On airport bookshelves across North America, the "turnaround" is quickly becoming the next hot topic in popular business and management reading. A turnaround is what happens when, thanks to insightful leadership and organizational acumen, an organization's downward trajectory is reversed -- in spite of all countervailing odds.
A recent addition to the genre is titled Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence, and it's written for educational leaders by educational leaders. Overall, the book is a collection of essays that provide helpful guidance for those in the midst of organizational turmoil and/or turnaround.
The first chapter is particularly insightful. In "Defining Stressed Institutions and Leading Them Effectively," the authors briefly describe the major contributing factors in the current climate of institutional stability (such as "churning presidents," the changing demands of students, and the commodification of higher education in general). The chapter then offers a checklist of 20 "At-Risk Indicators," which includes concrete recommendations. Some of the checklist topics:
- Alarming rates of tuition dependency and discounting.
- Dangerously high debt payments, deferred maintenance, and year-end short-term financing for operating expenses.
- Optimal age and qualification of faculty.
- Length of administrative tenure.
- Benchmarks for spending on technology and online degree programs.
This list of indicators is particularly instructive for trustees looking for the right questions to ask as they investigate the relative health and strength of their institutions.
The chapter concludes with 10 new skills for leaders and trustees of stressed institutions. These range widely from the roles of executive teams to staying in front of students' concerns.