Last month, we discussed the lack of civility in our culture. This month and next, we will shift to discuss the challenges of making changes in our programs. This is a timely topic since the programs constitute the core of what we do. Perhaps during this year’s holiday break, you get a chance to reflect on this process and consider what changes need to happen at your institution.
Having been involved in a wide range of program changes in four major institutions, I have found several common steps in the change process – some of which we will discuss this month and some next month. They include triggers, listening activities, vision, design, promotion, and implementation. These ideas apply both to degree programs and entire curricula as well as individual courses, noncredit programs and programmatic activities.
They cover every change from redesigning an internship or cooperative learning course to operating career search activities and fairs. They explain ways we should go about altering the membership and roles of advisory committees, organizing special annual lectures or workshops, and running alumni events.
One of the blocks to recognizing the need for change has been the old-fashioned belief that, “If it ain’t broke, leave it alone. Don’t fix it.” However, in the increasingly demanding and fast-paced culinary, foodservice, and hospitality industries, we should replace the slogan with the notion, “If it is going well, it can be even better.” And then we should undertake the challenge of making it better.
Most programmatic changes start from some big event, such as a required internal or external review of the entire degree program or major; a major donation to the school, department, or program; or a significant shift in enrollment, resources and staff. These outside factors cause faculty members and administrators to consider needed alterations. Other times, a continuing set of comments from faculty, industry supporters, or other colleagues finally get heard and initiate the awareness that changes must be made.
Sadly, running our programs and teaching our classes – as well as contributing or participating in other professional activities – often keeps us from stopping to consider what we are doing well, what we can improve, and what we should drop. However, being alert for triggering events or actions help us recognize we need to make changes, and triggering events often suggest specific changes.
Once faculty members and administrators recognize the need to make some changes in the programs offered, they face the challenge of gathering useful information about difficulties with the programs, areas that need to be fixed, and opportunities to improve. Collecting the information involves including all the key stakeholders in the process. This may mean alumni, industry supporters, potential employers, faculty members, administrators, and regional and national colleagues. A carefully designed process is required to ensure the broadest involvement of key groups. Invite them to share their program opinions, make suggestions for improvements, and ask about their future ideas. In some situations, institutions have used focus groups, surveys of students and graduates, panel presentations, open houses, and reviews of past evaluations to gather the information.
However, collecting the data provides only the first step. Listening carefully requires developing a system which collects analyzes the data collected, identifies patterns, and shares them with the persons, groups, or institutions involved in the process. Although this step is often ignored, it provides a way to keep key stakeholders involved in the process from the very beginning.
When small changes are required the group or people involved is often limited. When wholesale program revision is needed the number of people required increases and consists of groups such as current students, alumni, industry friends and supporters, program critics, past and present faculty members, and colleagues in the field. They must be carefully heard. Once the information has been collected, analyzed, and shared, the next step involves developing or revising a mission statement or program vision.
Vision and mission statements
Creating a vision for the changes is a powerful tool to build consensus and a way to incorporate the program values. A vision statement may describe key skills and abilities of program graduates, it may explain the program qualities, or it may list the values that drive the program. Often the vision statement is connected to institutional statements under which the program operates.
Creating a mission statement from scratch can be complex and take a significant amount of time and debate. Other times, the task involves revising the current mission statement and can be completed rather quickly. However, proceeding too fast and not involving key players at this stage can create more challenges in later steps since this stage of program change is about building consensus about the program and the possible changes.
I hope these ideas provide you with new concepts to consider as you make changes in your programs or aspects of your program. They are essential, early stage ideas in the change process. Rarely do they operate in a linear fashion. I have fashioned them from my 50 years of experience designing and developing entirely new credit and noncredit programs and making changes to current programs.
Next month, we will continue discussing the processes of making program changes by focusing on the three steps of design, promotion and implementation.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.