Author Archives: Anita Rios

At the lake…

lake michigan“If we connect with nature, we can reconstruct our soul, spirit and strength.” – Lailah Gifty Akita

This month we will be taking a brief break from our blog. August is exceptionally busy for leaders in higher education. Most are trying to squeeze in the last days of summer vacation and get ready for fall semester.

I can relate. It seems work has been non-stop since spring. So, I’m really ready for some time away to recharge my batteries. Next week, I’ll be spending some time camping on Lake Michigan with my family. I love camping because it helps me connect with nature and refuels me in a way that nothing else can.

Please look for us in September, when we will focus on our next leadership competency in Minnesota State: Demonstrates Good Stewardship.

Until then, I hope that you are able to take a little time for rest and renewal before the fall semester begins!  As for me, I’m hoping for warm sunny days and cool, star-filled nights along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Anita Rios

Aligning expectations

aligning expectationsMy team and I just wrapped up our year-end report in June and are launching ahead to FY17 with a new annual work plan. In my talent management team, we work on goals that support “attracting, retaining, and developing a workforce that is diverse and able to meet current and educational needs.” That may sound like an ambiguous and somewhat lofty sound mission, yet our team work plan contains many concrete action strategies that support this mission. It contains clear timelines and quantifiable measures to ensure that we are making progress.

As the leader of this team, part of my work is to have good conversations with each of my team members to ensure that their individual development goals and the performance expectations we agree upon align with our work plan. Those conversations are critical to accomplishing our goals and building organizational talent. It helps each team member clearly understand how they are part of accomplishing our team goals and it helps us refine strategies as we review them.

While it can be time consuming having those individual 1:1 meetings with each staff member, skipping those individual conversations can prove costly. It would invite too many opportunities for disconnects and misalignment, like the picture above of the train tracks that don’t quite meet.

Here are some of the things I discuss with my team members to make sure expectations are aligned:

  1. What are your 1-3 big goals for the year?
  2. How do your goals support our mission?
  3. What is the timeline for that action strategy/effort/project?
  4. What will you need to learn in order to accomplish this goal?
  5. What additional resources or support will be needed?
  6. How are you measuring progress?
  7. What obstacles or barriers do you face?
  8. What milestones are you setting?
  9. What will constitute success?

Of course, through the year, some unexpected things may pop up that displace one or two action strategies for one of my team members. But through good conversations and check-ins, we can re-align to make sure we are working together well and building organizational talent while accomplishing our goals.

How do you make sure that expectations are well aligned within your unit?

Anita Rios

 

Building relationships builds organizational talent

building relationshipsLast Friday, after one of our year-long leadership development programs was wrapping up, I joined a group of the participants for lunch. The program they had completed included two intensive week-long sessions in residence (one year apart), combined with journaling, mentoring, coaching, and an action learning team project spanning the entire year.

At lunch, I asked them: “What was the highlight of the program for you?” Then I listened. For the next 10 minutes, each person at the table shared stories about how much they appreciated and learned from the other participants in the program. They talked about strong relationships that they built with people from other colleges and universities in our system. And they shared how much they respected each other.

I asked what made it possible for them to build these relationships in the program and listened again. They talked about the ground rule of “no rank in the room” that made it possible to respect everyone and what they had to say whether they were a staff member, faculty, or administrator. They learned that they all had something to share and to learn from each other. One person shared that this last week especially, there were more breaks built in so that participants could connect with each other and get to know each other. There were also social activities in the evenings that encouraged them to build relationship with each other.

On my drive home from the program Friday afternoon I reflected on what they had to say and how it affirmed the 70:20:10 model of learning and development. If you recall from my earlier blog,  20% of development should come through relationship building, whether it is through mentoring, coaching, or working with your peers. Each graduate in this program now has a trusted group of colleagues to contact when they are looking to build collaborative partnerships across institutions or are navigating a new challenge, or struggling with a tough issue. That’s pretty powerful.

It made me think: “How can leaders make sure their people are building strong relationships and learning from others in their organization, even when they are not in a cohort-based program like this?”

Here are a few ideas I’ll offer up:

  1. Assign your staff to cross-functional teams on projects where they have to build expertise or stretch their skills
  2. Ensure the teams are setting ground rules that respect differences
  3. Encourage team members to create safe spaces within their work to question the project and the process and conduct regular debriefs to reflect on their work
  4. Include team-building activities into your team’s agenda

What has worked for you to build organizational talent through encouraging good working relationships?

Anita Rios

No money? No worries!

no moneyAs it happens, we are in a budget crunch and so the budget for my team’s professional development has been cut by 75%. I’ve often heard leaders bemoan this circumstance, saying that there is nothing they can do to build organizational talent, if they don’t have funds to invest in conferences, courses, or certifications for their staff.

While having few professional development funds can be limiting, there are other strategies that leaders can employ to ensure that their staff are continuing to build their knowledge, skills, and abilities and grow in their careers. In fact, research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1980s demonstrated that 70% of learning by successful managers comes from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others, and only 10% from formal educational events. It’s called the 70:20:10 model for learning and development.

Think about it. When did you learn the most in your career? Was it by taking a course? Or was it by tackling a new job or assignment that had a steep learning curve? I know my most challenging assignments have produced the greatest learning for me. The times I learned from my own mistakes, while humbling, also were the most valuable. And the times when I had caring mentors who were willing to give me good feedback increased my learning.

Using the 70:20:10 model as a guide, leaders can mine opportunities to develop their staff by making sure that they have stretch assignments or goals that help them expand or refine their job-related skills, make decisions, and address tough challenges. Giving staff increased opportunities to interact with influential people, cross-functional teams, and mentors can also build their skill and confidence. And giving staff  immediate performance feedback and encouraging them to learn from their mistakes provides invaluable growth opportunities that can’t be replicated in a conference or a course.

Anita Rios

 

Preserving our liberty

preserving our libertyHappy 4th of July! I hope you are somewhere enjoying this wonderful national holiday and taking time to celebrate our independence. Our founding fathers had much to say about the importance of education to preserve our liberty. I thought I’d share a few inspiring quotes for you, along with a terrific 3-minute video on the history of Independence Day.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

“Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.”   –  Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America, 1788

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, (A)nd if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”  – Thomas Jefferson

“If Virtue & Knowledge are diffused among the People, they will never be enslav’d. This will be their great Security.”  –  Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren, February 12, 1779

Anita Rios

 

Do you understand your customers?

diverse customersLast week while I was facilitating a retreat, one of my colleagues mentioned how our blog theme for the month complemented the customer service training she was using with staff at her college. The training program is called, “At Your Service: Working with Multicultural Customers.” While we usually don’t promote training programs on this blog, I thought that this one was worth a mention.

Created by the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service, the program helps participants understand the significant role that culture plays in any service encounter. For example, did you know that customers’ wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings are shaped by their culture?  If you accept this premise, it naturally follows that in order to truly serve your customer (i.e., student, parent, community member, colleague, boss), you need to look at the following questions through the lens of their culture.

  1. What does my customer want?
  2. What does my customer need?
  3. What does my customer think?
  4. What does my customer feel?

Taking this one step further, you can also ask:

  1. What is important to my customer?
  2. What are they trying to accomplish?
  3. What are their goals?

Understanding the answers to each of these questions and then helping your customer reach their goals or accomplish what they want, can go a long way to providing stellar customer service no matter what culture they are from.

Anita Rios

 

 

Hiring for great customer service

interview 1While most of us in higher education are not hiring customer service representatives, all of us have an element of customer service required in our roles. Whether we are providing direct services to students in admissions, advising, financial aid or in the classroom, or providing services and resources to our colleagues or bosses, it can help to hire people with the right customer service skills, knowledge and abilities.

While browsing for good resources, I happened upon a set of great customer service interview questions from happyfox.com. I’ve skinnied down the list and adapted them a bit for higher education below. What I like most about them is that they help you zero in on the qualities you are seeking, such as honesty, engagement, attitude, engagement, etc.

Honesty and Communication:

1. Have you ever had to communicate a bad news to a student (or colleague, community member) who was affected by your service? How did you do it?

2. Give me an example of a time when you have successfully handled an irate student, parent, faculty or staff member?

Engagement:

1. Do a role play as a customer support agent who is trying to manage a customer when facing a performance hiccup during a solution demo.

2. How do you sense the mood of your customer (student, parent, colleague, etc.) while communicating with her?

Attitude:

1. What is that one skill you possess that will influence the success of our college/university?

2. Why do you want to be a member of our team?

Passion:

1. What do you enjoy about working as a __________? in a college/university?

2. How do you think you can help our  team become more efficient? Where would you start?

Knowledge:

1. What do you do to keep yourself updated with industry best practices?

2. What do you think is key for contributing to both your personal growth as well as the institution’s growth?

Empathy:

1. What is that one quality in you that helps you understand a customer’s problem better?

Creativity:

1. How much fun do you have in your job and what can you do to make your co-worker’s job fun as well?

2. What was the best mistake you did on your current job and explain why that’s the best?

What interview questions have you used to hire for great customer service?

Anita Rios