Implementing SEM at any institution is a political process. When institutions lean into, and explore this reality, they are quicker to garner support from employees and administrators for SEM, and are better prepared to implement a SEM framework. For leadership considering introducing SEM, identifying and understanding the micropolitics of your institution, “the use of formal and informal power by individuals and groups to achieve their goals in organizations” (Blase, 1991), can identify key communication channels, existing relationships, and quiet influencers, to take advantage of or recruit as SEM ambassadors and early adopters. SEM can be understood as intentionally identifying, using, or creating an ethical, transparent and collaborative macropolitic to institutional decision-making and progress. The two levels are intrinsically linked. At the introduction of SEM, the micropolitical climate will likely influence where and when resistance and adoption arise. But as SEM matures, its macropolitical should begin to change the micropolitical behaviour of the institutional community (Smeed, Kimber, Millwater, & Ehrich, 2009).
There are three key things to know about micropolitics at your institution before implementing SEM: where are values expressed differently, what coalitions exist already, what past successful initiatives had in common.
SEM must be rooted in and developed from institutional mission and values. While there will always be competing perspectives in an institution, SEM should enable collaboration and alignment between these perspectives under the shared values that all agree to. Most institutions will already have a mission statement and some understanding of institutional values before beginning SEM. But without institutional goals developed collaboratively, then broken down into its parts and assigned to each area, how each area interprets these values and applies them to their work can result in conflict and stall progress. Introducing SEM to an institution must involve an education and governance component. As many institutions already behave in strategic ways, and have areas of shared language, identifying the different expressions of values, can identify where to begin with SEM education and developing an institutional dictionary or index of terms.
Each area likely has its own language, definitions, and key data points they use to describe and promote their plans. By identifying definitions and data points that are used across departments and administrators in promotion of their own agendas, you can begin to identify where different meanings and purposes exist. One of the first steps of introducing SEM is determining and aligning the definitions and appropriate use of these cross-department terms. By doing this leadership can ensure when conflict arises on committees, or between decision-makers, and administrative levels, the breakdown is not due to miscommunication. With a shared language of values already in place, SEM planners can shift limit the length of a stalling disagreement, to identify agreements from which progress can continue. In a micropolitical or pre-SEM context, committees with a member who understands the language of many departments, and is empowered to act as mediator or translator, are likely more successful in achieving their goals than those without. It’s likely that this mediator has a broad perspective, has a deep understanding of institutional history, and so in turn has a good grasp of how the institution has implemented its mission and expressed its values in the past. Identifying this person, and recruiting them to participate in and promote SEM, can be crucial to the full adoption of SEM planning across the institution.
Taking Advantage of Existing Coalitions
All institutions likely have groups of people or teams that collaborate well. By knowing which departments speak similar languages, share similar values, and which individuals tend to work together frequently, you should be able to identify already existing coalitions. These coalitions are easiest to identify by seeing who promotes similar agendas, who participates in which type of discussion, and where friendships are obvious. SEM exposes and takes advantage of these coalitions, by formalizing them into committees, cross-departmental teams, or creating integrated offices, and making explicit their roles in the decision-making SEM framework. Coalition integration into SEM committees recognizes and rewards past successes and teamwork, encourages future engagement, and builds trust between leadership introducing SEM and administrators and managers already behaving as strategic teams. Rather than attempt to breakdown micropolitics to build an institutional micropolitics, inviting members of the existing coalitions to participate on SEM committees, means these teams will have members who already know how to work together, and can act as mediators on the committee when conflict arises.
Intentional integration of coalitions into SEM empowers those with less administrative power an avenue to participate in institutional planning. Leaders exist not only in recognized or assigned roles, but as influential, thoughtful people who build coalitions or who recognize, promote, and convince others to adopt the ideas of others. SEM planners and leadership who can identify these quiet influencers in the micropolitical scheme should recognize, invite, and empower them to participate on SEM committees, whether as moderators, chairs, voting or non-voting members. These influencers tend to be well respected, have connections with various others outside their areas, thinkers, recognize and are open to challenging their own biases. These are skills necessary to have on every team, taskforce, or initiative, and so these people should not be ignored simply because of their role or (lack of) formal title. This acknowledgement and invitation to participate in SEM also supports employee retention, advancement, and cross-departmental knowledge sharing.
Building Upon Past Successes
Past successful initiatives can indicate not only who works together well, where common shared values and language exist, but also what type of structures, supports, and formats, collaboration has been successful in, in the past. With this knowledge, the likely paths to future success, can be built upon. While people are a key part of SEM, so is information. What background information, research, or data prompted the development of the initiatives? What problems did the initiatives attempt to address? What timelines did they happen on? What kind of support did the initiatives require, in what timeframe was it provided, how did they access it or who provided it? How much ongoing support do those initiatives receive? How often are those initiatives evaluated, and by what measures? The themes in these answers can identify both where data sharing structures exist, and where they can be expanded; where data literacy needs to grow; identify shared metrics and key performance indicators across departments which can be adopted into SEM evaluation; and can indicate to leadership the resources necessary for successful SEM collaborations.
With this knowledge, leadership can implement a targeted internal education program to introduce fundamental principles on which SEM is built, and begin to shift the micropolitics by how they introduce the macropolitical structure of SEM, before ever mentioning the phrase “strategic enrolment management”.
Blase, J. (1991). The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict and cooperation. Newbury Park: Sage.
Ehrich, L. C., Kimber, M., & Ehrich, J. (2016). The micropolitics of management in universities: Challenges and Opportunities. In J. Ryan, Working (with/out) the system: Educational leadership, micropolitics and social justice (pp. 187-204). Information Age Publishing.
Smeed, J. L., Kimber, M., Millwater, J., & Ehrich, L. C. (2009). Power over, with, and through: Another look at micropolitics. Leading & Managing, 15(1), 26-41.
Windsor, D. (2012). The politics of strategy process. In F. W. Kellermans, & P. Mazzola, Handbook of research on strategy process (pp. 43-66). Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc.