I spent most of this week at the Luoma Leadership Academy, a year-long program in which about 60 leaders at Minnesota State have been learning about leadership and putting it into practice with action learning projects.
At the graduation program, Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Anderson spoke about the importance of developing ourselves as leaders. I appreciated his thoughts about the importance of development, even when it’s hard.
First, he talked about becoming comfortable living in the “murky space” of continuous change. He challenged us to stand up, step out of our comfort zones, and engage in what we could do, not just what we are doing. Increasing our comfort with change, from a work and personal standpoint, enables us to better serve our students, institutions, and the system.
He also challenged us to become comfortable with failure. As we push ourselves and our institutions into new places, we will try some things that don’t work. He reminded us that failure isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean we’re bad leaders. As long as we learn from it, failure is part of the development process.
As Vice Chancellor Anderson pointed out, we in higher ed are less likely than some other industries to support the idea of “fail early and often.” Developing ourselves as leaders for the future will mean moving into that space and trying new things, even if we aren’t sure whether it will work as planned.
Putting ourselves into places that may be uncomfortable, and stretching our boundaries, is a key component to our work as leaders. What uncomfortable challenge have you taken on recently?
Dee Anne Bonebright
A recent newsletter from the Association for Talent Development included an article called “9 Bad Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit.” They cited a statistic from Gallup that you’ve probably heard before – 70% of an employee’s motivation is directly tied to actions by his or her manager.
People don’t quit organizations, they quit managers. So how can you be the sort of manager that doesn’t send good employees job hunting? Here are some tips from the article, which was reprinted in Huffington Post.
- Manage workloads – I’ve heard many employees say that they appreciate the work/life balance provided in their job at Minnesota State. That not only supports motivation, but it’s effective management. Overworked people are not as productive and are significantly less engaged.
- Recognizing contributions – Everyone likes to be acknowledged for their good work, and high performers often value it even more. Figure out what type of recognition your employees need, and then provide it on a regular basis.
- Provide development opportunities – Our environment is about learning and growing. Not only do our employees want to provide that for students, but they also want a chance to keep their own skills current and develop new ones.
- Honor commitments – Highly engaged employees usually report that they work for a manager who is reliable and trustworthy.
- Engage creativity – Encourage people to use their talents to improve the work they do. It will engage their creative problem-solving skills and tap into their passions.
- Care about your employees – Effective mangers know how to balance professionalism with being human. They understand that people have lives outside of work – they help celebrate successes and are supportive of difficult issues.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Annual performance reviews can be a useful tool in building organizational talent. On the other hand, if it’s not done well it can be like going to the dentist or getting an immunization – necessary to maintain health but not particularly fun.
From the employee’s point of view it’s a chance to focus on what we’ve done well this year and where we’d like to go in the future. I was having a bad day on Monday morning, and receiving my review from Anita actually made it much better. It’s very engaging to hear what your supervisor appreciates about you and to think about possibilities for development.
From the manager’s point of view performance reviews are a chance to reinforce things that are going well and develop goals for the next year. It’s much easier to hold people accountable for their performance if you’ve both agreed on what successful performance looks like. In my review, Anita and I created a set of goals that I will be able to report on in our ongoing conversations.
As an HR professional, I see the value in having the annual review meeting. I’m also well aware that they are going out of favor in many organizations, with the focus shifting to more frequent ongoing conversations. Since many of us at Minnesota State are starting a new cycle, here are some tips to make next year’s reviews effective.
- No surprises – the annual review should be a summary of conversations that you’ve had throughout the year. It’s a chance to focus on what’s gone well and what should happen in the future.
- It’s not about the form – whatever the process is at your institution, focus on having a meaningful conversation, not on filling out the form and selecting ratings.
- Don’t rely on memory – If your employee does something extraordinary in the next month, it will be nearly impossible to remember that a year from now. Keeping notes will make the process easier and more accurately reflect the full year.
- Take it seriously – I’ve heard way too many stories about people who don’t get a review at all, or who are asked to fill out their own form, which the supervisor then signs without comment. That’s demoralizing for the employee and can come back to bite the manager. It’s really difficult to manage a performance problem if the employee has a track record of reviews that exceed expectations.
Making the annual review the capstone to a year of effective performance management will help it feel more like getting ready for a 4th of July party than a medical appointment.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Julie Selander is a former colleague from the U of M. I recently came across a presentation she made for the Innovative Educators group, Execptional Front-Line Customer Service in Higher Education.
Selander is the Director of One Stop Student Services, and she had some very useful advice for creating a service culture. As an example, her unit has a goal of being knowledgeable, efficient, empathetic, and friendly. Their basic principles include:
- Understanding customers and their expectations
- Providing accurate, timely, consistent information
- Being professional and courteous
- Delivering what was promised
- Being a problem-solver
Here are some questions she proposed to help you think about service principles and standards in your area:
- Who are our customers? What are their attributes and demographics?
- What are their perceptions and expectations?
- What are we offering them – products, services, and/or resources?
- Do we have the capacity to meet and exceed their expectations? If not, how can we get where we need to be?
As Selander points out, exceptional customer service leads to increased retention, improved graduation rates, a positive reputation for the institution, and more fulfilling work for staff. How can you create and maintain a positive service culture in your team?
Dee Anne Bonebright
This week I am helping to host a group of students who are visiting from Thailand. They want to learn about US culture and practice their English skills.
I invited the students to visit my office in St. Paul. When I put out a call to my colleagues, several people stepped forward to give office tours. One of our administrative assistants put together bags of Minnesota State branded items for them to take home. Other people stopped to give a friendly welcome. The students had a great time.
Even though it wasn’t directly related to anyone’s job duties, I knew that I could count on my co-workers. We have created the sort of collaborative climate where we value providing good service to each other. Whether it’s an above-and-beyond event, or routine tasks like providing data or supporting someone’s project, we want to help each other succeed.
Our HR leadership team has worked hard to create this climate. They hold us accountable for collaboration and encourage cross-unit activities. Another practical thing that helps is our collaborative office space. We had an opportunity a couple of years ago to re-arrange the office and included a community gathering space. Rather than enter into a maze of cubicles, staff and visitors enter into a space with tables and a white board. Fairly often someone will bring in treats or start some sort of discussion on the board. A few months ago someone brought in several flavors of Oreo cookies and a pitcher of milk. We all voted on our favorite flavor. (The traditional cookies won.)
The gathering space is a fairly simple idea and it has made a difference in building a unified team across divisions. And knowing our colleagues better has helped us provide better service to each other. What have you done to promote collaboration among your team?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Consultant Neal Raisman publishes a periodic study on why students leave college. Here’s his findings after interviewing 618 students who left a college or university in 2016.
I was quite surprised by the results. 23% of the students cited poor service as a reason to leave their college or university, and 25% cited a belief that the college didn’t care. That means ALMOST HALF of the students left because they hadn’t built a strong relationship with the institution. Finances, scheduling, and grades all scored much lower.
Academic Impressions recently published an interview with three academic leaders – What does customer service in higher ed actually look like? They pointed out that the Raisman article means that higher education needs to look at the issue in new ways. Here are some take-aways:
- It’s important to set standards and hold people accountable. If you don’t measure your service, you can’t make it better.
- Make customer service work in our context. While the customer is not always right, we need to ask ourselves how we can make the situation right.
- Make sure everyone knows your history and traditions; building institutional pride is a great way to generate positive interactions.
- Make time to put yourself in a position to observe or experience what your students and other customers experience. It will enhance your credibility and help you identify needed changes.
When I worked at the University of Minnesota, I had a colleague who frequently said, “we might not call them customers, but whoever they are, Stanford is stealing them!” His point was that we have to address needs and expectations of our stakeholder groups or they will take their tuition dollars and grant money somewhere else. What has worked for you to keep students engaged and moving forward at your institution?
Dee Anne Bonebright
The church where I worship runs a neighborhood-based nonprofit. We recently hired a consultant to help with some strategic planning. The first thing she asked us to do is spend the summer talking to community members. We’re asking business owners, local residents, other service agencies, and the guys who spend time in the vacant lot down the street what they actually need.
The consultant said that very often, agencies assume they know what their clients need. When they actually talk to people and get them involved in decision-making, very different results can happen. For example, one organization wanted to set up a food shelf. After talking to potential clients, it turned out that there were already enough pantries in the neighborhood. What was missing was a source for perishable items, especially milk. Turning the project from creating another food pantry into a reliable source where families could get milk made a huge difference.
We in higher education are prone to the same mistake. We can assume we know what our “customers” need – whether it’s students, coworkers, peer institutions, or the whole system. By taking time to talk to each other and build real relationships we’re in a better position to create strategies and processes that address the real needs.
Dee Anne Bonebright