Katie Conboy: Leading Change at Simmons College

Case Solution

Mary L. Shapiro
North American Case Research Association (NACRA) ()

The Conboy case can be used to examine leadership and change the strategies and behaviors that are critical to establishing self-credibility, developing a vision for change, building stakeholder agreement, creating urgency, and building resistance that is overcome. It also provides a unique opportunity to discuss the options available to a leader whose change efforts may not be successful after investing significant social capital. While the case is academically, many of the challenges Conboy faces when she becomes the new chancellor of a small university in 2013 are noticeable in most industries. External challenges include a shrinking customer base, changing customer requirements, higher demands for a higher ROI on research investments, increased competition, and unsustainable price wars. Internally, most employees were largely unaware of these external challenges and were therefore frustrated and suspicious of one-sided decisions by executives to cut staff and change the “product.” The culture was shaped by the protection of grass and silos. After an initial “listening tour,” Conboy concludes that the general education curriculum, the courses that all students must take, must be radically changed. He also believes that the university couldn’t afford to wait to build and then start shifting into a “normal” 23-year schedule. When the number of registrations decreased, the change had to start with the next class to enter. The first obstacle to achieving this was obtaining formal approval from the faculty by voting in December 2014.

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