Putting Mission and Strategic Objectives at the Heart of Transformational Change

Seventy percent of all change efforts fail according to Gallup, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review. A McKinsey & Co. study on radical change weighs in with only 38% of change efforts having a solid impact on performance and around 10% completely failing. Add the fact that most employees resist (even sabotage) change, why would anyone take on a transformational change effort, especially in higher education?

A few years ago, I left the corporate world after long career at Accenture and landed in an interim leadership role at the University of New Hampshire. The university had recently completed a strategic assessment of career services resulting in a bold “call to action” to develop Career and Professional Success as a hallmark of a UNH education – big time transformational stuff.

As Interim Associate Vice Provost, I had a choice to simply keep the trains running on time while the search for a leader took its course, or to ignite the transformation.

We are now two years into our transformation. While we are far from done, our progress has been stunning. Upon reflection, placing our mission and strategic objectives at the heart of our journey and never ever letting go has been the secret to our success – it will be yours too.


Start with defining the headlines that encapsulate your transformation story. They should frame the intended step change, energize the troops to “go big”, and create a sense of urgency. By the way, they play really well in executive-level audiences – advisory and foundation boards, for example.

Aligning your headlines to your institution’s priorities is an important next step and too often a missed opportunity to reinforce to your team why they exist.

UNH redirected a portion of the student fee to fund the initiative, I needed every team member to understand that what they do daily matters at an institutional level.


Now, entrench your mission and strategic objectives. Think of them as your guiding lights that keep your transformation story aglow - they will defend you on stormy days and shine as your rays of hope on your best days. Never miss an opportunity to open with them, tie to them, reflect on them, or measure against them. Prepare for sideways looks, they are unavoidable. Draw energy from your early adopters – when they start using the transformational language, delight in your arrival!

Entrenching your strategic objectives includes determining your success measures and baselines. For each strategic objective, ascertain how you will know if you are successful. Think beyond tracking student and employer engagement and post graduate outcomes. Success against our “consider the broad spectrum of students to effectively deliver the highest level of impact” strategic objective, for example, will be measured in the form of how smartly we segment our students.

Strategic objectives sustain themselves only when operational objectives are tied to and measured against them.