In any movement, someone has to be willing to be the “lone nut” – the one who takes the first, visible action, no matter how small. Malala Yousafzai, globally recognized as a brave and vocal advocate for education and who was attacked by the Taliban for her efforts, began by writing an anonymous blog. Over time, her message of equal rights gained momentum around the world. That first step can feel scary or trivial – like it isn’t enough. But if we continue to wait until our efforts feel big enough, we may never act.

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Higher education is much the same today as it has been for generations. Though more people attend college now than ever before, post-secondary institutions remain notoriously slow to change – despite the shifting needs and demands of students. Just as technology is shifting the status quo across industries, digital advancements are calling for greater transformation in the field of higher education.

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The last few decades have seen many waves of centralization and decentralization in functions from HR to product management to quality and compliance. A lot has been written on how to make the “right” decision. Far less advice exists on how to ensure success in each scenario. Success for a highly-decentralized function requires a different organizational design and leadership skill-set than a highly-centralized function.

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In our transformation practice, we have found Design Thinking concepts useful for creating and maintaining the momentum needed to motivate and sustain a major organizational change effort. Design Thinking is known by many in the product and services world as a problem-solving methodology used to ensure a greater customer focus, often resulting in creative solutions.

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At a conference I attended for HR, training and leadership development professionals, research analysts suggested that the most successful organizations leverage a matrixed operating model. This data was presented amid other key learnings for effective organizations and as soon as participants were given time for open discussion, my tablemates immediately zeroed in on the idea of a matrixed organizational structure. And needless to say, they didn’t have many positive things to say.

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