Adjusting to the speed of change


I try to stay up to date on trends that affect our work at the nation’s community colleges. Certainly, we have all heard about the Great Resignation, remote learning and working and other sticky changes that have impacted the way in which we work and teach.

I have changed the way I look at the workplace. Never having been a big fan of remote work, I now see how it can be a great benefit to an organization and to employees. I admit that I am somewhat “old school” in that I equated work with physically being in the office. Like your colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges had to quickly shift to remote work in the wake of the pandemic. That shift showed me that we could be effective even when weren’t able to be together. The flexibility has allowed us as an organization to continue the work of advancing community colleges.

This article comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, published bimonthly by the American Association of Community Colleges.

In fact, the use of technology allowed us to bring community college leaders together virtually to discuss the impact of the pandemic and share challenges and solutions efficiently and effectively.

Leading change

Leading change is not a new topic. I recently re-read a 1995 article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about leading change. I was struck by the article’s take on change from 27 years ago. The author noted that a successful “change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time.”

Change moves much quicker these days and the changes brought about in the past two years have been swift and plentiful. Time is a luxury for leaders who are working to implement change. Despite the speed of change being different, there were many other things that still ring true about leading change.

Having a clear vision, communicating the need and urgency of the change and removing obstacles to change were among the noted requirements for success. Removing obstacles to change is still something that most of us deal with regardless of the vision.

As a leader, you can develop consensus around a needed change, communicate effectively and be transparent about the process and still struggle with internal obstacles. Often, programs and processes are legacy-driven and have “always been done that way.” Instigating changes to these, no matter how needed, may be threatening to the status quo. Making changes can feel like an admonishment of the work that has been done and lead to unintentional consequences.

Recent history shows that change can and is being brought about at the nation’s community colleges every day. Certainly, there have been changes in technology, learning modalities, scheduling, student support services and even remote work. But the changes that I have seen and heard about from community college leaders have been successful because all members of the community college have worked together to ensure that students had continued access and resources for postsecondary education despite what was happening across the country.

Change may move faster these days, but the dedication to student success at the nation’s community colleges will not be moved at any speed.

CC Journal archive: Missed an issue of CC Journal? You can find issues dating back to summer 2017 on the AACC website.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
Dr. Walter G. Bumphus is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.