Author Archives: Anita Rios

Reflecting on experience

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” –  attributed to John Dewey

What work experiences best prepared you for your current leadership role? Last week, my colleague Todd and I asked this question of leaders who are advising us on a new leadership development program.  The program is designed to build the pipeline for selected C-suite positions in Minnesota State colleges and universities.

The discussion that ensued was a fruitful one. It got me thinking about how important it is that as leaders we reflect on our own development so that we are more effective in our current roles. In my experience, challenging or new work experiences have offered up the most opportunities for growth. My first big managerial role right out of college taught me much about team building as I supervised a staff of 30 at a resort hotel in Montana. Another experience working with multiple institutions across the country and educational associations in Washington, D.C.  taught me about partnership, collaboration, and the importance of strategic communication.

In thinking about your work experiences, here are a few questions for you to ponder:

  • What work experience was the most challenging for you? What did you learn from it?
  • What work experience stretched you most in your career?
  • How might you challenge yourself to learn and grow in your current role?
  • Are there assignments or projects you can take on that will require you to learn new skills or information?
  • How might you develop stretch assignments for your team members that will help them grow?

Anita Rios

 

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Great hires

One of the best ways to build organizational talent is to hire the right people. As Steve Jobs used to say to leaders, “Hiring the best is your most important task.” Great hires add energy and new ideas to your team and have the potential to increase your team’s productivity and effectiveness. Conversely, a poor hire can cost you time, money and endless frustration. So what are some of the best tips for hiring the right employee? Here are a few ideas adapted from HR expert Susan Heathfield:

  1. Define the Job Carefully – Before pulling out an existing position description, enlist the aid of your human resources professional to conduct a thorough job analysis. Collect information about the job responsibilities and desired outcomes, along with the required skills, knowledge, and abilities needed for the  job. An accurate position description can help you plan your recruiting strategy for hiring the right employee.
  2. Plan your Recruiting Strategy – Meet with those involved in the hiring process, including your HR professional, the hiring manager, team members, search committee members, and others who might assist with creating a recruiting plan.
  3. Use a Recruiting Checklist – Does your HR office have a recruiting checklist? If so, go ahead and use it keep your recruiting efforts on track. If not, create your own to systematize the process and keep everyone involved informed.
  4. Actively Source Candidates – Forget the old “post and pray” method of recruiting. Reach out to professional associations and diverse communities in your advertising efforts. Better yet, work to develop relationships with potential candidates long before you need them. This will ensure that you have a large pool of qualified candidates when you have an open position.
  5. Review Credentials and Applications Carefully – Screen applicants against the qualifications, skills, experience and competencies listed in your well-developed position description. When you do, you’ll spend your time interviewing the most qualified candidates.
  6. Ask the Right Job Interview Questions – Create behavioral questions that are tied to the competencies needed for the job. Agree upon the desired answers in advance of the interview so that all search committee members are rating the candidates effectively.
  7. Check Backgrounds and References – Before hiring an employee, check their background to verify their work experience and credentials. Contact references to gain insight into how the candidate has performed in past positions. Online reference checking solutions (rather than phone reference checking) can help you sort through your top candidates with candid and reliable information.

Hiring the right person for your team takes time, but is well worth the effort.  What have you done to hire the right person for your team?

Anita Rios

 

 

Help your staff grow

Over the last few weeks I’ve been conducting annual performance reviews with my staff. In preparation for our conversations, I ask my staff to not only document their accomplishments and performance goals, but to think about their professional development goals as well. Helping my staff grow and learn is highly satisfying. And according to career development expert and author Beverley Kaye, it is essential to retaining high performing individuals.

In her book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Kaye offers up simple strategies that leaders can use help their staff grow in their careers, including:

  • Have short, frequent conversations with your staff about their career development
  • Listen attentively. Let your employees do 90% of the talking in your personal sessions.
  • Be curious and encourage curiosity. You do not need to have all the answers.
  • Provide constructive feedback regularly.
  • Discuss career development as a “rock-climbing wall” where employees can move up, down or sideways – or hang on and stay put

Kaye also recommends employing hindsight, foresight, and insight conversations:

  • During hindsight conversations, encourage people to look within themselves and examine where they’ve been in the past
  • During foresight conversations, ask staff to look outside of themselves and consider their future paths
  • Use insight conversations to combine hindsight and foresight

While professional development conversations between supervisors and their direct reports shouldn’t be limited to once a year, I find annual  performance reviews a helpful time to focus on professional development conversations. It gives my staff an opportunity to discuss how they are wanting to grow their careers and it gives me a chance to encourage them and provide additional ideas for development that might include stretch assignments, new work projects, professional certifications, continuing education, and service opportunities.

How do you help your employees grow?

Anita Rios

 

Want high performance? Build a learning culture!

According to David Mallon of Bersin & Associates, if you want a high performance organization, it’s imperative that you build a learning culture. In his research of successful, high performing organizations, he’s found that “a culture of learning and a culture of high performance are significantly linked.”  Intuitively, it makes sense that the smarter your organization is the better it can perform.

So, what is a learning culture, you might ask?  Bersin & Associates define it as a  “collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that continuously impels organizations and individuals to build knowledge, competence and performance.” And while a learning culture supports training and leadership development, it isn’t limited to formal development programs.

In Bersin’s comprehensive report, Mallon identifies 40 best practices and seven strategies that organizations can use to create a learning culture. Here is a sample:

  1. Assign staff to do jobs that surpass their skills and knowledge – Ask people to stretch. Use difficult assignments to encourage employees to push themselves to develop new skills and improve their old ones.
  2. Let people participate in selecting their assignments – Employees work hardest when their jobs and tasks interest them. Google takes advantage of this by permitting its engineers to devote a fifth of their time to personal projects.
  3. Recognize workers who learn new information and abilities – Provide rewards that show you care about each person’s learning.
  4. Value mistakes and failures – Employees learn best from their mistakes. Capitalize on errors as learning opportunities. And give people time to reflect on them.
  5. Emphasize learning as an important activity – Demonstrate its value in tangible ways; for example, make managers responsible for their staff’s professional development, not just their output. Actions always speak louder than words.
  6. Take a personal interest in the organizational capabilities of teams and individuals – Mentor the people you supervise.

During the next month, we’ll be exploring these ideas and more as we dive deeply into our next leadership competency of Building Organizational Talent. What strategies have you used to build a learning culture?

Anita Rios

What’s stopping you?

What’s stopping you from delivering excellent customer service? Is it long-held assumptions about your customers? Resistance to changing how you’ve always done something? Is it tied up with your organizational culture? Or something else?

In a revealing survey of higher education professionals from 79 institutions, Academic Impressions found that respondents did not give their institutions outstanding grades in customer service to students. That may or may not surprise you. Here are the common challenges they found that stop colleges and universities from delivering excellent customer service:

  • Faculty and staff don’t see customer service as necessary
  • Effective customer service training is not provided
  • Uncertainty or inability to audit their current service and identify bottlenecks/gaps

Authors of the study showcase various institution’s approaches to auditing and improving their services in enrollment, academic advising and student support services. For example, to begin identifying academic policies and procedures that impede student success, they recommend three key steps:

  1. Review student complaints as opportunities to identify and correct outdated policies or procedures, recognizing that recurring complaints may point toward a systemic issue.
  2. Survey students to help prioritize where you need to focus.
  3. Audit your academic policies for some of the most common inefficiencies.

In addition to addressing gaps/bottlenecks in service to students, it’s important to address our long-held beliefs and assumptions about students and how we do our work. As Rich Weems, AVP for Enrollment at Southern Oregon University says, “We need to stop thinking about service to the student as an interruption to our work. Service to the student is why we’re there. Your #1 priority is taking care of the student. Drill that in.”

Anita Rios

 

Don’t surprise your customers. Delight them!

According to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, “Customers don’t want to be surprised, they want to be delighted!”

While I work in higher education, I am also a customer of higher education. My youngest daughter Sophie is entering college in the fall, and I can tell you that we have both been delighted by her new school.

Every communication with students and parents has been designed to welcome her and help her navigate the transition from high school to college. Her initial visit to the college wowed her with a tour of the program and demonstrations from current students in the architecture program. Upon acceptance, Sophie received a welcome package, complete with a swag bag of college-branded goodies to get her excited.

The school connects students with potential roommates and helps students register for dorm rooms online. With the help of social media, Sophie has been communicating with all the girls on her dorm floor and feels that she already knows them pretty well. Amazing, huh? I can tell you that she feels far more comfortable entering her freshman year than I did at her age when I knew no one.

As a parent, I’ve been completely informed about the admissions and orientation processes all along the way and I’ve recently been invited to join a Facebook group of parents for the class of 2022, where the current conversation among parents is “what type of computer is required for my son/daughter’s course of study?”

Just before Sophie graduated from high school, the college even sent her a branded top for her mortar board. What fun! And how delightful!

In their book, Stewart and O’Connell outline five principles of excellent service design, one of which is “Customers Want to Be Delighted.” To do that they recommend that you:

  • Meet their expectations with no guesses or surprises by providing an overall satisfying experience.
  • Define the delight you deliver to customers. Delight represents your customers’ experiences (how good were they?) multiplied by your “technical excellence” (how well did you deliver them?)
  • Ensure that customers know what to expect as they move from one touchpoint to another.

The authors say, that “such delight will “woo, wow, and win” customers.” I can certainly say that Sophie’s new college has wooed, wowed, and won me over completely through absolute delight!

What can you do to delight your customers?

Anita Rios

 

Seeking solutions with your customer

Last week, construction finally began on our home to fix the damage that occurred with an extreme hail storm nearly a year ago. We are getting new siding, gutters, fascia, window screens, and a replacement of trim on our home’s exterior. If you’ve lived in a home while construction is going on, you know it’s both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Exciting because of the anticipation of having a fresh, clean home exterior, but frustrating with the added noise, construction debris, and traffic around your home.

Unfortunately, our frustration levels increased beyond our expectations the very first day of construction. After coming home from work, we discovered that the siding crew had drastically sheared all the mature shrubs around our home without letting us know ahead of time. Several shrubs were cut in half around the foundation and the 20-foot tall arborvitae framing the house on either side were butchered, exposing bare branches on the lower half of the trees that would never recover. It was shocking to see the devastation.

My husband Cesar called the contractor and gave him an earful. We were both frustrated that this had been done without our approval or prior knowledge. Thankfully the contractor responded gracefully and first listened to Cesar, apologized, and then told him he would make it right. Over years of working with homeowners, our contractor has honed his skills at resolving customer service problems when they arise, following these simple, but effective strategies outlined in LifeHack:

  • Listen Intently:  Listen to the customer, and do not interrupt them. They need to tell their story and feel that they have been heard.
  • Thank Them: Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. You can’t resolve something you aren’t completely aware of, or may be making faulty assumptions about.
  • Apologize: Sincerely convey to the customer your apology for the way the situation has made them feel. This is not the time for preachy reasons, justifications or excuses; you must apologize.
  • Seek the Best Solution: Determine what the customer is seeking as a solution. Ask them; often they’ll surprise you for asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give—especially when they perceive your apology and intention is genuinely sincere.
  • Reach Agreement: Seek to agree on the solution that will resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Your best intentions can miss the mark completely if you still fail to deliver what the customer wants.
  • Take Quick Action: Act on the solution with a sense of urgency. Customers will often respond more positively to your focus on helping them immediately versus than on the solution itself.
  • Follow-up: Follow-up to ensure the customer is completely satisfied, especially when you have had to enlist the help of others for the solution delivery. Everything up to this point will be for naught if the customer feels that “out of sight is out of mind.”

Since the first phone call with our contractor, we’ve had several conversations with him to talk through how to fix the problem. On Thursday he came out to our house and calmly assessed the damage. He told me that he had already contacted landscapers and nurseries to get estimates on delivering 10-foot arborvitae. I told him we wouldn’t need 10-foot arborvitae and could replace them with smaller trees. I also added that we would be happy to do the landscaping work ourselves saving him extra money in the process. He was pleasantly surprised and I was happy we could arrive at an agreeable solution.

When I think about that interaction, our contractor demonstrated all 7 steps for resolving customer service problems. While they are simple (and work no matter who your customer is), it also takes humility, grace, and true concern for your customer to resolve problems to everyone’s satisfaction.

Anita Rios