Melinda Roy

Once we understand how decision-making and accountability looks in each of the SEM Frameworks, we can begin to see where challenges arise. The previous posts look at why SEM Frameworks matter, and what the four common frameworks are.

Like any creative project built off a standard plan, making modifications can introduce complications. Soapbox car makers improve their modification skills the more cars they make, but sometimes the impacts to a medication can’t be fully understood until they’ve been implemented. Knowing how much change a framework can handle or whether a new framework is needed to execute the plan, comes with skill, evaluation, and attention. When SEM becomes a struggle beyond a single process, or when multiple targets seem unachievable, the framework may no longer be able to bear the weight the institution requires of SEM. There are common causes that crack each Framework, and I suggest the repair may require restructuring to a more formal framework.

All SEM Frameworks are only as strong as their teams are committed to communication and collaboration.

A more structured framework is defined and challenged by the requirement to have SEM activities go through a formal process for proposal, approval, and implementation.

In a relatively loose framework, such as the Committee, communication and trust can breakdown when there are major shifts in the institutional context, leadership, and community. Government mandates may change, educational priorities shift when the economic or industry landscape shifts suddenly (especially in a small, rural community), and the historical patterns and assumptions no longer hold true. Committee members are distracted, burnt out, or overwhelmed with managing their own units, and collaborative SEM planning between them falls apart. Without timely and relevant data, collaborative planning falters, the lack of foresight not allowing for anything but reactive decision-making. With little support or time to participate in SEM, the repair may be to assign a Coordinator to assess the current state, advocate on behalf of the committee members, re-establish communication pathways with leadership and between units, and suggest how SEM can be the remedy for the overwhelm. This moves the Committee framework into a Coordinator framework.

A Coordinator framework has some of the same challenges. Contextual changes may be so significant the repair requires a SEM driver with the authority to make process, assessment, and pit crew (committee) membership changes. When the Coordinator cannot create consensus between the pit crew and does not have the influence to encourage leadership to make necessary change, the SEM car may come to a full stop. Committee members may disengage, change roles frequently, or try to manage their own challenges without consideration for the impact to other members. Competing priorities, a lack of a unified vision and ill-defined goals are indicative of Coordinator and Committee framework breakdowns.

Repair may come in the form of further formalizing of the SEM Framework, where either the driver, pit crew, or sponsors can identify specific service and process dysfunctions, and the institution is ready to actively sponsor and dedicate funds to building a new SEM car. A patch job or realignment will no longer keep SEM moving forward, and so a senior administrator is given authority to assess and prioritize SEM activities.

If a Coordinator does not adequately drive the SEM car, does not bring the car into the pit for the scheduled maintenance, or doesn’t consult with the specialists and tries to fix the problems themselves, the repair may be to return to a relay-race format of driving, under a Committee framework.

There is no moving forwards or backwards, no hierarchy, to the SEM frameworks. The remedy, and move to less or more structured, depends on the institutional context.

The Matrix framework breaks down when individual pit crew members, the Matrix driver, or their sponsor withdraw support or diverge from the agreed upon SEM plan. When any member of the team makes a change without considering the implications to the other, trust and therefore communication breaks down.  This amounts to effectively jumping into the track to try “correct” the car trajectory, rather than consult with the team and give direction through the headset or calling the driver into the pit for a repair.

The repair here may come from the sponsor or upper leadership level. Leadership is not afraid to make structural change, and they invite feedback from the driver, pit crew members, specialists, track staff, judges and fans about what isn’t working and what they want to see. This begins the development of a Division framework. Change management is key to implementing any structural change, including moving to a Division framework.

The Division framework is successful when decision-making and authority assignment is transparent, communication is frequent, and respect is developed between unit staff, leadership, and governing bodies. In moving to the Division framework, established feedback loops and avenues for proposal input re-engage the community in SEM.  All participants, students, academics, administration, and staff are involved in identifying gaps, redundant or inefficient processes, and are invited to see themselves as part of the SEM team. The driver is simply the most visible member, but someone on the sidelines can see a pothole missed by the driver, or spot a wobbly tire before the car passes the pit crew.

When the vision of the whole race is lost, or when the success of one leg is used to predict the success of the whole race, even the Division framework breaks down. Units begin to protect themselves against being scapegoated for the failure of the Division and silo themselves from each other. Or the context of the institution changes so rapidly, through unexpected changes in leadership, government policy (such as capping international enrolments), funding amounts, pandemics, damaged reputations, that the Division framework simply shakes apart.  In these situations, the repair can come organically through individuals who choose to rebuild and reconnect despite the rubble. They may form an implicit committee, or in institutions with informal enrolment management may decide it’s time to implement a formal Strategic Enrolment Management plan. Either way, they are on their way to repair.

In the next post, we’ll look at indicators of a resiliency in each of the frameworks.

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Check out our whole series on Beyond the Strategic Enrolment Plan:

  1. An Introduction to SEM Frameworks & Why They Matter
  2. Uniting Academics and Administration in SEM Frameworks
  3. Framework Challenges & Knowing when to Restructure
  4. Indicators of a Resilient Framework
  5. Examples of Target Setting Processes in the Frameworks