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Higher Education

6 mins

University Builds Change Capability to Help Execute New Strategic Plan

The university faced changes that would impact all 12,000 staff and faculty members. Leadership agreed that it was time for a more effective approach to managing change.

University Builds Change Capability to Help Execute New Strategic Plan

Faculty and staff equipped for changes

Satisfaction on L&D initiative

Person forum elevates change management


The university faced significant organizational changes across the campus as a result of the chancellor’s new strategic plan. These complex changes would involve implementing new processes and systems, and improving collaboration across disciplines. 


  • Facilitate large-group trainings to build awareness about changes
  • Provide in-depth role-based change management trainings
  • Create online and in-person discussion and learning opportunities
  • Partner with project teams and new change managers to implement change plans

Prosci’s methodology and role-based trainings are uniquely built to work just as well in the academic side of campus as they do on the administration side. But what really set Prosci apart was the Prosci team’s willingness to help us modify their programs to accommodate our distinct needs.

— Bernadette Han, Principal Consultant, Staff Education and Development

An Enterprise Change Management Journey

Several years ago, the University of California, San Diego’s new Chancellor initiated a Strategic Plan that would result in significant changes in every part of the campus, including new processes, new systems, and more collaboration across disciplines. The plan would impact all 12,000 members of administrative staff and faculty, and was comprised of hundreds of small changes that would together transform every part of the university.


UC San Diego-Challenge


With such a large and complicated set of changes in front of them, leadership recognized the campus’ weakness at managing change. Effective change management throughout the organization would be a critical part of the Plan’s success.

Partnership with Prosci

Although the university leadership knew that they needed a change management methodology, finding the right one proved difficult. The methodology needed to scale to support tens of thousands of staff members, plus it needed to work with a variety of different projects, from system implementations to culture transformations. Moreover, the methodology needed to work in different organizational settings as a change would have different types of stakeholders in the academic versus the administration side of the organization.

Finally, it needed to be easy to teach and to learn; the Staff Education and Development team that would roll out the methodology would not be the ones ultimately applying it to projects. The end users were the leaders, managers and front-line staff that were simultaneously implementing hundreds of different changes to support the new Strategic Plan.


UC San Diego-Solution


After trying and discarding a different change management methodology, UC San Diego turned to Prosci. With an overflow of research on change management and a practical methodology, Prosci had the framework to support the university’s complex structure and transformative Strategic Plan. The Prosci role-based training programs were equally effective, whether working with executives and administration assistants or tenured professors and graduate students. Prosci’s simple change management models scale easily to fit a campus-wide culture transformation or a single department’s system upgrade.

Finally, Prosci’s flexibility to customize their role-based training programs to accommodate the large, forum-style training sessions that UC San Diego required made Prosci the ideal change management partner.

Taking a cue from change management best practices as well as from the Prosci ADKAR® Model, the Staff Education and Development team focused the beginning of their work on building awareness of and interest in the new change management initiative. They facilitated several large-forum training sessions throughout the campus, and follow-up activities kept the momentum growing so that change management was integrated into daily conversations and work.


UC San Diego-Application

Large-group training sessions

To facilitate the large-group trainings that were required to quickly inform staff of the new change management methodology, the Staff Education and Development team attended Prosci’s Train-the-Trainer Program. The team then worked with Prosci to customize Prosci’s role-based trainings to fit a large-group training environment. They started their training with executive leadership and cascaded down to managers and nonsupervisory staff.

The first session was a short meeting with 50 senior leaders and academics who would need to act as sponsors of change. A Prosci Executive Instructor with experience in higher education co-presented with UC San Diego staff and provided concrete examples of how the Prosci Methodology had been successfully used in higher education.

Over the next few months, the Staff Education and Development team would continue to roll out more in-depth trainings to all roles in the organization. This included another executive-focused forum, two full-day sessions for managers and supervisors, and two half-day sessions for professional and administrative staff. These trainings had anywhere from 30 to over 100 attendees.

Talent development award

The Learning and Development Days, known on campus as Executive Forum, Leadership Advance and Staff Development Program, were very effective. Of the more than 500 staff members that attended the events, over 90% reported that the trainings provided them with tools and knowledge they could apply on the job, and over 50% reported that they would use the information and tools immediately.

The Learning and Development Days used to develop change management competencies were so successful that UC San Diego won an award for it from the Association of Talent Development. While the survey numbers listed above speak to the effectiveness of the initiative, what won UC San Diego the award was the Staff Education and Development team’s ability to create such high-impact results on such a large scale. The Learning and Development Days touched every part of campus and every level of staff. This organizational learning approach on change management was unprecedented in higher education.

Change management training and coaching

The Staff Education and Development team capitalized on the success of the Learning and Development Days by circulating a brochure that detailed their change management services and training options. As staff members reached the point where they needed change management consulting, training or coaching, they knew what resources were available and were able to receive them in a timely fashion. This push for awareness and self-selection empowered staff and helped align the timing of training and coaching to when it was most effective.

The Staff Education and Development team regularly offered the following Prosci trainings to teams and individuals:

  • Change Management Practitioner Program
  • Change Management Sponsor Briefing
  • Leading Your Team Through Change
  • Taking Charge of Change
  • Delivering Project Results Workshop

The team also provided Prosci assessments, worksheets and templates to help teams assess and plan their change management work. They regularly offered change management consulting and coaching services to those who needed it.

Hosted change management webinars

To augment learning outside of the role-based trainings, the team hosted Prosci webinar sessions where they would bring together groups of 25-30 people and watch a live or recorded webinar from Prosci on a pressing change management topic. After each webinar, the team would then facilitate a discussion on the topic. This was particularly useful when coaching staff members about how to manage resistance, engage change sponsors, and take on other key change management responsibilities.

All 500+ Learning and Development Days attendees were also invited to a closed LinkedIn Group to foster conversation and support for change management work happening within the organization. This gave attendees a forum to discuss how they were implementing change management on their initiatives as well as a place to learn more and ask for input and advice.

These reinforcement activities allowed change management to grow into a daily habit throughout the campus. By the time teams were ready to start implementing change management on the changes required by the Chancellor’s Strategic Plan, they knew how to gain the knowledge and tools to be successful.


UC San Diego-Results


With encouragement from the Chancellor and with additional learning through the Learning and Development Days, campus executives and senior leaders quickly caught the vision for change management and integrated it into their team’s daily work and expectations. It wasn’t long before leaders saw the momentum of change management spread from individual projects to other University of California campuses and eventually to higher education organizations around the U.S.

Integration into daily work

Today, executives are expected to drive and lead change in their organizations, managers are expected to guide their employees through change, and project managers are expected to apply good change management practices to their projects. As a result, change management has become a regular part of the campus conversation, with executives and project teams asking people-related questions and including change management metrics and objectives in their plans.

Managers in particular have benefited from the implementation of change management into their daily work. Positive feedback from managers has indicated that they now feel like they have a plan to use when implementing change with their employees and a place to go if they are struggling with implementing a required change.

First project successes

The Staff Education and Development team trained 16 staff as change management practitioners, and projects began to include change management. One of the first projects to successfully apply the Prosci Methodology after the Learning and Development Days was an Information Technologies (IT) unification project.

Using the Prosci ADKAR Model as a framework, the IT unification change manager surveyed impacted employees and found that Awareness of why the change was needed was low, as was the Desire to participate in the change. After the change management team addressed these barrier points through communication, sponsorship and coaching, a second round of surveys showed that Awareness and Desire to participate in the change were higher, and that employees were asking the right questions to start building the remaining elements of the ADKAR Model: Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

Starting a national community for change management in higher education

While other campuses in the University of California system had used parts of a change management methodology, UC San Diego was the first one to choose a single change management methodology and put a formal initiative behind it. The success that UC San Diego experienced was a catalyst in enabling other campuses to similarly own and embed a change management methodology.

Part of this movement to other campuses sparked a national community for leaders of change management in higher education. The Network for Change and Continuous Innovation (NCCI) officially sanctioned the Change Management in Higher Education group as a community of practice, and established UC San Diego as a founding member. Today this group meets every month with its 50+ university members to address pressing change management topics and challenges.

Looking to the Future

The enterprise change management journey for UC San Diego is still young; however, the campus has already seen meaningful successes in embedding the language of change management throughout its departments. The first projects to utilize change management practices are still in their early stages. As more projects launch with an integrated change management plan, we can expect to see more success stories of change management’s transformative power from the campus, the University of California system, and the field of higher education.

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