Category Archives: goals

Finding common ground

“I’m struck time and again by how often our political talk is about people who aren’t in the room. We almost always talk about them—“those people” in Washington, D.C., or in our state capitols—the people we hold responsible for all our political pathologies. Rarely to do we talk about us, the people who are in the room, about our nation’s problems and how we can help solve them.” – Parker Palmer, renowned author, speaker, and activist

I think Parker Palmer has hit the nail on the head. What often holds us back from working toward the common good is our inability to work collaboratively together. Whether its in politics, the communities where we live, or the organizations where we work, I’ve observed that it’s easy to fall into a trap of blaming. We talk about us vs. them, rather than working together with those whom we disagree or those who have competing interests with ours. It is so much easier and quicker to vent or complain about other people, departments, etc., rather than to take necessary leadership to reach out to others with whom you disagree and work toward collaborative solutions. I have to admit that I’m   human too and have fallen into this particular trap.

However, at various times during my career, I’ve also had the responsibility to help others work toward collaborative solutions, especially when they are polarized and stuck. One approach* that I’ve found helpful in working with leaders in higher education, is to find common ground, by identifying a group’s shared interests. This can be as simple as asking:

  1. What do we all want?
  2. What do we all fear?

While individuals may have differing beliefs and values that often hold them firmly in their position or viewpoint, establishing common ground can point the parties to a shared goal.

While it may seem overwhelming to begin solving the problem of highly polarized political parties in our nation, I challenge you to look around in your workplace or your local community. Where do you have influence to change the us vs. them dynamics and find common ground?

Anita Rios

*Approach adapted from The Center for Integrative Leadership, University of Minnesota and Polarity Management Associates.

Did it work?

“Did it work?” looks like a simple question to answer but when dealing with people and change there are no easy answers. In fact, there is usually more than one answer, and it takes a lot of work to unearth them!  digging-a-hole

Evaluating the overall results of your change effort starts with digging deep to identify and document what each stakeholder group finds important and learn their definition of success. For those of us in higher education success can be defined as increased enrollment, student learning, decreased student debt, program sustainability, fiscal viability, community engagement, graduation rate, student completion, faculty engagement, student engagement, and on and on.

Recently I discovered the work of an international group of experts in the field of evaluation. They can help you focus your evaluation and determine what is most important to all of your stakeholders. Managing the evaluation process provides a set of resources and tools you can use to involve and engage your stakeholders during your evaluation planning, implementation and communication. Stakeholder engagement helps you:

  • provide credible and useful evaluation information
  • collect high quality data
  • understand and interpret evaluation data
  • build knowledge about the value of evaluation
  • facilitate the use and dissemination of your results

You can find more information on their website, Better Evaluation.

Engaging your stakeholders in your evaluation process clarifies what will count as success and helps you answer each stakeholder when they ask you, “did it work?”

Todd Thorsgaard


Evaluate results!

“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results”   –  Milton Friedman

resultsThe same is true of any change effort. It’s easy to be committed to (and even fall in love with) the intent of a change effort, but it’s incumbent upon leaders to hold themselves and others accountable by evaluating actual results. What has changed or improved?

This year we have been blogging about the phases of leading change. During November, Todd, Dee Anne, and I will focus on the last phase of change: evaluate results. We’ll cover methods to evaluate results, such as measuring return on investment and assessing stakeholder satisfaction. We’ll also discuss why it is important to evaluate results and who should be involved in the process. And we’ll explore ways to communicate those results in ways that continue to reinforce the change and make it part of your organization’s DNA.

We hope you will join in the conversation this month to share some of your evaluation strategies, along with your successes and challenges.

Anita Rios


“The challenge in my life really is keeping the balance between feeling creatively energized and fulfilled without feeling overwhelmed and like I’m in the middle of a battlefield.” – Amanda Palmer

Change efforts can feel overwhelming when you are in the middle of implementing them, especially as you are balancing new work activities with existing ones. As a leader, how can you keep the balance between being energized and overwhelmed as Amanda Palmer states?

One approach that is tried and true, is to examine each work activity through the lens of urgency and importance. Below is a classic work prioritization model developed by Stephen R. Covey that Todd Thorsgaard highlighted in his blog, “So many demands,” last year.








Prioritizing before responding to work demands can help you remain energized, without being overwhelmed.

What approaches have worked best for you when managing your existing work load and balancing new change efforts?

Anita Rios


Make big goals successful

success big goalLast week I heard a colleague lament that her change team was focusing so much on goals that were “low-hanging fruit,” that she and other team members feared that the big or long-term goals would never get accomplished. The value of addressing low-hanging fruit is often to give the team a burst of energy and sense of accomplishment by achieving a short-term goal. In my experience, I have worked with teams that have gotten sidelined because they did overfocus on low-hanging fruit that did not translate to longer-term goals. At the same time, I’ve seen teams spin their wheels during change efforts when they have too many big, long-term goals that seem too ambiguous and far out of reach.

Ann Latham, a change consultant at, says that the most successful goals are:

  1. Specific – the team knows what needs to be accomplished and has the tools to do it
  2. Certain – the goal is realistic and results are possible
  3. Immediate – the result can be accomplished fairly soon

By definition, big, long-term goals have the opposite characteristics of successful goals in that they are too big to be specific and certain and the result may be several years out. For instance, one of the big goals for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in Charting the Future is to: “dramatically increase the success of all learners, especially those in diverse populations traditionally underserved by higher education.”  This is a big, long-term goal that the student success implementation team is wrestling with right now. They are in the midst of setting strategy and exploring possibilities, but at this moment in time, the goal can seem vague, uncertain, and far out into the future in terms of:

  • What specifically needs to be done to accomplish the goal? What are the steps?
  • Who can contribute to accomplishing the goal and what are their specific roles?
  • What is the timeline?  (including the measurements for accomplishing this goal and the milestones that should be met)

To make big, long-term goals successful, Ann Latham recommends breaking them down into chunks, so that are in fact a series of short-term goals, which are specific, certain, and immediate. If a long-term goal spans 5 years, consider how that goal can be broken into action strategies for the next five years, with each year moving the team or organization closer to the long-term goal.

I am confident that Charting the Future implementation teams will soon get to this point in architecting specific action strategies to accomplish MnSCU’s goals and I am excited to see the results of their work in the gallery walks that will soon be held on college and university campuses in our system.

From your experience, what has helped you and your team achieve long-term goals?

Anita Rios

Build a change engine!

imagesCAPIQJI9Research has shown that 70% of all change efforts fail. So faced with that daunting statistic, what can leaders do to ensure that their change effort is successful? According to a 2010 transformational change survey conducted by McKinsey and Company, organizations that implemented successful change efforts had three elements in common.

1) STRUCTURE: The change effort was organized into a clear structure with easily understandable parts

2) OWNERSHIP: Roles and responsibilities were clear and people felt accountable for delivering results

3) EVALUATION: Clear metrics and milestones were set to ensure that progress and impact were rigorously tracked.

Put together, these three elements form an engine for change that supports and drives progress.  In applying these three elements to your change efforts, it can be helpful ask the following questions:


  1. Are the phases of this change effort easy to understand?
  2. What might I need to do to communicate the structure more clearly?
  3. What is confusing to people?
  4. How can it be simplified so that it is easy to understand?


  1. Do people and teams involved in implementing the change understand their roles?
  2. What is their decision-making authority?
  3. What is their span of control?
  4. How are people and teams being held accountable?
  5. How is this being communicated?


  1. What will success look like?
  2. What metrics have been set? Are they easy to measure? Or are they ambiguous?
  3. What milestones are in place?
  4. Are there incentives and rewards paired with the metrics and milestones?

In your experience, have you found that building in structure, ownership, and evaluation elements have supported your change efforts?

Anita Rios




The intersection of strategy and goals

TAR_Intersection_sign (2)We’ve been talking about setting strategy and goals to help lead change.  While each topic can be considered on its own and each has helpful tools, it’s also true that they are strongly interconnected. Before we move on, I’d like to share a couple of lessons I’ve learned about setting strategic goals.

Pay attention to the timing.  What else is happening in your organization?  Do people have the capacity to attend to your change right now?  I’ve seen a lot of well-intended and potentially useful changes flounder because of poor timing.  No matter how critical the change may be, if there are other, even more important, activities going on at the same time your change may not get the attention it deserves.  If your college is in the midst of an accreditation review, it’s probably not a good time to restructure the curriculum.

Clarify the unstated values.  I’ve been helping to develop some  training on prevention of discrimination and harassment. The learning goals include things like understanding MnSCU policy, knowing important definitions, and identifying resources.  These are important, but by using a new set of design tools to explore the underlying values, I realized that what we really want is for leaders to be committed to furthering a safe and respectful environment for MnSCU students, staff, and guests.  This core value will help me to shape more meaningful learning goals for the policy implementation course.

Pay attention to the people.  There are many tactical tools for creating strategy and designing strategic goals.  But don’t forget that the vast majority of changes don’t fail because of business processes.  They fail because, for some reason, the right people weren’t involved and committed. When I lead project kickoff meetings, I always spend a great deal of time helping the team members get to know each other and understand what each one is bringing to the table.  Task-oriented leaders may think this is a waste of time, but I’ve learned over and over again that it pays off in smoother processes along the way.

During May we’ll be talking more about ways to engage stakeholders in the change process.  What challenges have you faced in the people aspects of leading change?

Dee Anne Bonebright

The road to change

road trip

In honor of Willie Nelson’s 81st birthday today, here is a quote from the great song writer and troubadour. Not very helpful in leading change but worth a smile!

I believe that all roads lead to the same place – and that is wherever all roads lead to.

In contrast to Willie’s philosophy, I am actually planning a road trip for later in May to the West Point Academy in New York to attend the 2014 graduation of a cadet. We will cover over 2500 miles and the roads we choose and the decisions we make during the trip will be very important to the success of our journey!

Recent work in neuroscience and leadership by David Rock and Elliot Berkman suggests that setting goals is much more like planning for and going on a long road trip than a one-time activity. For goals to be effective and lead to change they need to engage two parts of our brain, why the goal is important and how it will be accomplished. Yet our brains are not capable of engaging both at the same time. This means that our goals need integrate both aspects and make it easy for people to move back and forth when they get stuck during change initiatives.

Berkman and Rock use the acronym AIM and the metaphor of a road trip to help leaders set effective goals for change in the workplace. They propose an integrative model of goals and goal pursuit consisting of:

  • Antecedents – the pre-trip planning. Make the goal memorable, motivating and social.
  • Integration – the “rubber hitting the road.” Your goals need to make it easy to shift between the why and the how. Focus on the mile by mile choices, trade-offs and decisions that need to be made during long trips. Provide insight on how to step back in the moment and stay focused on the long run. In other words, stay focused on the road ahead and not the potholes!
  • Maintenance – using cruise control to stay on track. Include goals that provide rewards and build habits so that the change becomes “hard-wired.”

When I return from West Point I will let you know how well we did with the integration and maintenance goal process. Hopefully my three travel companions and I will make it to the graduation safely, on-time and still speaking with each other!

Todd Thorsgaard


Avoid the tyranny of too many good ideas

“Try not to do too many things at once. Know what you want, the number one thing today and tomorrow. Persevere and get it done.”  –George Allen

strategy evaluationIn my work consulting with leadership teams in higher education over the last 25 years, it seems that one of the biggest challenges for leaders is to narrow down the myriad of good ideas that come out of a strategic planning session. It can be so tempting to bite off more than you can chew when setting strategy.

Leaders who attempt to accomplish more than is realistic with their existing workforce and resources, can become burned out from trying to accomplish it all.  I’ve also seen many employees become disheartened when plans don’t come to fruition because of overambitious planning.

So how can you avoid the tyranny of too many good ideas and focus on the best ones that will give you the greatest return on investment? To choose the best way forward, I’d recommend using some strategic evaluation methods to assist you in your decision making. Mindtools has some excellent resources, including information to help you conduct:

  • Risk Analysis
  • Impact Analysis
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Matrix Analysis

For information, see: and scroll down the page to Stage 3: Evaluating and Selecting Strategic Options

Have you ever experienced the problems associated with too many good ideas? How did you handle it?

Anita Rios

It’s simple, really.

I have a clear vision for the summer: complete six triathlons. I have my training strategy designed. I have my weekly workouts and plans in place. It looks like I have put together a great overall change plan. I have a vision, I am motivated, and yet I am still struggling to get to the pool. My swims just don’t feel right and with all the conflicting priorities from my work schedule and familyTrain schedule it has become too easy to believe I am too busy to get to the pool. Moving from strategy to true engagement has been derailed.

Mark Effron, the author of One Page Talent Management, believes that leaders derail their people during change in a similar way by over-complicating the goals needed to accomplish the change strategy. We actually make it hard for our people to change instead of making it easier. Effron suggests that we use SIMple goals. Make them:

  • Specific – clear and short
  • Important – meaningful to the person and what is important to them
  • Measurable – observable, behavioral

This looks easy to do and makes sense but in our leadership roles we have so much extra background information and details pressing on us that we can inadvertently add them to our messages and the goals we set. Taking a step back, pausing, and asking yourself, “Am I making this goal SIMple?” will make it a much more powerful and effective goal.

Elbow higher than wrist, wrist higher than fingers. That SIMple goal from a blog I follow helped me get back in the pool this week. It is clear, crucial to my success, and easy to observe. What SIMple goal will move your change initiatives forward?

Todd Thorsgaard