Birth of a One Stop: Azusa Pacific University Shares Lessons Learned in Transformational Change

Stork_shutterstock_288035174_10-15-15.jpgIn the face of disruptive technologies and the demand for greater accountability by both students and parents to address higher costs and improve the customer experience, rethinking standard practices is a great place to start. While not an entirely new idea, the notion of a One Stop experience that combines Registrar and Student Financial services into a cohesive service model continues to gain wider acceptance. Previously presented at a former WACUBO annual meeting Azusa Pacific University detailed a One Stop Undergraduate Services.

With a student population of over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Azusa boasts an 83% first year retention rate and a six year graduation rate of 64%. The presentation focused primarily on the importance of leadership in driving change as it relates to the university’s culture. It also provides additional emphasis on performance and implementation, as well as the required communication skills to effectively sell the concept of combining services to the various stakeholders and student population.

Preserving Culture in the Face of Change

Adopting principles from author Robert Quinn’s “Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within,” Azusa focused on what Quinn describes as Catalytic Leadership.  This is a type of transformational leadership necessary to bring about the kinds of process and institutional change necessary to identify needs and opportunities and to develop and articulate a new vision based on current realities. Developing this initial strategy requires a unique kind of skill, knowledge, and attitude-based leadership able to align this new vision with the institution’s overall mission.  It requires an inclusive vision that respects existing values, operations and performance measures even as it seeks to reframe them. Such leadership demands more than simply a will to lead. It also requires humility and discipline to successfully align the culture of the institution while providing the kind of support needed to execute on the new strategy. Without such leadership the alternative to transformational change, Quinn tells us, is nothing short of a “slow death.”

Safeguarding their institution’s mission, purpose and core values while anticipating the future requires what Quinn calls “generative” leadership. This means that the chosen leader must not only devise and implement change, they must also identify and prepare future leadership with the ultimate goal of having both current and future leadership to take ownership. Such a transformation - in this case combining long-established processes involves getting existing staff past early resistance and objections by improving communication, setting appropriate expectations and identifying areas of strength. Achieving this kind of harmony through open communication across the organization builds trust which is critical, as any disconnect at the leadership level can prove to be disastrous.

To succeed, leadership must build strong teams. Team strength is developed by stressing the need for staff accountability. The process of getting that much needed buy-in offers an opportunity for input. A key component for successful transformational change is the need to leverage resistance, not just as a means of opening dialogue, but as a source for fresh ideas. To encourage such a dialogue Azusa adopted a philosophy that they describe using the acronym C.A.R.E. - Choose Joy, Actively listen, Resolve the Issue and Exceed Expectations.

Performance Measurement

Of course claiming success requires that outcomes be measured. For Performance Measures, Azusa used existing annual student surveys as well as traffic statistics including call volumes, average speed of answer, walk-in volume and average wait times. By automating their waitlist and class permissions process,  Azusa was able to reduce walk-in traffic by 40%. Going forward the school intends to add new surveys through multiple channels including email, phone and in-person surveys and to provide leadership and staff with dashboard views of these nearly real-time statistics. This feedback allows for incremental improvements to processes.

Implementation Considerations

Azusa suggests that the effort required for merging two or more offices should never be underestimated. Real change takes time. One approach, Azusa suggests, is to create a virtual One Stop prior to establishing a physical one. This provides an opportunity to identify areas where technology may prove to be self-sufficient in solving particular problems. In addition to leveraging resources across the university through collaboration and proactive communication during implementation, customers also become partners driving ongoing change through much needed feedback allowing leadership to adapt processes on the fly.

The Pitch

Finally, driving home the significance and benefits of transformational change requires what Azusa describes as a “high-level” leader who can communicate a compelling vision, and tie his or her vision back to tangible gains. Citing just a few of the benefits of both the process and the resulting transformation, Azusa found improved partnerships between previously siloed groups as well as with their customer base. These efforts resulted in other departments on campus focusing more on efficiency and improving service. In addition to providing a significant increase in efficiency and overall improvement in the student/customer experience, implementing the One Stop also helped Azusa’s leadership surface emerging leaders; leaders whose experience would help define a vision for future transformational changes.

Bottom Line

There’s no shortage of new ideas when it comes to streamlining processes in higher education. But, to effectually develop a vision, gain buy-in and implement change takes time and collaboration from all stakeholders. Azusa Pacific University’s approach in creating their One Stop offers a road map to success. 

Notes:

Azusa Pacific University is a comprehensive, evangelical, Christian university located just outside of Los Angeles, California.

http://www.wacubo.org/Documents/Annual%20Conference/2014%20AC/Concurrent%2020%20-%20DiClaudio.pdf

One Stop, APUs Undergraduate Enrollment Services Center, is a central location for all undergraduate enrollment and financial services, including adding or dropping classes, viewing tuition and fees, checking your financial aid, ordering transcripts, buying Cougar Bucks, changing your major or minor, transferring courses to APU, registering for summer classes, getting graduation clearance, and making a payment or seeing your balance. Our staff is ready to assist you and answer your questions.

Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within by Robert E. Quinn, published by Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996.

 

“Tuition Management Systems (TMS) is the sponsor of this post. The sources who contributed ideas to this post do not endorse or recommend any commercial products or services, including those of TMS.  All information and opinions of the contributors are provided for informational purposes only.   TMS neither endorses, has any responsibility for, nor exercises control over the views of any contributor to this article or the accuracy of the information provided by any of them.”

 

 

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