Today’s higher education leaders are responding to one of the most impactful crises the industry has faced, calling for both compassion and responsiveness to guide their organizations through uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is global in scale, farther reaching, and more complex than any crisis most of today’s decision-makers have ever experienced.
The pandemic is both a health crisis and an economic crisis. It will likely result in a dramatic restructuring of the economy and changes in our society as consumer preferences and expectations shift.
For some institutions, near-term survival is the only objective. For others, the crisis presents an opportunity to pivot into a new direction. Regardless, institutions must embrace this new reality and adopt an operating model that accommodates new levels of uncertainty.
Financial and technology functions are taking on more significant operational roles and CFOs and CIOs are becoming key decision-makers in guiding their institutions to deal with the effects of the pandemic. Most institutions have a crisis team in place that handles day-to-day challenges such as closing the physical campus, managing crisis communications, moving classes online, and continuing administrative operations. But what institutions need to consider is what happens when the immediate crisis abates; is it back to business as usual or have processes evolved and created a new normal?
Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company recommends organizations create a “plan-ahead team” that will help prepare for the next steps following the pandemic’s decline. This team should gather information that provides insight into long-term operations and build a response plan for any future stages of the crisis.
According to McKinsey & Company, teams tasked with mapping out their organization’s future-state should follow the five following processes.
Institutions should continually look forward, ensure their ability to confront uncertainty head-on, and build unpredictability into their decision-making processes.
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating changes that may fundamentally shift the industry. For example, the technology that enables remote work and online learning is changing from a nice-to-have feature to an essential requirement. In many cases, institutions that execute a well-defined crisis plan are becoming more agile as an unexpected result.
Here are the classic characteristics of an agile organization:
Now, compare that to some of the higher education outcomes being brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.
Institutions that build cohesive strategies to navigate and bounce back from the pandemic are likely to be the ones that recover and survive in the long run. By adopting new, agile methodologies that do not shy away from experimentation, higher education leaders may be able to position their institutions for success after the COVID-19 pandemic—or any other unforeseeable future crisis.
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