Beyond Accreditation: Five Keys to Sustaining an Institution-Wide Momentum for Change and Excellence
Five Keys to Sustaining Momentum for Institutional Excellence
Dr. Michael Porter, PhD.
Senior Institutional Effectiveness Consultant
Submitting a solid accreditation compliance report and receiving a successful response from the peer review committee is only one facet of institutional effectiveness. Once the report has been reviewed by the accrediting body, the work of institutional effectiveness is not over. In order to sustain the Institution-wide momentum for change, the institution has to make special efforts to continue to function at a level consistent with its mission and stakeholders’ expectations. The self-study process offers several benefits to a college or university beyond just securing a glowing reaffirmation from an accrediting body. The most valuable benefit being the unique opportunity to build upon the institution-wide momentum for institutional effectiveness and create a durable internal process for continuous improvement that survives the affirmation process.
Five Keys to Sustaining an Momentum for Change and Excellence:
1. Learn From the Previous Cycle.
Efforts to sustain an institution-wide momentum for change and excellence must begin with a keen desire to learn from the previous cycle. One of the key differentiators of an institution that translates to huge leaps in continuous improvement is its ability to learn and develop improved practices based on the lessons of the past. In every accrediting cycle, there are multiple opportunities to learn about what worked well, what did not go as intended, and what changes will enhance the processes within the new cycle. Being able to identify the barriers in the process clearly and work systematically toward removing these barriers is critical in harnessing the momentum gained from the accreditation visit. Extending the knowledge base about the assessment and accountability subcultures of departments and planning units in your institution is another factor that will better position your institution to act more strategically in future cycles. A tidal wave of support for institutional excellence can be generated simply by demonstrating a commitment to learn and grow.
2. Embed Change Into the Culture, Structures, and Policies.
Every institution goes through some form of change, but any change process initiated merely for the sake of compliance becomes highly susceptible to momentum seepage and minimizes the possibility of lasting or meaningful change. Institutional activities aimed at achieving lasting transformation must go beyond simply seeking compliance. A platform for harnessing momentum from the accreditation visit, which will result in meaningful transformation across the institution, is constructed by energizing stakeholders and embedding change into the institution’s extant culture, structures, and policies. There will be challenges associated with any new initiatives, including resistance to change and declining stakeholder interest. However, embedding changes into the structures, policies, and the underlying culture, based upon the lessons learned from the previous cycle, can serve to enable stakeholders to rise above old habits and embrace best practices that will ultimately sustain momentum and support the institutional excellence effort.
3. Engage Stakeholders.
The engagement of faculty and staff at every stage of the accreditation cycle is a paramount concern in sustaining a culture of change and institutional excellence for the reporting cycle and beyond. This is no easy task, since diminished stakeholder engagement occurs frequently after the accrediting review process has concluded. Many colleges and universities that are successful in securing high levels of engagement from faculty, staff, and the leadership team are adept at breaking down silos and fostering a culture of teamwork. On the other hand, some institutions struggle to engage their internal constituents in a meaningful way. A few reasons for this shortcoming include entertaining the ‘us vs them’ ideology, provisioning the 80-20 rule where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the stakeholders, and reinforcing historic silos. As institutions seek to promote collaboration among stakeholders, it is critically important for the leadership team to know where silos are operating within the institution and how to use the institution’s core values and shared culture to shift or reconfigure these silos. It is also very important, at some stage of the process, to pause to acknowledge and evaluate the contributions of all units towards the success of the previous cycle, as well as to allow for direct feedback from the units about their engagement. Institutions that build a durable, collaborative process for institutional excellence will find it easy to communicate with key constituents, integrate all stakeholders, and unify the institution around its mission, which will sustain momentum derived from the accreditation process, and drive the institution toward institutional excellence.
4. Empower Stakeholders.
Empowering stakeholders is one way of preserving institutional intelligence and ensuring continuity in achieving institutional excellence. When stakeholders are empowered in an institution, there is a greater chance for that institution’s intended goals and outcomes to be achieved. Therefore, as an institution focuses on its strategic plan and other major institutional priorities, there must be a concurrent emphasis on investment in human capital. Providing appropriate levels of professional development, funding, and resources needed by stakeholders to be effective in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities is a step in the right direction, however empowerment initiatives within colleges and universities should address the underlying effects of a disempowering culture by promoting autonomy, accountability, transparency, and information sharing. An environment of empowered stakeholders will rise consistently above limitations and operate in greater levels of success.
5. Prepare for the Next Cycle.
The manner in which a new accreditation cycle is approached can be one of the key deciding factors between an efficient process that spells success, and a painful last minute rush to the finish line, which culminates with an undesirable outcome. True preparation that ends with a successful outcome is always ongoing, in the sense that proactive steps are taken continually to make sure that the institution’s systems function seamlessly in collecting and assessing evidence, compiling the narrative, and reporting out on the progress as required. The importance of having a systematic method to remain on track and organized for compliance reporting cannot be overemphasized. Having a robust and comprehensive software solution that offers accreditation management functionalities, while integrating all other aspects of institutional effectiveness, will help an institution with its accreditation preparation and provide an authentic platform for sustaining an institution-wide momentum for change and excellence.
Maintaining momentum for change can be challenging, but it is not impossible. Changing the mindset of institutional effectiveness efforts to focus on long-term success rather than short-term requirements can make all of the difference. I hope these 5 keys to sustaining momentum help your institution to build upon the institution-wide momentum for institutional effectiveness and create a durable internal process for continuous improvement that survives the affirmation process. Please feel free to offer feedback or pose questions below.
Dr. Michael Porter, PhD.
Senior Institutional Effectiveness Consultant
Product Education Team
Strategic Planning Online LLC
Update: Please find a video of this presentation posted below.