Category Archives: change and transition

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

 

 

 

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Trust and change

Last week the Harvard Business Review blog included a case study that is a good summary to our discussion on building trust. It focused on the tech company Nokia and how it dealt with major industry changes and the resulting need to completely overhaul their business strategy.

The article described three important practices the company’s newly-appointed board followed to address the emotional side of strategic change. In order to move ahead, they focused on building trusting relationships among the leadership team and across the company.

#1 Increase trust by defining new conversational norms. The previous leadership made it uncomfortable for people to express their opinions and voice concerns. In contrast, the new board identified “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to each other and assuming that people are speaking with good intentions. Following these rules created a culture where people felt free to express alternative viewpoints and generate more options.

#2 Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options, not just one alternative.  People are more willing to express concerns and identify weaknesses in organizational strategy when alternatives are available. As the board created a culture in which multiple options are considered, they were able to make more thoughtful decisions.

#3 Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful thinking. Paying attention to data helped the leadership to make better decisions and deal with their current reality.

Similar to the tech industry, higher education is in the midst of disruptive changes. I found these actions applicable to the work I do as a leader. What do you think?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Conversation-powered leadership

I thought it would be apropos to wrap up our month of exploring the fundamental leadership competence of effective communication by recommending the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment.

While top-down, one-way communication has been typically used in hierarchical organizations as a way to distribute news to internal and external audiences, it is a relic of a command-and-control model which no longer works.  Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  Given that, they have found thriving organizations that are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book in your local library or bookstore to learn more. Their insights about how to make organizational cultures more intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional through purposeful organizational conversation make it a good read.

Anita Rios

 

Creating a sense of system

I recently heard a great example of transformational leadership. Devinder Malhotra, the interim chancellor for Minnesota State, shared his vision of what it means to be a system:  it’s when we jointly take ownership of the success of all our students, no matter where they are enrolled.

I first heard him make this comment in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio. He reinforced it earlier this week at the Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference. This definition presents a clear picture of where we are going, and helps us to think about the necessity to work together outside of our usual boundaries and silos.

During the conference I learned about many ways this is happening. There are large-scale efforts such as the transfer pathways work that is supporting what students are already doing–completing their education by attending multiple institutions within Minnesota State. On a smaller scale, I learned how the culinary program at Saint Paul College is helping students from China to succeed at Metropolitan State University.

Another conference speaker, Dr. David J. Weerts from the University of Minnesota, helped us think about what it means to work together for the common good of our students and our society. He pointed out that historically this has meant different things to different people. Does it mean educating citizens and preparing leaders for the future? Does it mean ensuring that all of our students can achieve economic success? Or does it mean focusing on social justice and ensuring that everyone has an equal chance for education?

Clearly we need to do all of these things. It is going to require working together in new ways, across institutions, across lines of rank and status, and across bargaining unit lines, to name a few. As Chancellor Malhotra said, no individual institution will be sustainable by standing on its own.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Becoming a strategic leader

Our HR community at Minnesota State is in the midst of a lot of change, both at the system level and at our individual campuses. We’ve been together this week at our fall conference and have been thinking about how we can all be strategic leaders to help ourselves and our clients navigate the changes successfully.

I was able to enjoying the beautiful scenery in Brainerd and have time for some personal reflection, which always refreshes my personal leadership.  Here are a few other things I took away:

Everyone has a role to play. Our group included several people with over 30 years of service, and someone with 3 days. It was great to experience the sense of collaboration as we talked about ways to work together and support each other. I appreciated how our HR leadership team showed that we all need to be leaders in our own areas.

Change is hard. The conference included operational issues and technical problems that need to be addressed as new technology is introduced. It also included discussions of how to help people deal with personal implications of changing job roles. It was clear that any major change includes a lot of moving pieces and it takes a whole community to manage them.

People are in different places.  In one of the breakout sessions, Todd reminded us about the “marathon effect” of change. Some of us are leaders who have been working with our new organization structure for quite some time, others of us were further back from the starting line and are just now getting involved day-to-day. We all need to recognize each other’s viewpoint and perspective.

It’s been valuable to be together as a community to learn together and recognize that we’re not alone in what we’re thinking and feeling. As leaders, providing opportunities for our team members to spend time focusing on our shared work creates long-term benefits for everyone.

Dee Anne Bonebright

You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss and colleagues or stakeholders will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Choices and new beginnings

Sometimes leaders know they need to make a new beginning, either personally or for the organization, but they can’t figure out how to start.  There may be many options, and sometimes these options are complete opposites.

We’ve written several times before about managing polarities – the kind of decision making that needs to happen when there are two opposing options, both of which have positive benefits.

A natural tendency is to look for some sort of compromise. But sometimes the compromise results in an outcome that doesn’t satisfy anyone. In their new book, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking, Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin talk about ways to get out of the trap of either/or thinking and come up with new solutions.

So what does that have to do with Legos? As Riel describes in this interview with Harvard Business Review, the executives at Lego had to make a difficult choice related to the movie. Should they hold on to creative control and protect the brand, or should they give creative control to skilled professionals who would create an exciting movie but might not serve the brand well?

The executives came up with a new solution that resulted in a blockbuster hit. It was a win for Lego and for the creators of the movie. (Check out the interview to find out what that solution was.)

Is there an area where you are feeling stuck in either/or thinking? How can you look at the problem in new ways?

Dee Anne Bonebright