Note. This post is intended to be reflective only. Sometimes it’s nice to write a post without worrying about academic support, and since I’m rather tired of reading academic papers at the moment, I thought I’d treat this post as a therapeutic, reflective exercise. Therefore, there is no reference list that follows this post, nor are my thoughts supported by peer-reviewed evidence – it’s all from on my own brain this time!
Has my perspective on leadership changed after examining change management, project management, and data analytics at the graduate level? In short, I would say no. From an organizational standpoint, leadership is to me now what it was years ago when I began a career as an entrepreneur. No matter what the project is, whether large or small-scale, private or publicly funded, organizational change requires sound planning and motivated individuals to lead the change. What reading numerous peer-reviewed articles did do, however, is make me realize that although mulling over theoretical change principles and methods is important, sometimes a practical approach to change is all that is needed.
There is no arguing effective project management and change management strategies are rooted in time-tested methods and processes like ADDIE or AGILE, but when conditions are just right, organizational change can successfully occur without a detailed plan in place. Looking back at my former career as a business owner, I recall countless instances where I skipped a planning stage or two when developing a project, only to face insurmountable roadblocks that either halt progress or stop production entirely. Through trial and error and over many years, I came to appreciate the power of a well-developed project plan. Conversely, working as a higher education instructor during the COVID-19 pandemic has slightly altered my perspective on achieving rapid organizational change.
COVID-19 and Rapid Change in Higher Education
In an instance, and without warning, the COVID-19 pandemic forced my College into delivering online learning. Faculty, academic support, and executives all had to adapt current delivery systems to online within days to weeks. At first, I thought such rapid change would surely be a catastrophe, especially considering how many higher education schools in North America are typically slow to change anything. To my surprise, we were online and instructing students with minimal delay. Miraculously, management and leadership organized a makeshift plan to get the online learning environments and courses set up to meet learner demand. I do not believe any fancy change management or project management processes were put forth during the planning phase. To this day, I am surprised the transition to online learning was so smooth for my College considering how little planning time allowed.
I appreciate time-tested project management and change management processes and theories because they lead to well-developed, research-based, and failsafe plans that can resist many roadblocks thrown at the task force. When time permits, project planners can go from a high-level project plan to a detailed and specialized plan that is almost certain to succeed when effective leadership is in place. In the end, whether the project plan is theoretical or practical by nature, projects still need to be implemented. If significant organizational change is to occur, success is highly dependent upon the leadership approach. A good leader understands how to put the plan into motion and motivates stakeholder participation to contribute to the change. In the organizational setting, leadership inspires action and momentum to follow the plan. When time is available, a strong strategy, well-developed project plan, and call to action, through leadership, promote measurable change.