Higher-ed leaders can use specific strategies to assess their stakeholders’ agreement on what the institution’s goals should be.

One strategy could prove essential to institutional innovation


Higher-ed leaders can use specific strategies to assess their stakeholders’ agreement on what the institution’s goals should be and how it can achieve them

One of the biggest challenges higher-ed leaders face is obtaining cooperation and agreement as they strive to move their institution forward.

Despite this major challenge, moving forward is a top priority–and an essential objective if instititions are to survive in a rapidly-changing higher education enviornment.

Institutions are grappling with pandemic-related challenges, shrinking enrollments as the number of high school graduates decline, and unrest related to politics and policy.

A new and innovative theory from the Clayton Christensen Institute aims to help higher-ed leaders better understand the inner workings of different levels of agreement inside their institutions and better equip them with the right tools to more their institutions forward.

There are a number of tools, ranging from motivational, visionary speeches to command-and-control orders, that higher-ed leaders can use to convince individuals to cooperate and work together. These are called the Tools of Cooperation.

Leadership tools are focused on results, as opposed to process, and are considered more effective because there is strong consensus about what individuals want from being part of the organization. Community members will follow visionary leaders with good standing and gravitas because they’re in agreement about what they want.

Management tools consist of tools that are coordinative and process-oriented in nature. These tools include training or professional development, standard operating procedures, and measurement systems. If management tools are to be effective, group members have to agree on cause and effect. Higher-ed leaders leveraging these tools can introduce a new program or set of procedures that others agree can help the institution, even if they differ on the “why” behind it.

When using culture tools, people will prioritize similar options and they’ll have little debate around the best way to achieve those priorities because their view of how the world works is common.

Power tools are used when an organization’s members share little consensus. Here, the only tools that will inspire cooperation as higher-ed leaders pursue a new direction for their institution are those such as force, coercion, and threats. Institutions in this situation are in an understandably challenging situation for their leaders.

Tools of separation are used in instances when there is such fundamental disagreement among the groups in an organization that reaching a consensus on a course of action is impossible, and nobody in the organization can compel cooperation. These tools can help because they divide the conflicted parties into separate groups – individuals in those groups can be in strong agreement with others inside their own group, but they don’t need to agree with other groups.

Read more details on these strategies, along with case studies on different institutions, here.

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Laura Ascione

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