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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.


Operational objectives that deliver transformational change must be set from the get go with scalability in mind.

A key measure of transformational change success is increased demand for services/support. The solution to increased demand is not more staff (too expensive), it is a scalable mindset and operating approach that result in increased performance when tested by amplified operational pressures. There are multiple ways to scale:

  1. THINK one to many vs. 1:1 – 10 students attend a workshop vs. 500 participate via Facebook Live

  2. Technology and tools – 24/7 best of breed stuff

  3. Partnerships that extend your capability – lots of options here including faculty, residence hall directors, librarians, alumni, student peers/organizations, and parents

  4. Data sophistication – get to know your students intimately and you will open up possibilities to serve them better and at scale

This year, each of the six UNH colleges developed a scalable growth plan – uniquely theirs. Operational objectives were set and aligned to strategic objective by three categories:

The College of Health and Human Services established a signature operational objective of developing and launching a Women’s Leadership Program this year. The objective ties to all four strategic objectives AND aligns to UNH’s priorities. Over 80% of the students in the college are women – also true of the health care industry, but far too few women serve in leadership positions. This signature focus aims to fill the gap and to become an enrollment differentiator and an amazing way to engage alumni and giving. The college will know that they have been successful long term as alumni progress into leadership roles.

Not many associate women’s leadership with career services—that’s the point. Signatures like this emerge by continuously asking; “what can we do to deliver the highest level of impact to our students and how can we operate everything else at scale.”

If I had led with a one size fits all strategic scalable growth plan, this college signature would not have surfaced – recognizing and unleashing uniqueness’s is key. And, if I hadn’t entrenched mission and strategic objectives and held on with an unrelentingly grip that held us all together, I would not have seen just how critical it was to free the colleges to innovate.

Putting mission and strategic objectives at the heart of your change journey, big or small, will power you. Happy sailing!

Trudy Van Zee has worked with large global firms, entrepreneurial enterprises, and higher education to develop break-through strategic plans and to architect talent solutions and operating processes. After a long career as a Global Human Capital Strategist at Accenture, she has transitioned her career to higher education. Trudy is currently the Associate Vice Provost, Career and Professional Success at the University of New Hampshire.

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