, across the board of Institute, it is tuitions that there’s a need to change, but what it comes down to is that there’s really a, uh, there’s no built up muscle, right. Uh, to actually know how to change. Right. And, and, uh, and what to do. Right. And, and, and clearly what makes us even more challenging for institutions is that the underpinning of this change is, uh, is technology, um, right, because that is really what’s driving the efficiency, right? Because it’s, if you were, regardless of what dimension that you’re looking at, it, whether it is the prospect or student or faculty perspective, you know, they want to be able to make it, it should be easy to interact with these systems and get what you want and all this, but the reality is, is very difficult. 

Wayne Bovier: (06:53)

And it has to do with the diversity, in many cases of the technologies that are running this, that makes it really a disjointed experience, but then you go into the back office. Right. Um, and what’s also happening is you have a lot of manual processes, uh, and processes that have been around for quite a long time. Uh, and in many cases, these processes have taken, um, priority over a standard implementation of these tools, right. Meaning that these tools have actually, um, uh, there’s been a requirements to do, you know, do, do changes to these, to these systems, uh, customizations, uh, so on and so forth. So, you know, it’s, it’s also interesting because it’s almost by, you know, the, the, the statues, you know, in many ways, it’s kind of bipolar to kind of how we’re also looking at it from an, uh, our own tooling and analysis. 

Wayne Bovier: (07:51)

Right. It tends to be reactive. So it’s, it’s it, you know, we, we call that particular quadrant that lower left quadrant, you know, those that are reacting and I’m constantly reacting state, and, you know, it, it really looks to drive, you know, uh, that reactionary state, um, is really hard to plan. Right. And so most organizations around that, so the reality is that a statute, but it’s reactive. And so, uh, it embodies the, uh, aversion to changing the reactionary state of kind of a lot of times it, or, you know, the it organization, if that makes sense. 

Joe Gottlieb: (08:34)

Well, yeah, no, you think you’ve uncovered the need to evolve that, that label for that, uh, that type of culture, right. Because you’re quite right. Um, you could think of a statue is just being completely unable to change at all, but what we you’re quite right in pointing out that we tend to see is that as that, as that statue has some ability to change, it ends up being very reactive change. And that’s like a Twitch, that’s like a muscle Twitch. And so we got to come up with something better than statue to reflect the ability to have these, these twitches, right. Almost like nervous ticks or, or reflexes that aren’t necessarily coordinated by a plan a and a strategy and alignment. 

Wayne Bovier: (09:14)

And, you know, something that you touched on when, you know, when you were, when you were setting this up and you’re talking about the high commitment to change. So the, so the, the, the full right hand side of the, of these axes, um, and, you know, you, you, you highlighted the fact that there’s, um, you know, change for change sake. You know, I I’ll throw out there’s, you know, from an organizational point of view, there’s, there’s certainly a, in many cases kind of an addiction to change. I’ve seen it in a lot different types of organizations. And so I would argue that, uh, and it’s, and it’s common. The psychology of this is common that, Hey, if I’m, if I, if I, if I’m busy, right. If I’m constantly busy and constantly firefighting mode, that makes me feel on, on productive, although I might not, I’m most likely not effective or as effective as I could be. And so what’s interesting is the statues area is really this idea of, well, why do we need to change? Because we’re doing a lot of stuff. Um, and it, it may be reactionary. It may be unhooked, and we’ll dive into some of the, some of the data that actually demonstrates a lot of this is that it’s unhooked from the strategy it’s unhooked from the real strategic imperatives and, uh, and things like that. 

Joe Gottlieb: (10:34)

It’s so interesting. You raise that. It actually reminds me from a previous part of my career when I was in the security industry, I found that I worked for multiple security vendors, including a very large one McAfee, and I will have to say they were addicted to the heroics involved in responding to new viruses. And in particular, if there was an outbreak of a virus and they, and they were then working with their customers, literally 24 seven across lots of customers, lots of enterprises that needed to defeat this virus, outbreak, they were addicted to that adrenaline. And there was a, there was a, a minority the company. And I won’t declare what side I was on of this, but it’s not important, but, but there was a minority of the company that was able to reflect and say, Hey, what our customers need is fewer heroics. 

Joe Gottlieb: (11:26)

We don’t, there’s always this insecurity, there’s this, you know, security vendors stay in business because there’s bad stuff happening. And they, they there’s even talk about it helps the market when bad stuff happens, because people reminded that they need help. But at the end of the day, if you’re, if you’re a con, if you’re, uh, sort of hooked on that adrenaline, you’re not going to make that any easier on your customer. You might have a tendency to just sort of covet, you know, just sort of not covet, but, but, um, nurture and feed that response. And so I think you’re right. I think it’s, it’s true of human nature. Let’s, let’s turn our attention to disruptors. Um, and in, you know, in the old days, or in, in the last many, many phases of this market, right, we’ve seen a lot less disruption in higher ed because of that successful model that hasn’t been changing much and education was for frankly privileged on average. 

Joe Gottlieb: (12:26)

Right. And, and it, it was reinforcing that over time and it’s continued to be reinforced. And now thank goodness there’s, I think some really good movement with, with equal and equitable access charting to change that, but it was a factor. Um, and a lot of, you know, you and I have even talked about how many institutions almost felt like it would be unsporting to, to, to be disruptive of the market, because it might upset the balance or that there’s this way of doing things it’s, you know, somewhat aligned with the public service aspect, a lot of public universities. Right. And so let’s talk about that a little bit. And, and some of this sort of built in inherent market, um, you know, prohibition, uh, or, or even, uh, um, it’s almost like a, uh, like a taboo, uh, to change. Is there any that you see?

Wayne Bovier: (13:14)

Yeah definitely, you know, and, and, uh, you know, what’s interesting about, you know, the disruptors as that label applies to the higher education institutions that would be classified as, as a, as a disruptor. I have a, you know, a couple of, couple of thoughts that come to mind, you know, the first is, you know, what are some of the key ingredients of a disruptor, right? And even though they’re, they’re getting closer to this high commitment to change, I would argue that a lot of these institutions really, when you look at other industries that what would, you know, companies or organizations that would truly classify as disruptors are way more, um, risk-taking, uh, then higher education institutions. So th th the disruptors in higher education are really starting to understand a couple key parts. One of those is that, um, as an organization, they need to do a better job of learning, right. 

Wayne Bovier: (14:14)

And that is a massive change for institutions, right? They’re great at teaching, terrible, terrible at learning. And they’re starting to learn how to learn as an organization, right. They’re also starting to lower the bar of fear of risk taking. And what I mean by that is that, you know, this idea, and it’s, it’s all rooted in a lot of, kind of historical kind of, uh, uh, when you think about the computer age and mainframes and stuff, this, this idea of waterfall versus agile, right? The, of agile is you, de-risk, it, you de risk a project by taking and breaking it up into smaller steps. And you, you know, in, in software language, it is smaller releases that you put out and you learn from it, and you take that and incorporate that learning into kind of the next step. So, so a lot of the disruptors that are, um, that are in higher education are really taking these small steps that are much more strategically aligned. 

Wayne Bovier: (15:22)

And that is starting to kind of melt away a lot of this culture of fear. What’s also interesting is that the brand of disruptors in higher education, you know, the view inside, right. So we’ll talk in inside baseball here, right. So inside the industry, disruptors are usually kind of, Oh, poo-pooed look at them. You know, they, you know, they have, they’re, there’s always kind of this, this, Oh, well, you know, they’re, they’re, you know, they’re breaking the model. They’re not as good, the quality, like there’s always a questioning around us, and there is the online, or you’re primarily referring to online, online, online, online things, you know, um, I mean, uh, you know, ASU is a, is a, is a really good example. Like, they’re really, it’s not just doing online, right. It’s use doing some really innovative stuff. They’ve recently in, in 2020 announced the partnership where they’re really starting to explore kind of virtual reality and learning, um, with, with the LA with some LA movie studios. 

Wayne Bovier: (16:33)

Right. And who knows where that’s going to lead, but I will tell you that ASU and the movie studios are going to learn quite a lot. Um, and it’s going to be better the next year, the year after that. Right. And so they’re willing to try. Um, and so, uh, and I know that a lot of institutions, some have a hard time resourcing that, but this is where the innovation, and it’s not just executing on the disruption is also thinking about it. Right. And so I, I do think that there is a part of this gravitational force, right on the low commitment to change is, is kind of polling down others, uh, as a way to be like, well, I don’t want to, I don’t want to stand out from the herd. I don’t want to stand out and be kind of that unique, um, it’s too risky or whatever it is. And so, you know, it’s interesting just seeing the tension, right. And, and we’re living in the COVID world and post COVID, this tension is going to continue to exist, but it’s going to be, uh, it’s gonna reward those that are going to start to move in that direction. Not necessarily be rooted in that quadrant of disruption or that disruptor quadrant, but they’re going to move in that direction. Because they have to. 

Joe Gottlieb: (17:50)

Yeah. Um, it’s, um, it’s a great point. You know, ASU clearly as a disruptor, I would put SNU in that category as well, Southern New Hampshire university, there are others, of course. Um, and not everyone has those resources, not everyone has the commitment to that vision and the ability to orchestrate around that. But I think this creates an opportunity though, for institutions to find their place in this tourist quadrant, which I think could be, can be so useful and a lot more accessible to many institutions. And if you think about it, like this is an actually in tech, this is a, uh, strategic theme that is often utilized. And that is when you, when you think about what’s needed for your market, you can get very overwhelmed with how long it might take you to build that thing that you feel would be ideal. But what you, what, what helps sometimes is just to take a step back and say, but if we look at all the time now, if we make good use of the next six to nine months, and we iterate smartly using approaches like agile, we’re going to cumulatively get to a really useful place. 

Joe Gottlieb: (18:59)

And even though it’s slow and steady, we’re going to make good use of the time when people chase things that are outside their reach, they tend to thrash and they make poor use of the time. And so without recognizing what they’re able to do, they, it’s very ironic and tragic, frankly, that they waste that time chasing an ideal and not making progress. And that’s why I think the more adoptable model for many institutions, particularly given the history of higher ed is this tortoise model and, and using a method that you can then just make good use of your time and keep calibrating and iterating. And you don’t have to be using agile. You could be using waterfall, but it’s just about periodic calibration across leadership and management, as you, as you go through that change. 

Wayne Bovier: (19:45)

Yeah, that’s right. And, you know, and what’s, you know, this, this, this, this thing is, is kind of multi-dimensional right. Um, because, you know, as we know, higher education institutions are extremely complicated. Um, there are complicated entities. Um, and I think Joe, you said it at one point they kind of MIRI mirrors, uh, a city like a small city, right. There’s just so many different aspects of this. And so, you know, there are a lot of institutions that are actually well-rooted into the tortoise areas, especially as it pertains to it, you know, most it departments are really functioning well, right. They’re, they’re operating really well. Um, but that model in terms of operating and making things efficient, right. Cause they’re, they’re, they’re doing heroic things, uh, and keeping the systems up and running, modifying it, uh, as, as necessary. But it is, you know, is that the model is that the right operating model for next year, the year after that, right. 

Wayne Bovier: (20:56)

In terms of what they’re doing. And so it also in facing kind of consistent budget cuts, right. Let’s do more for less. Right. So this idea is, well, it’s like they don’t have any, uh, um, uh, kind of room to flex the flexible right. To be able to, to, to, to, to dept. Cause they got everybody staffing focus on supporting all this executing on it. Um, but they’d have no time to plan. They have no time to do anything else. Right. And so, you know, how do you, how do you break out of that, out of that model? Um, and, and you know, how do you change and, and ultimately learn if that, if that makes sense. Yeah. 

Joe Gottlieb: (21:42)

You know, I think we’ve talked a lot about how the COVID pandemic has obviously impacted organizations quite quite a bit, but it’s also grown them. Right. So when you, and so sometimes it’s hard to see it that way because it’s been very challenging and, you know, budgets have been, you know, in the midst of tight budgets and overwhelmed resources and then difficult business conditions for many like, like lower enrollment, um, and then the need to stand up remote work for all their employees. Right. Figure out what to do with students while continuing to deliver education. This has been a very challenging time, but there’s, there’s, there’s something that’s developed at an necessity. Necessity is the mother invention, right? So every organization has had their version of how they’ve flex themselves to cope with this. And I guarantee you, every one of them has gotten better, at least at triage. 

Joe Gottlieb: (22:40)

And because this has lasted so long, the triage had to evolve into something that was rhythmically manageable. Right. And so that’s new muscle that has been forced upon every single institution in the industry right now. Now you think about hard medicine and hard training, it does break some individuals. And in this case, a pandemic has sadly broken some of these institutions. But for the most part, I think what we see is a lot of institutions respond to that challenge, developing some new muscle tissue. Now the opportunity as we see Putin, hopefully with, you know, knock on wood, right? The, the, the, the, the reduction of the pandemic over the next several, several months, um, won’t be the same ever, probably, but it’ll, it, it as an, uh, as a, as a really impactful, uh, force, it’s going to be diminished to a degree, how do we reclaim some of the productivity and capability that we, we, we, we deliver despite that headwind. So when that headwind is lessened, how do we, reoccupied the space made available by better conditions leveraging these new muscles that I think is the key? 

Wayne Bovier: (23:56)

Well, I think, I think, you know, some of the data that we’ve, you know, in our, in our cultural assessments that, um, has been coming to light is, you know, there’s some, some very straightforward things that institutions can do to start to kind of address that gap. And the one is that you need, I feel like a broken record on this, but institutions really need to become much more strategic with their it and, and overall digital infrastructure. Um, and they really need to understand and appreciate a physical mindset versus a digital mindset and the physical mindset, which to be honest, most institutions, uh, are in this area. And that is, Hey, if we build more buildings, we’re going to get more students we’re going to get, you know, that, that is a way for re legacy. It’s the way to show the strength of the institution, uh, so on and so forth. 

Wayne Bovier: (24:56)

And, you know, we’re, we’re now rapidly moving into a digital world that, that mindset, or at least that, that thinking is well, w you know, what, what applied in the physical world in terms of, Hey, let’s demonstrate our capabilities that needs to move into the digital world. And we really need to be able to, um, uh, start to deliver, start to invest, start to think more strategically, more innovatively about what we can do as an institution, you know, having it, um, actually in, in, and I’ve heard this over and over again from it, staffs is, you know, we really have a lot to offer. We have more to offer our leadership if they would only ask us if they would only engage with us, if they would only tell us what problems they’re trying to solve, we can kind of come in and help them, uh, help them with that. 

Joe Gottlieb: (25:56)

Well, so I wanna, I wanna touch on a few of the data points that we have, um, from some of our assessments, uh, and you know, that one, you just mentioned, there there’s two sides to that coin, right. And it varies by institution. And in some institutions you have great it organizations that aren’t asked often enough how they can help, or aren’t, aren’t feeling the pull. Um, there are also not so great. It organizations that haven’t been able to deliver well, when we went asked or, or have made mistakes, honestly, I think one of the things that, um, is pretty classic is when you, when you really think about the implications of a system change and you plan at all levels of the, of the business, I eat a higher ed operation, um, that, that, that, that system and change is going to trigger. And so we see in the data, right, we see, um, different views on this, right? 

Joe Gottlieb: (26:51)

So one of the questions that we’ve asked in our surveys is does the executive leadership team consider impact to systems and integrations during institutional long planning? So you’re making business changes. So this is the, the one in reverse, right? So you’re making higher ed educational, you know, operations and strategic plan changes. And are you thinking about what, how the systems are gonna have to change to come along to support that and classically, right. We see that the leadership of an organization scores that really high, we have an average of 8.17 out of 10, which is very, very high. And at the opposite out of 10, at the opposite extreme technology, leadership answers that question and an average of 4.64. So literally, you know, that’s three and a half points of spread on a 10 point scale. One of the biggest spreads we’ve seen. 

Wayne Bovier: (27:48)

Yeah. And, and, and let’s, you know, when you start to look at these, these, uh, role classifications, you know, the technology leadership R uh, versus technology administration, the leadership are the ones that really understand and have a broad, uh, broad kind of appreciation for the architecture. You know, the security, there’s just so many that you experience so on and so forth. And so, you know, that is, that is clearly a, a great data point that demonstrates a really misalignment across those that are in our network that have, that have taken the cultural assessment that, um, that really shows that, you know, administration is really not bringing the, the technology leadership to the table and really understanding and appreciating, um, what is what they have and what, you know, what any new investment in what the impact is going to be, uh, is something that’s really under appreciated by administration. And that, you know, that, that, that, you know, that anecdotally, that, that is exactly what I’ve seen in many institutions that I’ve been exposed to. 

Joe Gottlieb: (29:02)

Yeah. We talked about this disconnect between, well, not only strategy and operations, which is, you know, a challenge in any, in any industry, but particularly it’s true of higher ed. And then you’ve got another disconnect between strategy and operations and the way technology is managed, um, if you have these rifts and we’ve seen counterexamples to be sure, right, the, the organizations, particularly those disruptors we’re referring to before, and they’re not alone, you know, there there’s, there’s, there’s many of them, but they are a minority still, there’s a healthy relationship. There is there’s rudder control between strategy and operations and technology and technology is serving the strategy and the ability for an institution to address new market opportunities, new market challenges, et cetera. So one of the other ones that I find really interesting coming from our digital transformation assessment is, you know, does your institution have a digital vision and technology strategic plan? 

Joe Gottlieb: (30:07)

And again, I’m going to point out the extremes here. Technology leadership answered that with an average of 6.1, not as high as we’d like to see it. So reflective of the fact that there are still plenty of organizations that don’t have a digital vision and technology strategic plan, but on the opposite end of the spectrum on a much lower result, the academic part of the institution is giving that a four. So the perception of the academic side of the institution is much lower in terms of the presence of a digital vision and technology strategic plan. And that could reflect a lot of things. They might’ve heard something about it, but didn’t pay attention, but therefore are not, you know, not giving it credit. They might’ve heard something, not found it to be effective. So they’re not giving it credit, but more often than not, they probably don’t think it exists because they haven’t been in an effectively communicated venue, which happens in well-aligned organizations about what that is, how it fits with the overall plan of the institution and how that’s being reinforced. And actually, how there one, like, like really at the end of the day, these need to be one. Yeah. 

Wayne Bovier: (31:14)

Yeah. And just like the, just like the previous data point, right. I mean, I think this is indicative. I mean, ultimately there’s a variety of facets and ingredients and why there’s a big Delta between the technology leadership and the academics. Um, and it, you know, there’s just a lot of reasons why, why that could exist, but ultimately I think it’s silence, right. I think, um, you know, look, the academics are, you know, the, the, the most important asset I would argue of an institution, um, and, you know, technology has traditionally been something that is, um, kind of gotten in the way of, of, of teaching. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s been more burdensome than 30 years ago, if you were an academic 30 years ago and compared it to today, you know, your workload has increased significantly even though your class sizes, a student sizes and all that may not have, uh, may not have been, uh, impact. 

Joe Gottlieb: (32:18)

Well, that’s a, that’s an interesting point, Wayne, I think you’re right. You talk about this a lot. In fact, I think one of the, one of the most important macro level issues in higher ed is the prevalence of, I’ll just say friction, right? Friction between the, the academic side of the house and the rest of the, of institutions. And it’s earned on both sides. I, you know, it varies by institution for sure, but I know you believe in, I agree that making an extra effort to, uh, empower and support and enable faculty, the academic, you know, that’s the product, right? And so, whatever, whatever the sources of the friction that have caused the friction in the past, it’s important to transcend those and to say, how are we really going to, um, enable the academic excellence that put us on the map maybe in the beginning, or are, is our, you know, reason to be, and how can technology be part of that versus like you just said, right? Like, well, I’ve never heard you say it so, so directly, but there’s probably lots of faculty that do believe that technology has made work for them as opposed to made their lives easier or more, more effective as, as teachers, as instructors, as educators. Right. And so that’s the thing to figure out for sure. And every institution has their flavor of this. 

Wayne Bovier: (33:55)

Yeah. I mean, I, I, I definitely look, it’s a broad brush, right. And you definitely have, uh, have groups of academics that are very innovative. They’re very forward thinking. They’d like to tinker, they like to play with, with technology. Um, but this gets to the heart. Right. You know, th does your institution have a digital vision and technology, strategic plan? And part of the other gap that I’m seeing is it goes, there’s a responsibility on technology leadership to educate the academics about what we’re doing and why. And that is, you know, that is another kind of key takeaway for me is that, uh, you know, if technology leadership were more effective in explaining a unified plan and how academics or they were going to address some of the challenges that the academics were facing, I think you would see a much more equal, uh, alignment around, Hey, yeah, we, we, we, we understand we have a plan, we have a, a strategic plan and digital vision and, uh, I’m on, I’m on board. 

Joe Gottlieb: (35:01)

I think it’s so key. You mentioned educate, right? Because we are talking about education after all, but you know, more to the point that look, it, no matter how you slice it at the end of the day, um, wants to be a strategic partner to the institution, but strategic partnership is earned, right? And so the opportunity exists for it to be more valuable and you’re quite right. It’s up to it. And the leadership that’s brought them in. And as, and as, as leading them to create those, those conditions for strategic partnership and to enable that flow and, uh, and to really, uh, enroll customers like faculty in, in that dialogue, right. And as a supplier, and it’s just like of an outside vendor, you know, if they don’t, if they don’t win your business, you don’t give them your business. Now we have a slightly different circumstance here where it is, is captive, but that actually is one of the producers of the friction, right. If it gets to stay no matter what, because there are it right. And we don’t have, we don’t have the option of firing them. That creates friction. I’m less, we’re avoid that situation entirely by a nice, healthy, productive, working relationship that is excited about making that synergy happen. 

Wayne Bovier: (36:29)

And, you know, and that triggers a thought that, that, um, you know, has been on my mind recently. And that has, again, brings us back to the institutional culture. If your culture is, if it places a high percentage of value on your, your it leadership to be nice and to say yes all the time, then you know, you’re going to be in a, you’re going to be in a situation where, um, you know, the, you know, that, that may be, what is needed is, is, is, is somebody on the digital side saying, no, we can’t do that. We shouldn’t do that. Here’s a, here’s what we need to do. Right. And so, so we’re kind of, it’s a, it’s a, self-reinforcing kind of culture where, Oh, we only want the nice ones and we’re going to say yes to all of our projects and everything that we’re going to do. Um, versus having a real leader in there that can partner and educate people and be, you know, be equal. Um, and, and, uh, you know, good listener, but somebody that has experienced that can come in and for, and provide some really good advice about where to go in the future. 

Joe Gottlieb: (37:40)

Yeah. Look, it’s you, you highlight the fact that this is not a popularity contest. Popularity is short term. The, the, your customers will, will have even less of opinion of less than opinion of you, if you just yes. Them to death, but then paint yourself into a corner where you can actually, um, apply your experience to have a robust and responsible and capable technology platform that makes the university or the college successful. Right? So it’s not about popularity, it’s about respect and collaboration and, and harnessing specialized, um, experience to then form a more powerful whole, right? So now you’ve got, okay, you need your technologies, fellowships specialists, enabling your education specialists, and what’s possible in this institution. And so when you were thinking, when you were earlier about the physical, right, you institutions still, a lot of them still see themselves as measured by their physical presence. 

Joe Gottlieb: (38:42)

Every time you say that I can’t help, but visualize this more sort of digitally illustrated image of an institution spanning the globe. And even if it’s not global, even just all the, all the, the, the electrons flowing from one physical place through Amazon or whatever their platform is, Microsoft Azure, and to all the homes of their students and their faculty given with all the remote work and pandemic, right? You got it. Imagine yourself digitally in this world, and that frees you to, to see what your real diameter and what your opportunity is and what the market should be feeling like. And anyway, we’re getting a little, little philosophical there, but I think, 

Wayne Bovier: (39:23)

Well, I think, you know, so the backdrop on all of this right, is, is that, you know, we we’ve, we’ve kind of touched a little bit on it at the beginning, but, you know, higher education or education, um, has, has been very much embracing a scarcity model, right? It’s privileged, it only ad it only allows certain amount of students in and all that. But on, on the flip side of this are businesses that are desperate for more skills, more labor that are trained, that understand all this, um, and you have an access problem, right? And then you layer on quality, right? Can you maintain quality online? And, and you know, that, that is another kind of great topic for a coffee talk, but, you know, there’s a lot more evidence that’s coming out a lot more research that is demonstrating that you can maintain quality. Uh, and in fact, many cases exceeded, if you are much more nuanced and clear about the advantages of certain tech technology capabilities blended with kind of the physical or face to face type of personal, um, you know, teaching and learning, uh, situation. Right. So, so anyway, it’s, it’s, uh, yeah, this is fascinating topics. 

Joe Gottlieb: (40:49)

Well, we love to we’ll come back to that topic again, but let’s, let’s shift now to build further on this theme of, you know, we’re trying to highlight some of the forces that cause division in cultures that might make it harder to change, uh, given the market conditions. Um, and so one of these is, you know, w we alluded to it earlier, but we’ve got another data point to share. And the question here from our digital transformation survey is, did you have the opportunity to have input into the digital vision and technology strategic plan, or was your department slash division or school involved or represented? And so this is really an opportunity to find out what, in particular, the academic side of the house and the leadership part of the would say about this, and, and this is actually staggering, right? We see average scores here for academic side, 2.38 out of 10, and for institutional administration, 2.2 a at a 10. And those are just really, really low scores, which suggests if the thing exists, I wasn’t really involved and providing them 

Wayne Bovier: (41:57)

Yeah. And looking at these numbers. So, uh, in some ways, um, uh, I’m not surprised, but in some ways I’m actually, uh, shocked, you know, the, you know, going kind of hand in glove with the previous data point, you know, having the academics, you know, not participating as part of the digital strategy, uh, uh, not surprised by that the administration not answering that they don’t have the opportunity for input is that’s the shocking piece. I don’t, you know, that, that one, I’m not sure what the think about with that one, because, you know, administration clearly has a, a leadership role in any technology that has purchased, um, whether or not they’re signing the contracts or not. Um, they are ultimately responsible for this. And so not being, you know, not being part of, uh, or not feeling or thinking that they’re part of all this, uh, is, is a bit shocking. Um, and maybe it’s, maybe it’s the fact that just, they’re just not, they just don’t have a digital strategy or there’s no one that’s responsible for it to put it together. I mean, maybe there’s just a, it’s an, it’s a lack of, you know, there’s a, there’s an absence of, of any kind of activities around this. 

Joe Gottlieb: (43:21)

Probably have some of these data points, um, coming in the form of, they probably answered this way because they did not, they don’t have one, but from what I’ve seen in higher ed is more likely than not what’s going on in this situation is that leadership doesn’t consider itself. Part of that. They kind of see it as this sort of delegated thing. That’s not yet front and center because that, and that, that’s what we talk about as the core issue, right? When leadership doesn’t feel the responsibility to, to drive technology, you have a disconnect that is not going to serve you in the digital world, 

Wayne Bovier: (44:04)

Frankly. I think that’s exactly right. I think that, I think that that’s, that’s a, that’s a great point. 

Joe Gottlieb: (44:10)

So the last data point we want to bring up then is, is, and this one is from our culture survey, which is more recent. Um, and we’ve asked them, uh, a number of different questions asked are our respondents numbers from questions. And, and we, we want to, I want to share like the highest score and then the three lowest scores in terms of all the questions that we asked the highest score was, how would you describe the organizational culture at your institution and organization? That is an average that looks like it’s a, it’s over 7.5. It’s like 7.6. I didn’t put the labels on here. Um, quite high as compared to many of the averages we’ve been seeing in what we’ve been talking about throughout this coffee talk, right? So the top score in our culture assessment was what people thought about their culture, pretty optimistic, right? 

Joe Gottlieb: (44:58)

If you look at the bottom three scores, there’s plenty of evidence that that is a feel good reflex response because the worst, the lowest response down at 1.5 is success criteria are tracked to ensure improved alignment on meeting our department and institutional goals. How can you feel good about your culture? If you know, you’re not tracking your ability to change and align. And so that’s gotta be frustrating, right? To you. You’re either saying we’re trying, but we’re not aligned, or it’s not even done. Why bother? It seems like a big gap and the other two, and then I want you, I want to get your comments on this before we close. Wayne are business drivers and processes sufficiently analyzed before changes are proposed and are introduced really low at 2.6. And then my organization is more comfortable with avoiding risk then implementing change. This is the, the real, I think this one just hits home super bad, which is at like below three, five out of 10 organizations, this reflecting the preponderance of the sense that more organizations are comfortable with, what are the risks in implementing change? And that’s how we started this whole coffee talk. Right? 

Wayne Bovier: (46:08)

Yeah. And I, you know, this is just, this just drives the point home, right? Is that you have a culture that is generally friendly that, uh, rewards, uh, people that, uh, are collegial that get along. Um, and, you know, for the most part, right. The industry and most, every institution everyone’s generally nice. Right. Um, and you know, they’re, they’re, well-intentioned, we’re really good, good folks. But now as an industry, we are forced to change right through digital disruption. And, you know, and there’s all of these kind of macro economic kind of forces that are at play here that are forcing, you know, the, the, the economic models to change. And, you know, simply put institutions, uh, are going to need help, uh, to learn how to change, um, and change in the right way at the right speed, right? Because you can’t just go all of a sudden, full, full force into, you know, the, to that other end of the spectrum and the disruptor, right? You, you, you should be methodical about it. One step at a time, get better each time, be a better learning organization. Um, but it is a, it is an important skill that, um, as an industry never really needed to exist before. And so, you know, institutions are gonna need help, um, to be better at, uh, what they need to do to, to learn to, and to embrace the right level of change. 

Joe Gottlieb: (47:48)

Well, I think that’s a great point to end on Wayne. Um, let’s let our audience get back to it and their efforts to figure out what change model is best for them. I want to thank you for joining me again today, Wayne, and thanks to our guests for joining us as well. We wish you all the best and we’ll look forward to hosting you again at the next Higher Digital podcast.

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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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