7 myths about new management models

7 myths about new management models

The world outside higher education is changing faster and faster every year, creating new products, tools and professions. Universities cannot stand aside, as we want our institutions and students to be a successful part of the present and future global community. We are currently witnessing the emergence of several management techniques raising more and more interest: Agile methodology, Lean management and Design Thinking.

However, one could argue that those Silicon Valley and Japanese supply chain models are a thousand miles away from higher education practices.  More specifically those of public universities, sometimes considered to be ivory towers resistant to change. In this blogpost we challenge those ideas and explore some of the myths and realities of these new management models and higher education practices.

Myth number one: Design Thinking is only useful if you design and build objects

No, you don’t need to have a talent for drawing or desire to build cool Ikea chairs to appreciate Design Thinking. In order to generate the best possible solution for the end user, Design Thinking strives to understand human needs from the very beginning of a process, starting with observations and stakeholders’ feedback. It will enable you to develop new products, services or even organisational models, totally adaptable to your daily challenges in the international office.

Myth number two: Lean management is a smart way to make cars in Japan, but it would never work for the educational sector

No, you don’t need to be managing a production line to think Lean is for you. Nowadays, Lean is applied in many other type of organisations and is perfectly suitable for the services industry. In an era of mergers and budget cuts we all search for methods that make the most of the limited resources we have, without detracting from the quality. Lean management is a mindset, a way to improve our processes and create more customer value. It is about collecting and analysing data related to our admission and enrolment processes for instance, in order to increase engagement by all of the stakeholders involved, improve the process, make it more user friendly, and ultimately more competitive. Who doesn’t want that?

Myth number three: Agile is for information technology engineers, not for me or my old-fashioned boss

Agile has been working very well for the software industry, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay confined to that area. Key concepts are small cycles, iterations and faster delivery, value people above process, encourage autonomy and collaboration, and continuous improvement through reflection and learning. It will let you stay in sync with other stakeholders at the university, and won’t that make your boss happy?

Myth number four: nothing ever changes in higher education

Actually, the higher education sector has been undergoing huge changes in the last 30 years – massification and internationalisation being two major driving forces. As an International Officer, you are de facto facilitating change on a daily basis, making the institution adopt policies and procedures to face new demands, and answer the needs of new audiences and guidelines. Take a moment to think about that!

Myth number five: I am not in a position to make things change in my institution

We can all be change agents, we just need the right support. Like 007 can count on M and Q for his missions to be a success, you need to find the right ambassadors or champions for your cause, as well as the right tools. An underwater jet pack might not be very useful in your day job, but a good SCAMPER grid might be just what you need to boost your brainstorming sessions. It all starts with baby steps to improve your own daily processes and services. It is not a short-term project, but a long-term vision or philosophy. And remember, small changes can add up to a big difference.

Myth number six: it is impossible to get people excited about internationalisation initiatives outside of the international office

When you feel you have tried all of your convincing techniques, your best elevator pitches, or even food bribes to get that internationalisation policy under way – and it all failed – life at the office can seem pretty bleak. “Talk about the why”, as Simon Sinek would say; find what’s in it for your stakeholders. Lean management can help you out with the first relevant data collection for the why. Not starting with an ‘off the shelf’ solution or process, but involving all stakeholders in the observations and co-creation of the project will enable ownership and buy-in, helping you build momentum and get the right attention and support for the initiative. Design Thinking can show you how.

Myth number seven: officers in the public sector have a hard time adapting to sudden changes and coping with emergencies

Effective management is about knowing your team members and matching their skills and abilities to the right missions and formats. It all depends on the provided framework. Out of the blue decisions and emergencies will always create disgruntled feelings. Both Lean management and Agile methodology offer a framework and specific tools to deal with prioritisation as well as give everyone a role in the project, allowing all team members to contribute meaningfully regardless of their position.

Change is scary, and we know (or imagine that we know) the limitations of the system all too well. However, if we want our students to be innovative, learn promptly from new circumstances and adapt to them, as well as propose intelligent and sustainable solutions, then we need to start practising what we preach. We need to find the courage to incorporate a new mindset into our work and utilise more flexible management tools. This will allow us to act agile – ie with more end user satisfaction, resourcefulness, promptness, and gracefulness of people who work on the frontier of the international higher education and its changes – because that is who we are.

Sabine Sainte-Rose
Université Grenoble Alpes, FranceSabine is Senior Coordinator for European Networks at Université Grenoble Alpes in France.

Yulia Grinkevich
National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation

Dyane Koreman
Fontys Academy for Creative Industries, the Netherlands