Monthly Archives: November 2014

Saying thanks

thanksgiving free to useThanksgiving is a good time to think about the things we are thankful for in our professional lives, as well as at home. When I look back on almost three years with the MnSCU system I’m grateful for engaging and challenging work and the chance to partner with a wonderful group of colleagues every day.

For this week’s HR newsletter, our associate vice chancellor invited the team to submit thank-you notes to our HR colleagues. Many individuals took the chance to thank each other for specific and tangible contributions over the past year.  It also provided a too-rare opportunity for teams to thank other teams for their collaboration and support.

Who are the people that you are thankful for?  How can you express your gratitude? How can you create opportunities for your team members to thank each other?

Dee Anne Bonebright


What’s your return on investment?

ROIChange efforts can involve great investment of both time and money. When I’ve talked to Board members and business leaders about some of our system’s efforts to develop leaders, I have often been asked the question: What is your return on investment? Most times, with various pilot efforts, I’ve been able to point to quantifiable results, such as a succession planning effort that resulted in 80% of participants promoting to executive roles. Sometimes a key measure is sufficient for demonstrating the value of an effort.

However, other times it makes sense to conduct a complete return on investment (ROI) calculation for a cost-intensive change effort or new program. ROI calculation answers the question: Do the monetary benefits exceed the cost? 

The ROI calculation is relatively simple and looks like this:

ROI = Program Benefits – Program Costs /Program Costs x 100

When calculating monetary returns on financial investments, ROI can be quite simple. Calculating intangible benefits and returns on the amount of time you invest in a project, or time savings, can be a little trickier.

Several years ago, when we created a home-built solution for training registration, it made sense to quantify ROI, given the amount of time savings that resulted from the effort.

The cost of implementing the new training registration system was $19,000. The time savings translated into a salary savings of $22,126 in just four months of usage.   Here’s what the ROI calculation looked like four months after the system was implemented:

ROI =  $22,126 (salary savings)-$19,000 (program costs)/19,000 = .16 x 100 = 16%

The following year, costs went down to an annual $2500 maintenance fee and usage skyrocketed, bringing our ROI to well over 200% in time savings. The new system and the change effort demonstrated an exceptional return on investment. This year we are working to roll out a comprehensive learning management system that will replace that home-built training registration system. I’m looking forward to asking the question once more: What’s our return on investment?

Anita Rios





Did it work?

“Did it work?” looks like a simple question to answer but when dealing with people and change there are no easy answers. In fact, there is usually more than one answer, and it takes a lot of work to unearth them!  digging-a-hole

Evaluating the overall results of your change effort starts with digging deep to identify and document what each stakeholder group finds important and learn their definition of success. For those of us in higher education success can be defined as increased enrollment, student learning, decreased student debt, program sustainability, fiscal viability, community engagement, graduation rate, student completion, faculty engagement, student engagement, and on and on.

Recently I discovered the work of an international group of experts in the field of evaluation. They can help you focus your evaluation and determine what is most important to all of your stakeholders. Managing the evaluation process provides a set of resources and tools you can use to involve and engage your stakeholders during your evaluation planning, implementation and communication. Stakeholder engagement helps you:

  • provide credible and useful evaluation information
  • collect high quality data
  • understand and interpret evaluation data
  • build knowledge about the value of evaluation
  • facilitate the use and dissemination of your results

You can find more information on their website, Better Evaluation.

Engaging your stakeholders in your evaluation process clarifies what will count as success and helps you answer each stakeholder when they ask you, “did it work?”

Todd Thorsgaard


Feedback is a gift

feedback giftYesterday, I was reviewing survey feedback about staffing services delivery for our colleges and universities. Part of the survey focused on some process changes that had been implemented last year. The question asked key stakeholders to provide feedback about their:

  1. level of understanding of the new process steps
  2. degree of satisfaction with the new process

The survey also assessed what improvements had resulted from the process change, such as reduced turnaround time. While digging into the quantitative data and the qualitative feedback stakeholders gave, it reminded me of a simple truism: feedback is a gift.

People who responded to the survey with specific examples of what was working well and what was not, gave us a gift of their time, experience, and perspective. Often when we review feedback that is not particularly positive, it is easy to deflect it, explain it away, or become offended. The challenge is to remain open and embrace feedback as a way to improve any change effort.

Specific feedback, whether gathered through surveys, focus groups, or targeted one-on-one interviews, can help us not only better evaluate the change efforts we implement, but can give us the tools we need to craft future improvements. I’m looking forward to using what we’ve learned from the survey feedback to improve service delivery.

Is there a change effort that you are working on that would benefit from feedback?

Anita Rios

Do we really mean it?

I got zapped a few weeks ago! I was facilitating a day long program and I had assurances that my participants could park in the adjoining lot and we would not be tagged. Look what we found on our cars at the end of the day. tickets2Oops, I guess the change in ticketing policy wasn’t backed up by a change in procedure for the parking attendant that was on duty that day. We all did what we thought we were supposed to do but we paid a price, literally!

A powerful way for leaders to evaluate whether a change effort has actually led to successful change is to examine your organizational policies and procedures. Have they been changed to aligned with the new normal? Do they reflect your new values and expected behaviors and reinforce desired performance?  Or do they make it hard for your people to “do the right thing?”

The nuts and bolts of daily activity are guided by the formal infrastructure you create. Your policies, procedures, handbooks, training programs, recognition programs and other guidelines are concrete examples of your culture. While culture can be hard to measure, policies are “black and white” and provide a clear picture of success or failure.

Don’t ticket your people for doing the right thing! Tickets1

Todd Thorsgaard



Making change memorable

up graphHow do you know your change is sticking?

Without some sort of evaluation strategy, you don’t.  Of course, you can tell a lot by just paying attention. Are people consistently doing things the new way? Are they using the new language, procedures, and processes?  Are there fewer complaints about the change?  In short, is the change becoming routine?

By combining observation with formal evaluation methods such as surveys, focus groups, and outcomes measurement, you can generate qualitative and quantitative data to assess the change.  The next step is to tell the story in a compelling way.

made to stickIn their book Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath identified six strategies that create memorable ideas. These strategies can be useful in helping leaders talk about a change.

  1. Make it simple, and make it profound.  What is the core of your message?  The authors say that it must be short, but it should be a proverb, not a sound bite.
  2. Make it unexpected.  What happened that can engage your audience’s interest and curiosity?
  3. Make it concrete.  Don’t talk about the change in abstract terms, paint a specific picture that people will remember.
  4. Make it credible.  Help readers assess the change for themselves.  Asking “How long did you spend pulling reports this week compared to a year ago?” is more effective than saying “We reduced the average report-generation time by 50%.”
  5. Tap into people’s emotions.  People are wired to care about ideas that tap into their feelings. Saying “last night one of our students spent the night sleeping in his car before final exams” is more compelling than saying “the number of students below the poverty level rose by 30% in the past 5 years.”
  6. Tell stories.  What happened in the change that made a difference?  How can people take ownership and see themselves in the change?

Think back to some powerful change messages you’ve heard.  What did the leaders do to make it memorable?

Dee Anne Bonebright


The language of change

clip art 2Back when I was an undergraduate, I worked in a communications office. We used “clip art” to illustrate our publications.  The office purchased books with pictures, alphabets, graphics, etc.  and we would use an exacto knife to clip out the desired item and attach it to the hard copy document with rubber cement. Then, assuming you measured everything correctly, it was ready to go to the copier.

I was talking to someone recently about the fact that most people have no idea that “clip art” once involved actual clipping.  To be truthful, I’d pretty  much forgotten that myself. Once people started using personal computers, desktop publishing changed the industry dramatically. As leaders, we want our change efforts to be like that.

One way to assess your change efforts is to pay attention to the language people are using.  Are they describing things using the new words?  Are old words taking on new meaning?  It’s easier to notice when you’ve changed specific things, such as a department name. You know you’re on the right road when people automatically use the new name when they answer the phone. Other things can be more subtle, such as the way people describe processes and procedures.

As a leader, you need to model the new behavior.  Be clear and thoughtful about how you describe the change. Consider creating talking points for your staff.  It might even be useful to create scripts for people to use when answering key questions.  Being consistent about new language can send a strong message to other stakeholders.

What is the “clip art” of your change effort, and how is the new way better? What language can you use to help yourself and others describe the change?

–Dee Anne Bonebright






Are people using the new language?

Crafting an effective “results” message – e.g. big data presented graphically

What did we do?

35mm-filmMy daughter is taking a photography class at her high school and they are using pin-hole cameras and 35 mm film cameras. She and her friends keep looking at the back of their cameras expecting to see the results of their shots immediately and there is nothing there! During our dinner conversations I have been sharing my memories of waiting for your pictures to be developed after you finished the entire roll of film. The excitement of picking them up, looking at each picture, loving some of them, being depressed at how bad some turned out, and then trying to remember what you did on each shot so the next roll would have all great pictures.

I think that leading change is a lot like using a 35 mm camera. We don’t get to evaluate the overall results until the end of the entire effort but the many small actions taken during the change are what determine success or failure. And it is hard to remember what they were and, more importantly, what you learned that can help you during your next change.

pocket notebookMy father taught me to carry a small notebook, or a “lessons learned log,” when we used to shoot with film. I would record the f-stop, shutter speed and other details for each shot and then refer to it when the entire roll of film was developed – often weeks or months later.

Taking time during your change efforts to document the “lessons” you are learning will both help you evaluate the results and remember what to do and what not to do in future change efforts.

I hope you capture some great shots!

Todd Thorsgaard

Pause and reflect…

reflection“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley

Building in time to pause and reflect is an essential part of evaluating results of any change effort. While a large change effort may require creating multiple feedback loops to assess its impact and establishing key metrics to assess return on investment, simpler efforts or projects can benefit from just some time set aside for reflection. Evaluating results can sometimes be as easy as asking yourself and your team:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go so well?
  3. What can be improved?

I’ve found that these three questions keep me focused on how well we are accomplishing our goals and any improvements that should be made to sustain a change effort.  It also ensures that we don’t just continue blindly on our way, but that we achieve something useful.

What have you done recently to pause and reflect?

Anita Rios


The wheels on the bus go round and round….

“We think too linear…” linear-thinkingA senior leader I respect made this comment during a session on leading change that I was facilitating a few weeks ago. It led to a lively discussion on cultural thinking styles, western vs. eastern models, project management, philosophy, and ultimately an acknowledgement that change never endbus wheelss. The wheels of change keep going round and round!  We don’t get to stop and stand still but need to assess where we are, what our results look like and what we need to do to continue moving forward – or get run over!

Keller and Price highlight the on-going and never-ending nature of change in their book, Beyond Performance. Their 5th frame of successful change is Advance. It focuses on how to keep moving forward by building an infrastructure of continuous improvement that  sustains the change and supports the actions required to successfully meet the new challenges around the next corner.

By developing and putting in place the following four elements you can “hard-wire” your ability to successfully deal with changes that never stop:

  1. Systems for sharing knowledge and best practices – make it easy to share improvements and encourage collaboration between distinct units.
  2. Processes to identify and capture opportunities for improvement –  enable anyone at anytime to take action to solve a problem or make an improvement. Or as a speaker at a conference I attended years ago said, “Don’t ever let a good crisis go to waste.”
  3. Methods that facilitate continuous learning – adopt a learning process that encourages review and reflection of actions and results.
  4. Dedicated expertise – identify, support and hold accountable a core team of skilled individuals responsible for directing and coordinating change and improvement.

Building an infrastructure of continuous improvement around the never-ending wheels of change will help keep your bus on the road to success.

Todd Thorsgaard