changes colleges

An honest look into what it takes to “manage change”

Experts say mitigating uncertainties and sense of loss, using data, two of the biggest keys to effective change management.

“Change management” is a phrase that’s picking up even more steam than usual in colleges and universities around the country as almost every department on campus is being swept up in higher education’s reinvention.

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But outside of using a trendy catch phrase to encapsulate the many changes on campus—from system overhauls in IT to reimagined admissions and enrollment strategies—what does it really mean to manage the change culture?

Here, institutional leaders, researchers and higher education consultants discuss actionable steps and key considerations to not only successfully manage the campus constituency’s worries, but enact effective cultural changes that will resonate for decades to come.

Use the 5×5 Matrix for Planned Change

Brent RubenBy Brent D. Ruben and Ralph A. Gigliotti, Rutgers University

As much as we would like there to be a simple algorithm for leading change in higher education, no such formula exists. That said, there are a number of core concepts that are instructive (Kotter, 2016; Ruben, et al., 2008). In our experience, successful change initiatives depend, first and foremost, on leaders who have a good understanding of the dynamics of change; forces that impede change; and strategies for overcoming sources of resistance, along with the willingness and ability to use this knowledge to develop and implement a systematic process for the change initiative. In fact, as we discuss in our recent book on the subject (Ruben, De Lisi, & Gigliotti, 2016), the ability to understand and lead change is a critical competency for leaders in higher education.

What follows is a five-step model for higher education leaders as they wrestle with the challenges of organizational change (Ruben, 2009). The first of these stages consists of gaining attention and clarification for the need for a change.  The next step is the engagement of relevant internal and external stakeholders. Upon receiving a general acceptance of the proposed direction(s), the process moves forward with the critical stage of commitment. Next, commitment must translate into action—the stage where many leaders tend to begin, yet are often met with great resistance. In the final stage, a change must be accepted and fully integrated into the very fabric and culture of an organization, or else it lingers and ultimately fades from practice.

Five additional factors are critical in guiding planned change efforts. Each of these is cross-cutting—that is, these five concepts play a vital role in the tasks associated with each of the five stages of change:

  1. Planning: defining the change plan.
  2. Leadership: defining and designating appropriate individuals or teams to guide the change initiative through the five stages.
  3. Communication: designing and implementing a process of information-sharing, listening, and collaboration with those involved with, knowledgeable about, and/or affected by the planned change.
  4. A focus on culture: taking into account the organization’s language, history, norms, rules, and traditions that may influence the dynamics of change.
  5. Assessment: developing and implementing a systematic approach to monitoring progress and outcomes as the change process progresses.

Overlaying these five cross-cutting success factors (listed horizontally) across the five stages of change (listed vertically) produces a Five-by-Five Matrix for Planned Change, as illustrated below (Ruben, 2009; Ruben, De Lisi, & Gigliotti, 2016). The matrix displays the five stages of change as columns and the five cross-cutting success factors as rows. Each cell represents a point of intersection between the two sets of considerations, and each highlights an important area for attention by academic and administrative leaders as they undertake a change initiative.

Five-by-Five Matrix for Planned Change


We have found that the matrix provides an exceptionally useful framework for thinking about a planned change strategy, and also serves as a helpful tool for developing and implementing that strategy in higher education. This can be done by a single individual, but in general, the benefits are greater—both in terms of the quality of the finished product and the value of the process—if it is developed in a collaborative way by the team with responsibility for the change effort.

We have found that the MPC matrix provides an exceptionally useful framework for thinking about a planned change strategy, and also a helpful tool for developing a systematic approach to a planned changed strategy.

Brent Ruben, Ph.D., is executive director and Ralph Gigliotti is assistant director for Leadership Programs at the Center for Organizational Development and Leadership at Rutgers University.


Kotter, J. P. (2016). Kotter’s 8 step change model. Retrieved March 5, 2016 from

Ruben, B. D. (2009). Understanding, planning, and leading organizational change. Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers. Online version (2013) available online at

Ruben, B. D., De Lisi, R., & Gigliotti, R. A. (2016). A guide for leaders in higher education: Core concepts, competencies, and tools. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Ruben, B. D., Lewis, L. K., Sandmeyer, L., Russ, T., Smulowitz, S., & Immordino, K. (2008). Assessing the impact of the Spellings Commission: The message, the messenger, and the dynamics of change in higher education. Washington, DC: National Association of College and University Business Officers.

(Next page: Change management is about mitigating loss and the cloud)

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