Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

Hard work

I know this isn’t a surprise to any of you; it takes work to develop your leadership chops. And in the end, you need to take responsibility for your own development. Given that my profession is leadership development, that is hard to hear but it is reality. As we prepare to take a short break from our blog I want to share a few ideas for you to consider and perhaps use to drive your own leadership development, wherever you are on your leadership journey.

Natasha Bowman recently shared a short article in Forbes titled, Five Ways to Take Charge of Your Professional Development. Each of these give you an opportunity to drive your own development.

  1. Earn a certificate in your field. A few years ago I earned my Certified Professional in Learning and Performance certificate from the Association of Talent Development. Taking responsibility for diving into the 10 areas of expertise in my profession was a powerful development experience. Ask yourself, where do I want to expand and grow?
  2. Enroll in an online course. Technology has made available a wide range of inexpensive and easy-to-access courses on almost any topic. For us in higher education it gives us a chance to better understand our students by becoming one!
  3. Speak at a conference or seminar. Challenge yourself to move from the audience to the front of the room. Nothing helps you learn more than having to teach others about your topic.
  4. Expand your scope. Actively look for and propose to your boss projects, activities and experiences outside your normal responsibilities.
  5. Find a mentor. And meet with them! Reach out and ask someone to formally be your “mentor.” Most people love to help others, even if they are busy. Take responsibility to identify why you want a mentor and to schedule and drive the conversations.

As Bowman states, proactively “invest in yourself.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Now what?

You’ve hired good people, set goals, helped them identify development opportunities, scheduled and held performance reviews, managed workloads, and overall avoided the “bad manager” actions Dee Anne described. What else do you need to do to build organizational talent and help your people succeed? Give them feedback on how they are doing!

In his white paper, The Hard Truth About Effective Performance Management, Marc Effron highlights the evidence that on-going coaching and feedback is a requirement for effective performance management. To truly help people improve their performance, coaching must be focused and delivered regularly. To help busy managers coach effectively Effron recommends a process called 2 + 2 Coaching. It has four steps:

  1. Have a dedicated coaching conversation once a quarter.
  2. Schedule it for 15 minutes.
  3. Provide two comments to the employee on their progress towards their goals.
  4. Provide two comments to the employee on what they could do more or less of in the future to be more effective.

Clear and direct feedback has been shown to be a crucial element for high performance and goal attainment. Clearly you will be working with your people to solve problems, develop ideas, complete projects and other on-going tasks. However, carving out time for dedicated coaching and feedback on goals will help you effectively develop and build organizational talent and increase the performance of your people and your team.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

GOOOOOOOOAL!!

Every four years I am captivated by the amazing performances of the World Cup soccer players. Add the famous GOOOOOOAL call by announcer Andres Cantor and it is “must see TV!”

Big goals also lead to high performance in the world of work. In Marc Effron’s soon to be released book, 8 Steps to High Performance:Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest), he highlights the science behind goal setting:

  • Specific goals improve performance.
  • Bigger goals are more motivating than smaller goals.
  • Fewer goals lead to higher performance.

Based on this research he describes a four step process to set goals with your people to help them perform at the highest level.

  1. Align – individual goals need to directly contribute to what is most important to your institution’s success.
  2. Promise – limit individual goals to those important few that an individual is emotionally committed to and willing to “promise” to complete.
  3. Increase – individual goals need to focus on concrete improvement in performance.
  4. Frame – write the goals so they are clear, easy to understand and succinct.

Not everyone gets to score a goal in the World Cup but you can help all your people be star performers in their own way.

Todd Thorsgaard

You can count on it!

I love that I know what to expect on the 4th of July. Fireworks on Sand Island (photo from 2007); sparklers; food that is red, white and blue; mosquitoes; family fun, and ooohs and ahhhs! Yup, I can count on it!

Research shows that we also need clear expectations at work. The authors of a recent study by Gallup stated, “Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”

Based on Gallup’s decades of research and information from over 31 million employees they recommend the following four best practices for leaders to set effective expectations:

  1. Develop them collaboratively. Effective expectations need to include both the leader’s strategic perspective and the employee’s awareness of the day-to-day realities of the work.
  2. Articulate them clearly. Minimize confusion and uncertainty and maximize focus with clear and understandable language.
  3. Focus on excellence. Work together to identify “best-in-class” opportunities and expectations that inspire.
  4. Individualize to strengths. Identify and leverage the unique talents, interests and skills of each person related to their specific role and expectations.

Help build your people and your talent by setting clear expectations.

Todd Thorsgaard

Actually, they are customers

“They are my patients, not customers. We aren’t a Target store!”

I heard that comment, or some variation, hundreds of times when I was working in health care. Physicians, nurses, providers, technicians, clinic staff all went into their roles to help people and thinking of their patients as “mere” customers was hard. Yet when we actually talked to our patients and asked them what was important in their health care they highlighted issues like:

  • timeliness
  • later office hours
  • making it easier to get a hold of you
  • clear and easy to understand information
  • friendliness
  • clear billing statements

They assumed we were good medical practitioners and wanted us to be better service providers. Leaders in higher education face the same issue. Students and their families count on us to provide a high quality education but what determines their loyalty and engagement with our schools is how they are treated day-to-day in all of their interactions with us. Certainly in the classroom, but also online, on the phone, through the mail and in person at the registrar, the advising office, the dorm, the student center, the billing office, the gym, the library, and on and on. We need to show we care and understand what is important to them.

Adam Toperek, in his book Be Your Customer’s Hero, describes “Seven Service Triggers” that you can use to examine your interactions with students, or any other customers, to identify where improvements are needed.

  1. Being ignored.
  2. Being abandoned.
  3. Being hassled.
  4. Being faced with incompetence.
  5. Being shuffled.
  6. Being powerless.
  7. Being disrespected.

Making a difference with the education and the service we provide can make us all heroes!

Todd Thorsgaard

You can’t do that!

Give up your landline phone, stop wearing a watch, drive a car from the back seat, travel across the country without a map, buy a car without seeing it–these are all things we were told you can’t do.  Yet today people do them routinely. By ignoring assumptions and the status quo, people designed solutions and created new ways of doing things to meet the needs of customers today.

Cathy N. Davidson in her new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, suggests that in order to succeed leaders must be aware of their legacy assumptions and challenge them. By examining and giving up assumptions, leaders can leverage new models and develop new solutions based on different assumptions that are relevant today.

Some assumptions in higher education that she believes need to be challenged include:

  • Lectures are an effective learning method
  • High-stakes, end of semester, summative testing accurately measures and promotes learning
  • Cost of higher education delivers value
  • Traditional faculty, professorial, tenure and apprentice models develop effective faculty members
  • Discipline majors prepare students for success

Challenging our assumptions is hard but necessary to find solutions to the complex problems leaders face today.

What assumptions are holding you back?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

Stealing from the classroom

What can leaders learn from college faculty about customer service? I was pondering this question as I participated in our annual Academic and Student Affairs/Equity and Inclusion conference two weeks ago. After listening to LuAnn Wood, Student Success Coordinator at Century College, describe the work she is doing at their Institute for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (ICRP) my answer is yes! Similar to faculty needing to change how they teach to ensure the success of students from all cultures, leaders need to change how they lead to support the success of the ever increasing diverse population of employees.

In the book, Culturally Responsive Leadership in Higher Education, leaders are challenged to change their leadership practice to meet the needs of all their employees, regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds. They identify nine key activities that leaders can use to examine and develop their leadership to be more culturally responsive.

  1. Initiate and engage in critical conversations with individuals from different cultures and who have a different point-of view.
  2. Choose to use a critical lens and examine multiple cultural perspectives when making decisions.
  3. Use consensus building decision-making and consciously acknowledge stereotypes.
  4. Use research-based information to better understand differences between cultural groups and outcomes.
  5. Honor all members of your constituencies.
  6. Lead by example to meet the needs of different cultures.
  7. Take on the responsibility to bring cultural issues to your stakeholders to get resolution.
  8. Build trust with stakeholders who are not yet culturally responsive.
  9. Lead for the greater good of all cultures.

Where do you have an opportunity to be more culturally responsive?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Dance with your customers

A critical step in customer service is to actually invite the customer to the table and include them in your problem-solving work. While this makes theoretical sense it can be challenging to do and takes leadership to ensure its success. Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, describes it as “dancing with customers in the act of co-creation” in a blog on customer service. It involves:

  • clearly inviting customers to work with you
  • focusing on engagement – not perfection
  • over communicating
  • speaking and listening to customers with respect
  • not making assumptions

Most leaders and employees are not used to working together with their customers. When I was working in the health care industry we decided to include patients in our work meetings as we designed the electronic visit follow-up document and communication process. At first that was very threatening to the doctors, physician assistants, nurses and intake staff. They were worried about “unreasonable” demands that patients would make. Surprisingly, everyone discovered that they enjoyed working together, both sides learned more about each other and the ideas shared ended up being practical and doable.

If you choose to include customers it is important to make the invitation clear and describe the work you will be doing together. Customers are also not used to being asked to work with you! The project team for the design of our new Enterprise Resource Planning data system at Minnesota State has done that well (NextGen). They have invited all students, faculty and staff have to participate in envisioning the future NextGen experience. Through emails, in-person presentations and an intranet site they have clearly described the work to date and what opportunities we have, as customers, to work with the vendor to help design and build the system. In addition, given the geographic spread of our system and the variation in availability, they provided three different options to work together; an online review process, virtual Q & A sessions or onsite regional review sessions.

What opportunities can you find for you and your team to dance with your customers?

Todd Thorsgaard

Who are you?

The stressed-out demanding coworker, the skeptical regulatory agent, the overwhelmed student, the sick and crabby patient, the distracted team member, or the busy boss – what do these people all have in common? They are someone’s customer!

When I worked in health care we always had to stop and remind ourselves that the reason our customers (patients and their families) were acting stressed, confused, and unhappy was because they were sick or their family members were sick! Customer service can be easy when everyone is on their best behavior and interacting in a highly professional manner, but that isn’t reality. Leaders need to be able to listen and respond with respect even when people are being “difficult.”

Author Paul Meshanko in his book, The Respect Effect, highlights 12 Rules of Respect that can help you establish respect with your customers even in difficult situations. These rules are based on behaviors that have been shown to neurologically enhance human interactions even in stressful situations.

  1. Be aware of your nonverbal cues – are your behaviors supporting your desired message?
  2. Develop a curiosity about the perspective of others – actively demonstrate that you are interested in what or why or how others are feeling or thinking.
  3. Assume that everyone is smart about something – give people the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Become a better listener by shaking your “but” – using the word but dismisses anything said previously even if that isn’t what you mean.
  5. Look for opportunities to connect and support others – identify areas of agreement while acknowledging areas of difference.
  6. When you disagree, explain why – provide information that clarifies how you made a decision.
  7. Look for opportunities to grow, stretch and change – remind yourself that nothing is static and each of us has something new to learn.
  8. Learn to be wrong on occasion – consider other points of view, even when your idea will work, and demonstrate to others that it is ok to make a mistake at times.
  9. Never hesitate to say you are sorry – acknowledge when you have not been respectful. It happens!
  10. Intentionally engage others in ways that build their self-esteem – intentionally interact in ways that recognize the value others have.
  11. Be respectful of time – remember that other people have time commitments that you are not aware of, and they are important to them.
  12. Smile! – last but definitely not least. Even in difficult situations look for opportunities to recognize connection or forward movement with a genuine smile.

Customer interactions can be messy. Demonstrating respect gives you the foundation to move forward.

Todd Thorsgaard

Of course I’m trustworthy, right?

I have to admit, as a leader it is natural to look outward and try to help other people succeed, or change, or improve, or tackle a sensitive issue. Yet, looking inward is the first step to take when building trust.

I was reminded of that when I took an “Am I Trustworthy”online quiz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the quiz but I wanted to share some trust-building ideas I had discovered in this article.  The last tip was to “be courageous,” acknowledge you have blind spots, and uncover them. So I had to! But first, I will share all 7 tips from Michelle Reina, co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, on how to earn trust.

Ask what you can give. Authentically support your people and ask them how you can help them succeed.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations. Pay attention and help identify miscommunication, misunderstandings and missing information. Help people stay on track and make a difference with their time and energy.

Let people know what they can count on. As we have talked about previously it is important to share information and context. Help people understand decisions and build clarity.

Provide whole person feedback. Let people know how they have made a contribution–and let people know what is getting in their way to further success. Everyone needs both.

Draw the line against gossip. Establish, reinforce and role-model a “no gossip” policy. Ensure that your work culture is a safe one where people don’t have to worry what is being said behind their backs or when they are not in the room.

Admit your own mistakes. Acknowledging and sharing your own fallibility demonstrates your authenticity and helps others feel safe and willing to share.

Know thyself. Good intentions don’t earn trust, actual behavior does. We have to examine our own behavior and assess how trustworthy we are. It is important to know what you do well–and keep doing it. Honestly recognize where you need to make changes to be more trustworthy. Here is a link to the short assessment in the article – How trustworthy am I?

I learned I need to do a better job in giving people authentic feedback. I didn’t like seeing my lower score but now I know what I need to do differently.

Todd Thorsgaard