There are moments in the life of an academic department when change is bigger than updates to the curriculum, improvements in policies, or shifts in accounting procedures for indirect costs. These changes are brought about by many factors: transformations in the discipline, major environmental or social events, a change in who does work in a given field, generational evolutions in the academic lineage, or shifts in the legal or political landscape.
The following strategies can be useful when leading a department through the extra challenges of major change:
Honor what is of value in the traditions and realities of the past
Verbal recognition, plaques, awards, or even just hallway conversation with senior members of the department who have been around a long time can go a long way toward cultivating investment in the present reality and direction.
Establish new traditions
A key challenge of change relates to its unpredictability. New traditions provide a structure within which change can be recognized and engaged more easily. Similarly, a specific event to designate the closure of one era and the dawning of the next can be useful.
Be explicit about the gains generated by change
A change process often draws the attention of the organization to what needs to be managed or protected, how to keep things from going off track - and the gains of the change can be missed along the way. Be proactive, explicit, and consistent in naming the motivations and positive outcomes of the change process that's underway - especially the positive changes that may be more easily taken for granted or missed. ("Have you noticed we've spent more time talking to each other this semester than in the past few years combined?")
Vent big feelings on little things
While big reactions to essentially inconsequential matters can feel frustrating, this is a natural and effective way for people and organizations to vent pent-up feelings and test out change where the stakes are lower. Look for these outlets and provide mechanisms for this to occur.