2018 Educause Top 10 Issues: #7 is IT Staffing & Organizational Models

The Top 10 Issues of 2018 for higher education technology were announced at October’s Educause conference in Philadelphia. Each year I share my thoughts on the issues, from #10 to #1. Feel free to review the most recent entry on #8 (TIE) Data Management & Governance here. And now, let’s move forward!


#8 Issue: IT Staffing & Organizational Models
Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention in the face of retirements, new sourcing models, growing external competition, rising salaries, and the demands of technology initiatives on both IT and non-IT staff.

This is a soapbox of mine. This will be a brief post (I think) and will likely wander all over the place but hopefully pack the following punch – I feel strongly that IT is only as strong as its weakest parts and that the only strengthener in a department’s cohesiveness is open communication and dialogue about a vision that, today, supports ebb, flow and a driven-to-transform strategy.

First things first – Organizational Models need to continuously morph to match a changing technology landscape. Staff need to understand that change and malleability are good things, not confusing and unstable. In order for this to occur, change and malleability and even failing need to be respected and modeled by leadership. This is a complete mind shift for most tech folks. Flies in the face of what’s been accepted forever. It’s gotta be taught. Relentlessly. So you can jot all that down.

For IT Staffing, I choose – like I often do – to oversimplify. Going to oversimplify IT Staffing with 3 P’s: People, Priorities and Pace.


Going to oversimplify IT Staffing with 3 P’s: People, Priorities and Pace


You have to have the right people. And these can be people that currently show every trait you need. But don’t forget the people that, while currently they might appear lacking, also exude an inner possibility of adaptiveness. Let’s keep in mind that in many higher ed institutions, employees have been there for-waitforit-ever. And many under an older regime of IT leadership that was very basement-located, utilities-oriented. So the leadership has been historically different, keep the lights on, hands-off, just do it who cares what ‘they’ say. It’s not fair to not invest some attention to folks displaying a buried adaptiveness to ‘the new IT’. Refocusing and training a sustainable workforce is always worth the investment, morally and business-y. (a) They clearly want to be there and (b) You don’t have to recruit them as they are, once again, standing beside you.

The squirrel is real. There is so much – technology, innovation, area for impact, new, shiny, all the realities – augmented, virtual… So many areas to catch the eye that it’s easy to veer off course and find yourself in the midst of hundreds of tiny fun tasks or projects, all of which can loosely tie to current strategy AND all of which take resources away from decidedly prioritized paths. Losing focus on priorities and empowering too much ‘other focus’ sets up employees to have the rug pulled out from under them when they accomplish in a ‘area of squirrel’, rock it, but then have that project fail and cease due to lack of prioritization. That impacts morale in the deepest way – your best and brightest start looking for more meaning outside your institution. Getting a taste of fun, fast and fulfilling only to be dragged back to reality? No.


Priorities: The squirrel is real.


Balance between exciting and comfortable needs to be reached. And that’s a top-down leadership play, You want your staff to have fun and feel fulfilled, but people need to be saved from themselves a bit. Keep in mind, a major benefit of working in higher education is the nurturing and manageable environment. We embrace the work-life balance and as soon as you overwork and overtire staff the ‘at this pace I could be making thrice what I make in corporate!’ rears its head. Retention and attraction in higher ed tie to pace and quality of life. People want to contribute to improvement and it appears that coming generations put even more value to mission over money, so never underestimate a manageable pace.

The Final P

In reality this leads to another ‘P’ – puppet-master. All of the above lives in a world of continuous flux – the people, the priorities, the pace – all begging to be visited and re-visited. A project you fought for two years ago finally comes to fruition? SCORE! Oh wait no. A strong super valid decision set two years ago is likely five years outdated. You must revisit before pulling the trigger. This takes finesse. This takes a strong leadership – and more Ps – pivotable, playerful, powerful. True transformation comes from a fluid team meticulously crafted, continuously engaged and relentlessly supported. The struggles are real as it pertains to IT Staffing and Organizational Models in today’s higher education environment, but with vision and a little puppet-mastery, totally doable.

Now I shall step off my soapbox.


Next issue: Higher Education Affordability, #6.

Link to all: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/1/top-10-it-issues-2018-the-remaking-of-higher-education