Monthly Archives: July 2013

Building organizational talent fast

Over the last week, I’ve had the privilege to work with participants in our Luoma Leadership Academy and help them form action learning teams. In their teams, participants work together to solve real problems for our colleges, universities, and system.

action learningAccording to author Michael Marquardt, “Action learning is a powerful problem-solving tool that has the capacity to simultaneously build successful leaders, teams, and organizations.” After implementing action learning over the last 7 years, I am convinced that it has great value in building talent fast, because people learn best by doing and then reflecting on what they’ve learned.

Action learning can be used by any leader who wants to develop people and solve complex organizational problems. It differs from typical task forces and work groups in two important ways: teams are encouraged to practice reflective inquiry and focus on continuous learning. They ask questions first, rather than quickly identifying solutions, in order to:

  • Gain a common understanding of the problem
  • Identify potential strategies
  • Achieve innovative and breakthrough solutions

During action learning, leaders are stretched in multiple ways. They are often tasked with projects that are outside their area of expertise. They must learn how to work effectively together and bridge differences in institution type, location, background, position and personality preferences. Action learning coaches are designated for each team to facilitate the group’s learning and reinforce the practice of reflective inquiry.

As they work throughout the year, teams are not only challenged in new content areas, but in important leadership competencies, such as self-awareness, managing emotions, self-motivation, and empathy. Developing these competencies is critical for leaders in our system and beneficial as we work toward greater collaboration across our institutions.

Joan Bloementhal, Chief Academic Officer for Pine Technical College, noted: “The action team seemed to identify and utilize the strengths of the various team members; when we met with the team, I observed strong collaboration and commitment to the issue.”

In referring to an Instructional Cost Management Study project, Jeffery Thomas of Northland College, remarked, “our project assisted in the development of tools that other MnSCU institutions can use.”

No matter what the project, applying the practice of action learning can help you both solve complex organizational problems and build talent fast.

Anita Rios


Leading with a development mindset

As I’m writing this, I’m getting ready to spend a morning conducting interviews for a vacant position in our office.  One of the things that our team will want to know is how the candidates approach professional development – for themselves and for the people that report to them.

I’ll be asking whether the candidates do any of the following:

  • Participate in activities sponsored by professional organizations in the field – conferences, interest groups, or even the periodic free webinars that are so common these days
  • Identify and follow up on professional development goals each year to be sure they maintain technical and leadership skills
  • Demonstrate interest in learning by reading books, attending development events, etc.
  • Show commitment to support the same kind of behaviors in their staff

As we’ve been considering the leadership competency of “builds organizational talent,” I have been reminded of how important this is within our higher education culture.  Leaders who pays attention to development, both for themselves and for their staff, are more qualified in the short term and more likely to maintain those skills over the long run.

If you were in a job interview, how would you show your commitment to professional development?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Hiring the best talent

people assetIn building organizational talent, one of the most important jobs we have as leaders is to hire the right people. Here is helpful hiring advice from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric:

“Before you even think about assessing people for a job, they have to pass through three screens. The first test is for integrity. People with integrity tell the truth, and they keep their word. The second test is for intelligence. The candidate has a strong dose of intellectual curiosity, with a breadth of knowledge to work with or lead other smart people in today’s complex world. The third ticket to the game is maturity—the ability to handle stress and setbacks, and enjoy success with equal parts of joy and humility.

I then apply the “4E (And 1P) Framework” for hiring that I’ve found consistently effective, year after year, across businesses and borders. The first E is positive energy. It means the ability to go go go—to thrive on action and relish change. The second E is the ability to energize others, and inspire them to take on the impossible. The third is edge, the courage to make tough yes-or-no decisions. The fourth E is execute—the ability to get the job done. Then I look for that final P, passion—a heartfelt, deep and authentic excitement about work.”

–Jack Welch

What do you think about Jack’s three screens and framework for hiring? What have you done in the past that has resulted in a successful hire? Please share your comments below.

Anita Rios

Taking time to learn

prof devA very important, and often neglected, activity for us as leaders is to pay attention to our own professional development.  I was reminded of this fact last week when I had the opportunity to attend the Luoma Leadership Academy.

One of the highlights of the week was a visit by Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.  He talked about the recently released draft report on Charting the Future of MnSCU.  We were challenged to read the report and provide thoughtful feedback. In addition, he challenged us to think carefully about our development goals. As a leader, the Chancellor said that he is intentional about his own continued learning.  I know from discussions with our Vice President of Human Resources that he also holds his direct reports accountable for their ongoing development.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day necessities of our jobs. My time at Luoma reminded me that it is equally important to focus on broader issues that influence my ability to contribute as a leader in our system. Every participant left with a development plan for the year. This focused effort will help us all to be stronger leaders.

One of my development goals for this summer is to read the Charting the Future report and inform myself about the issues it discusses. Spending an hour or two on this activity will help me create training that focuses on important issues for our future.

How could you spend a few hours in the next month to support your professional development?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Summer reading and building talent?

summer readingYes, it is still blistering hot here in Minnesota and finding a shaded spot for some summer reading is compelling! However, the work of leaders building talent never stops, even your own professional development. You are a key piece of your organization’s talent, yet finding time for building your own talent can be a challenge. I have some good news for you. A recent podcast by Professor James Badaracco, a Harvard Business School professor, suggests that you can develop your leadership talent while enjoying that summer reading in the shade.

Badaracco encourages leaders to embrace reading fiction, fiction that engages you, to become a better leader. Classic novels, short stories and contemporary literature all offer compelling stories that are actually “case studies” of people making decisions, working with other people, solving problems, managing conflict, building relationships, and communicating with groups large and small. All aspects of leadership. A novel I read a decade ago, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, showed me the role perceptions play when working with people. I have developed a better understanding that each person on my team will have a different perception of my behavior, and thus of my intent.

In his podcast, Badaracco lists the following questions to ask yourself while you are reading:

  • Did they get the decisions right? 
  • Did they think about them in the right way?
  • Would you have handled them differently?
  • Why did they do what they did?

·        Overall, think about the characters as people making decisions and taking action in an organization and what can I learn from them.

Grabbing a new novel or a classic piece of literature, a cool drink and your beach towel can give you a respite from the heat and some powerful professional development on a hot summer day.

Please share with us and our followers what you have read lately and what lessons you learned.

Todd Thorsgaard

Do you have two minutes?

heat_20120607142627_640_480It is over 90 degrees and humid in Minnesota this week. When you step outside it is important to stay focused on your goal and minimize wasted effort, otherwise the oppressive heat can overwhelm you. The same thing can happen when coaching the poor performance of a member of your team.  You feel the heat of the upcoming interaction and avoid taking action or you get overwhelmed and distracted while trying to coach. Either way, you end up drained and the oppressive issue is still hovering “outside” waiting for you.

When you know you have to face the heat and take action I have found that a simple process that helps leaders stay focused and dive in. It’s called the Two Minute Challenge based on The Practical Coach training program. There are only five steps:

  1. State what you’ve observed – what happened.
  2. Wait for their response.
  3. Remind them of the desired behavior, expected performance or goal.
  4. Ask for their specific solutions.
  5. Agree on a solution.

No more, no less! The magic of having a short “script” keeps the coaching focused on the behavior and a solution. It is a roadmap that can provide confidence to start the conversation and the clarity needed to stay on track during the heat of the interaction.

A short time ago I received a call from a leader who told me that he had been dreading meeting with one of his team members. There was a performance issue and he was worried about how the person would react when he addressed it. After learning The Two Minute Challenge he decided to jot down the five steps on his note pad and have the meeting the next day. He stuck to his plan, followed the steps and the meeting did not spiral out of control. It wasn’t fun, but they stayed on track and came up with a realistic plan for improvement. He shared that the meeting ended up being less stressful than the anxiety he experienced worrying about it. He was also confident that the team member understood the importance of the issue and his responsibility for taking action. The five clear steps kept him from getting distracted and able to keep the focus on the employee’s behavior and accountability for improvement.

When you are facing the heat of needing to coach a poor performer take a cool two minute break, review the five steps and then dive in!

Todd Thorsgaard

One girl among many

MalalaIf I ever wondered about why I work in education, Friday’s speech by Malala Yousafzai was an inspirational reminder. As you probably remember, she is the young woman who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out about the right of education for girls. She has recovered, and on her 16th birthday she gave a powerful speech before the United Nations, arguing for the right of every child to live in peace, free of poverty and illiteracy.

Here are some of my favorite quotes.

So here I stand, one girl among many, to speak up for the right of education for every child… even the sons and daughters of the Taliban.

We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns… Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.

When we go to work in the morning, surrounded by teachers, students, books, and pens, let’s remember what a gift we are being given. We have a chance to make a difference in ways that many people can only dream about. Or like Malala Yousafzai, they risk everything to claim rights that we in higher education often take for granted.

Malala, I wish you well in your new life. I can’t wait to see what you, and your young brothers and sisters at the United Nations event, will bring to the world in the years to come. Thanks for reminding me about the importance of education and its potential to change the world.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Too much feedback?

talk_too_muchI have worked with leaders for over 20 years and one constant I have heard over that time has been “my people don’t like getting feedback.” We all are very aware of how uncomfortable we feel when we need to tell someone that something they are doing is not working well. And we worry about embarrassing people by lavishing praise on them. Yet, as a leader, our feedback to our people is one of the most important things we can give them to help them succeed. Time and time again it has been proven that people need feedback, both internal self-feedback and external feedback from their leader. In fact, there are numerous books and long training programs devoted to providing feedback.

Today I just want to share a quick tip that I have used to help leaders, and myself, overcome reluctance to provide feedback in two ways. First, it focuses on the value of the feedback to the other person. Second, it makes it easier to just dive in and give timely feedback.

For positive feedback include:

  1. What – the person said or did. A short clear statement of the behavior, statement, project, task, activity or performance level. Stay focused on the behaviors.
  2. Why – why was the behavior, statement, project, task, activity or performance level valuable or significant to you, to the team, to a student, to the school, to the organization.

For corrective or negative feedback simply add one step:

  1. What – the person said or did. A short clear statement of the behavior, statement, project, task, activity or performance level. Stay focused on what did or did not happen, the behaviors.
  2. Why – what negative consequence did the behavior, statement, project, task, activity or performance level have on you, the team,  a student, the school, or the organization.
  3. Suggested alternative – a brief recommended option and why it would have a different impact or outcome.
    • Providing an option allows your team member to stay accountable for their own behavior by making a choice
    • Briefly describing the different impact helps your team member stay focused on the outcome and not take the feedback as personal

That is all! Keeping feedback concise  and relevant lets your people know how they are making a difference.

Todd Thorsgaard

Leader as manager

Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and sometimes is actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.
— John Kotter

This month we’ve been focusing on building organizational talent. Last month’s topic was customer service. I’d like to step back for a minute and think about why these activities are important to leadership. Aren’t they much more about tactical management?

Our teamKotter is preparing to facilitate an executive leadership development program, so I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at literature on leadership. One of the articles that I find very helpful is John Kotter’s What Leaders Really Do, (first published in Harvard Business Review and then in a book of the same name).

Kotter’s model helps explain why one of MnSCU’s four leadership competency domains focuses on leader as manager. He highlights the difference between leadership and management, and makes the case that both are needed:

  • Management is about coping with complexity. Managers bring order and consistency to key activities such as student enrollment or quality of the academic experience.
  • Leadership is about coping with change. Leaders look to the future and make sense of new educational technologies, changing student demographics, and new sources of competition.

Kotter argues that one of the best ways to develop strong leaders who are also strong managers is through on-the-job experience. This is vital for our new staff members, and continues to be important throughout their careers. As we help our people develop as leaders, it is essential to provide experiences that allow them to cope with both complexity and change.

As we address the challenges identified in the recent draft report on Charting the Future of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the MnSCU system will need to develop strong managers, strong leaders, and most importantly, people who can do both.  What kind of learning opportunities do you seek for yourself? What opportunities do you provide for the people you lead?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Can we talk?

two week noticeDo any of these statements from a direct report strike fear into your heart?

  • I quit.
  • I accepted another opportunity.
  • I’m leaving for a new job.
  • Can we talk?

When they come from a solid performer, it can turn your work world upside down. Several years ago, I heard these words from a valued employee. He left for another opportunity which would position him for greater growth.  I was happy to support his career growth and movement; at the same time, I was terrified at the prospect of recruiting a replacement for someone who had become so beloved in our organization. It took a full year to get back up to speed from that transition.

While not all employee turnover is preventable,  managers can develop effective strategies to increase retention. According to engagement expert Beverly Kaye, keeping good people is something that all leaders can get good at. In her book, Love ‘em or Lose ‘em, Kaye outlines 26 practical engagement strategies that leaders can use. My favorite and one that I use frequently is the Stay Interview. She makes the point that most leaders do a good job with exit interviews, but don’t put enough effort into discussions that uncover what motivates an individual employee and makes them stay.

Here are a few Stay Interview questions that Kaye shares in her book:

  • What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
  • What makes you hit the snooze button?
  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most?
  • What would be the one thing that, if it changed in your current role, would make you consider moving on?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about this department?
  • If you had to go back to a position in your past and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?

Kaye encourages leaders to use these questions as a catalyst for their thinking. I encourage you to start using these questions or others that you create with your solid performers and your best talent. Ask them….then listen carefully and craft your retention strategies to each individual.

What questions would you add to the Stay Interview? What have you done to keep good people?

Anita Rios