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

 

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

 

 

Who is your customer?

This month we’ll be focusing on the leadership competency: customer service. In higher education, we tend to focus on the complexity of our relationships in supporting student success and don’t always define students as our customers.

In reality, if you are working in higher education, no matter what your role, students ARE our customers. And depending on the situation, internal and external stakeholders such as peers, direct reports, bosses, community members, business leaders, legislators, and all tax payers in Minnesota can be our customers too.

For example, I’m currently working on a master contract that will provide a valuable service to our HR offices in each of our colleges and universities. While I often work with my HR colleagues as business partners or peers, in this instance they are also my customers.

In Minnesota State, here are the behaviors we focus on to provide excellent customer service:

  • Demonstrates a positive attitude
  • Listens attentively and respectfully
  • Responds effectively to internal and external customer needs, requests, and concerns
  • Exercises creative problem solving

We’ll be exploring these topics and more during the month of June. In the meantime, I challenge you to think about each of your relationships in your leadership role and ask: who is my customer? You might be surprised how many you actually have.

Anita Rios

 

 

The 3 C’s of trust

Today, on Memorial Day, as we honor our military men and women who have served and died for our country, I thought it might be apropos to share the 3 C’s of trust published by naval academy graduate and helicopter pilot Philip Gift in The Military Leader.

Gift says that building trust boils down to three fundamentals: 1) Competence;  2) Caring; and 3) Communication.   Here are a few insights that he shares about the 3 C’s:

  • If people are not competent, then no matter what is promised, they will not be able to deliver.
  • If people don’t care about the other members of the workforce, then there is no guarantee that they will keep their word when a better deal arises.
  • No matter how competent people are or how much they care, if they cannot communicate that information to other people, then trust will never grow.

Given the importance of competence, care, and communication in building trust, here are some questions for you to consider about your own leadership.

Competence: Are you competent in the job you currently hold? Do you understand your leadership role and your impact on others? What steps can you take to improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Caring: Do you care about your organization and the people who report to you? What do you do specifically to demonstrate that care? Do you listen to your employees and take time to learn more about them as whole people? How do you support them with the necessary tools and resources to accomplish their jobs? What growth opportunities can you give them?

Communication: How well do you communicate your ideas and decisions? Do you find that people understand what you are trying to convey? What do you do to ensure effective two-way communication? When do you opt for face-to-face meetings, email, memos, phone and online meetings? Do your communication strategies and modes seem to work well? What can you do to improve your communications?

While I work hard to demonstrate caring with my team members, when I’m overloaded, it sometimes falls by the wayside. The last couple of months have been so frenetic, that I haven’t had much time to check in with each staff member individually to see how things are going. This week I’m going take extra time to do just that.

In the next week, I challenge you to take one of the 3 C’s and see how you can work to enhance trust with your team as well.

Anita Rios

 

 

Insights from a trusted leader

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College about her onboarding experience as a new president in Minnesota State. President Charlier has a natural ability to connect with people and even over the phone, had me enjoying our conversation. During our talk, she shared some very useful insights about building relationships and trust on her campus. Knowing that other leaders would benefit from her wisdom, I asked if we could feature her on our blog this month.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

We talked about your onboarding experience as a new president at Central Lakes College in Minnesota State. During that conversation, you told me that your very first challenge was a cultural challenge around trust. Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. I think that trust can be challenged any time there is a leadership transition. People think about the new leader and ask: Can I trust him or her? Will he or she uphold the traditions of this college? Will he or she make decisions that are in the best interest of the college? Leadership transitions can shake the foundation of trust.

When I first came here, Central Lakes College was experiencing extensive turnover in leadership positions, from deans to directors and vice presidents. Issues of trust were evident from years of leadership transition. It was no reflection on the leaders themselves. It takes time to build trust and because of the continual turnover, there was no time to build trust with individual leaders.

What specifically did you do to build trust on your campus?

I believe that leaders should listen and learn first. So, as a part of my onboarding process, I conducted focus groups with all employees. I asked employees: What do we do well? What can we improve? What is our ideal culture? And how can we create our ideal culture?

That is when I realized there was a trust issue. People were fearful and did not feel heard. They were not trusting of administration.

The focus groups helped me to really hear employees’ voices and provided fabulous data to help us understand and begin to create the culture people wanted.

Based on the data, we formed a community-building team of volunteers to begin building the culture that people had identified…one where all employees are respected, feel heard, and care about each other. The team led an employee recognition day and created a calendar of social events with the goal of connecting people from different parts of the college so they could get know each other as people.

I also send out regular email newsletters to the campus community… helping them to see all of the terrific things happening on our campuses, thanking them, and letting them know that we value all that they do. This often takes the form of a top ten list. People report that they like hearing about the great work that is happening at CLC. It helps people feeling valued, contributes to the sense that we’re doing good work together, and helps to build trust.

Why do you feel building trust is essential to your effectiveness as a leader and to the success of your institution?

I believe everything we do is about “relationship,” which is the foundation of trust. It’s a personal value of mine, and it aligns with the values of the college. We are really in the relationship business.

It sounds so simple. As a public proponent of relationships, I talk about the value of people and relationships at every opportunity. We have been very vocal about how relationships are a top priority at CLC, and we work to share that message consistently across the college.

A college can’t do its work without relationships with students, each other, and with our community. CLC employees do that every day. They go above and beyond. I watch them. It is the cornerstone of what we do. We can’t get momentum without valuing and trusting one another.

How have you helped your team focus on relationships at Central Lakes?

Our leadership team actively works on strategies to build relationships – how to ensure that employees feel supported, valued, and heard, how to have meaningful conversations, and how to nurture a culture of respect. This work happens through professional development and ongoing conversations about relationships and trust, so that it is instilled in the employees of Central Lakes College.

One of our key initiatives has been knowing people’s names. If we believe that we should know employees as whole people, we need to know their names. We ask people to wear name tags at college events to help people learn and remember each other’s names. We ask them to please know each other’s names and smile at each other. We are whole, complicated beings, with lives outside of work. Knowing each other’s names is the beginning to know people.

In your role as president, people are paying attention to you. How does that influence your actions every day as a leader?

I believe that it is important for leaders to be authentic. I think it is important to just BE me. I work hard to be authentic, vulnerable and let people get to know me. It is only when we know who people are and what values guide them that we can trust.

We also spend lot of time working to gather input about decisions and ultimately conveying the WHY we make decisions. Explaining “the why” is important so that we are all going in the same direction. That contributes to trust.

The most important time I spend is walking around our campuses, stopping by offices, labs, and having hallway conversations. It’s my opportunity to talk with and listen to students and employees. Through these casual, unplanned conversations, we get to know each other as whole people – and build trust. Of course, it’s challenging to find time to do this, but if we recognize it as critical, it becomes a priority. I schedule “walk abouts” on my calendar.

What advice would you give to other leaders to enhance their ability to build trust with others?

  • You can’t build trust unless you are authentic, vulnerable, and approachable.
  • It’s hard to find time to walk around and talk to people, but it is worth every minute.
  • Be yourself and let people see who you are (even your flaws).
  • Get to know employees as people. They will appreciate you taking the time, and you will gain so much from learning about the wonderful people that make things happen in our colleges.

Anita Rios