Change happens: Stories in hiring rural midlevel academic leaders in Washington State
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Modern community colleges are often recognized as the first academic institutions to respond to societal changes and needs. When the 2008 recession and recovery occurred, the impact on community colleges has been alarming for those working in the industry. Fiscal and enrollment crises, as well as changes in accreditation, have resulted in doing more with much less, and a state of near-constant change has become the new normal. A gap exists in the literature as to how community college human resources (HR) professionals are responding to the situation. This study was conducted using a qualitative methodology with a narrative inquiry approach to explore how rural community college HR professionals used change competencies when hiring midlevel leaders in Washington State. Using purposive sampling, three rural HR professionals were interviewed separately, and the findings were coded and analyzed for narrative elements and emerging themes. Findings indicated that HR professionals had cursory change management knowledge, though all participants tended to confuse or conflate change management skills with project management. The HR leaders, despite executive titles and proximity to the president, perceived a lack of influence in using HR as a lever to drive college strategy. Where participants had been exposed to professional organizational change management, a greater recognition of its value was exhibited in job descriptions and interview questions. The findings of this study, while not generalizable, could inform senior leaders strategic planning, hiring practices, and professional development of those currently in midlevel leader roles. Several areas for future research include the impact of institutional size on employee change competency and the degree to which state-wide, large-scale initiatives with change management elements such as Enterprise Resource Planing (ERP) adoptions affect local institutional change competency. With tight budgets, there is little room for failure of change initiatives in higher education. By focusing on hiring and training practices to create a cadre of change-competent midlevel leaders, implementation of planned change stands a much greater chance of success.