Category Archives: leadership challenges

Rest and reflection

This quote from Peter Drucker highlights the importance of reflection as part of learning.

As adults, we know that most of what we learn doesn’t happen in a classroom. It happens during our work and personal lives. But here’s the thing – it’s not just the experience we learn from, it’s how we think about it afterwards. Researchers at Harvard Business School discovered that reflection on our experiences enhances learning. Taking time to understand the meaning of what happened has multiple benefits:

  • Learning from experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection.
  • Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
  • Reflection builds confidence in our ability to achieve a goal.

With that in mind, we’ll be taking a break until after Labor Day. As our team spends the next month on vacation and catching up on projects, we’ll also take time to reflect on the past year and what we learned from it.

I hope you will have some time to relax, reflect, and re-energize during the rest of the summer.

Dee Anne Bonebright

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Want high performance? Build a learning culture!

According to David Mallon of Bersin & Associates, if you want a high performance organization, it’s imperative that you build a learning culture. In his research of successful, high performing organizations, he’s found that “a culture of learning and a culture of high performance are significantly linked.”  Intuitively, it makes sense that the smarter your organization is the better it can perform.

So, what is a learning culture, you might ask?  Bersin & Associates define it as a  “collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that continuously impels organizations and individuals to build knowledge, competence and performance.” And while a learning culture supports training and leadership development, it isn’t limited to formal development programs.

In Bersin’s comprehensive report, Mallon identifies 40 best practices and seven strategies that organizations can use to create a learning culture. Here is a sample:

  1. Assign staff to do jobs that surpass their skills and knowledge – Ask people to stretch. Use difficult assignments to encourage employees to push themselves to develop new skills and improve their old ones.
  2. Let people participate in selecting their assignments – Employees work hardest when their jobs and tasks interest them. Google takes advantage of this by permitting its engineers to devote a fifth of their time to personal projects.
  3. Recognize workers who learn new information and abilities – Provide rewards that show you care about each person’s learning.
  4. Value mistakes and failures – Employees learn best from their mistakes. Capitalize on errors as learning opportunities. And give people time to reflect on them.
  5. Emphasize learning as an important activity – Demonstrate its value in tangible ways; for example, make managers responsible for their staff’s professional development, not just their output. Actions always speak louder than words.
  6. Take a personal interest in the organizational capabilities of teams and individuals – Mentor the people you supervise.

During the next month, we’ll be exploring these ideas and more as we dive deeply into our next leadership competency of Building Organizational Talent. What strategies have you used to build a learning culture?

Anita Rios

Creating a service culture

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

 

 

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

 

 

Seeking solutions with your customer

Last week, construction finally began on our home to fix the damage that occurred with an extreme hail storm nearly a year ago. We are getting new siding, gutters, fascia, window screens, and a replacement of trim on our home’s exterior. If you’ve lived in a home while construction is going on, you know it’s both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Exciting because of the anticipation of having a fresh, clean home exterior, but frustrating with the added noise, construction debris, and traffic around your home.

Unfortunately, our frustration levels increased beyond our expectations the very first day of construction. After coming home from work, we discovered that the siding crew had drastically sheared all the mature shrubs around our home without letting us know ahead of time. Several shrubs were cut in half around the foundation and the 20-foot tall arborvitae framing the house on either side were butchered, exposing bare branches on the lower half of the trees that would never recover. It was shocking to see the devastation.

My husband Cesar called the contractor and gave him an earful. We were both frustrated that this had been done without our approval or prior knowledge. Thankfully the contractor responded gracefully and first listened to Cesar, apologized, and then told him he would make it right. Over years of working with homeowners, our contractor has honed his skills at resolving customer service problems when they arise, following these simple, but effective strategies outlined in LifeHack:

  • Listen Intently:  Listen to the customer, and do not interrupt them. They need to tell their story and feel that they have been heard.
  • Thank Them: Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. You can’t resolve something you aren’t completely aware of, or may be making faulty assumptions about.
  • Apologize: Sincerely convey to the customer your apology for the way the situation has made them feel. This is not the time for preachy reasons, justifications or excuses; you must apologize.
  • Seek the Best Solution: Determine what the customer is seeking as a solution. Ask them; often they’ll surprise you for asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give—especially when they perceive your apology and intention is genuinely sincere.
  • Reach Agreement: Seek to agree on the solution that will resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Your best intentions can miss the mark completely if you still fail to deliver what the customer wants.
  • Take Quick Action: Act on the solution with a sense of urgency. Customers will often respond more positively to your focus on helping them immediately versus than on the solution itself.
  • Follow-up: Follow-up to ensure the customer is completely satisfied, especially when you have had to enlist the help of others for the solution delivery. Everything up to this point will be for naught if the customer feels that “out of sight is out of mind.”

Since the first phone call with our contractor, we’ve had several conversations with him to talk through how to fix the problem. On Thursday he came out to our house and calmly assessed the damage. He told me that he had already contacted landscapers and nurseries to get estimates on delivering 10-foot arborvitae. I told him we wouldn’t need 10-foot arborvitae and could replace them with smaller trees. I also added that we would be happy to do the landscaping work ourselves saving him extra money in the process. He was pleasantly surprised and I was happy we could arrive at an agreeable solution.

When I think about that interaction, our contractor demonstrated all 7 steps for resolving customer service problems. While they are simple (and work no matter who your customer is), it also takes humility, grace, and true concern for your customer to resolve problems to everyone’s satisfaction.

Anita Rios

 

 

Insights from a trusted leader

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College about her onboarding experience as a new president in Minnesota State. President Charlier has a natural ability to connect with people and even over the phone, had me enjoying our conversation. During our talk, she shared some very useful insights about building relationships and trust on her campus. Knowing that other leaders would benefit from her wisdom, I asked if we could feature her on our blog this month.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

We talked about your onboarding experience as a new president at Central Lakes College in Minnesota State. During that conversation, you told me that your very first challenge was a cultural challenge around trust. Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. I think that trust can be challenged any time there is a leadership transition. People think about the new leader and ask: Can I trust him or her? Will he or she uphold the traditions of this college? Will he or she make decisions that are in the best interest of the college? Leadership transitions can shake the foundation of trust.

When I first came here, Central Lakes College was experiencing extensive turnover in leadership positions, from deans to directors and vice presidents. Issues of trust were evident from years of leadership transition. It was no reflection on the leaders themselves. It takes time to build trust and because of the continual turnover, there was no time to build trust with individual leaders.

What specifically did you do to build trust on your campus?

I believe that leaders should listen and learn first. So, as a part of my onboarding process, I conducted focus groups with all employees. I asked employees: What do we do well? What can we improve? What is our ideal culture? And how can we create our ideal culture?

That is when I realized there was a trust issue. People were fearful and did not feel heard. They were not trusting of administration.

The focus groups helped me to really hear employees’ voices and provided fabulous data to help us understand and begin to create the culture people wanted.

Based on the data, we formed a community-building team of volunteers to begin building the culture that people had identified…one where all employees are respected, feel heard, and care about each other. The team led an employee recognition day and created a calendar of social events with the goal of connecting people from different parts of the college so they could get know each other as people.

I also send out regular email newsletters to the campus community… helping them to see all of the terrific things happening on our campuses, thanking them, and letting them know that we value all that they do. This often takes the form of a top ten list. People report that they like hearing about the great work that is happening at CLC. It helps people feeling valued, contributes to the sense that we’re doing good work together, and helps to build trust.

Why do you feel building trust is essential to your effectiveness as a leader and to the success of your institution?

I believe everything we do is about “relationship,” which is the foundation of trust. It’s a personal value of mine, and it aligns with the values of the college. We are really in the relationship business.

It sounds so simple. As a public proponent of relationships, I talk about the value of people and relationships at every opportunity. We have been very vocal about how relationships are a top priority at CLC, and we work to share that message consistently across the college.

A college can’t do its work without relationships with students, each other, and with our community. CLC employees do that every day. They go above and beyond. I watch them. It is the cornerstone of what we do. We can’t get momentum without valuing and trusting one another.

How have you helped your team focus on relationships at Central Lakes?

Our leadership team actively works on strategies to build relationships – how to ensure that employees feel supported, valued, and heard, how to have meaningful conversations, and how to nurture a culture of respect. This work happens through professional development and ongoing conversations about relationships and trust, so that it is instilled in the employees of Central Lakes College.

One of our key initiatives has been knowing people’s names. If we believe that we should know employees as whole people, we need to know their names. We ask people to wear name tags at college events to help people learn and remember each other’s names. We ask them to please know each other’s names and smile at each other. We are whole, complicated beings, with lives outside of work. Knowing each other’s names is the beginning to know people.

In your role as president, people are paying attention to you. How does that influence your actions every day as a leader?

I believe that it is important for leaders to be authentic. I think it is important to just BE me. I work hard to be authentic, vulnerable and let people get to know me. It is only when we know who people are and what values guide them that we can trust.

We also spend lot of time working to gather input about decisions and ultimately conveying the WHY we make decisions. Explaining “the why” is important so that we are all going in the same direction. That contributes to trust.

The most important time I spend is walking around our campuses, stopping by offices, labs, and having hallway conversations. It’s my opportunity to talk with and listen to students and employees. Through these casual, unplanned conversations, we get to know each other as whole people – and build trust. Of course, it’s challenging to find time to do this, but if we recognize it as critical, it becomes a priority. I schedule “walk abouts” on my calendar.

What advice would you give to other leaders to enhance their ability to build trust with others?

  • You can’t build trust unless you are authentic, vulnerable, and approachable.
  • It’s hard to find time to walk around and talk to people, but it is worth every minute.
  • Be yourself and let people see who you are (even your flaws).
  • Get to know employees as people. They will appreciate you taking the time, and you will gain so much from learning about the wonderful people that make things happen in our colleges.

Anita Rios