Category Archives: stewardship

What’s stopping you?

What’s stopping you from delivering excellent customer service? Is it long-held assumptions about your customers? Resistance to changing how you’ve always done something? Is it tied up with your organizational culture? Or something else?

In a revealing survey of higher education professionals from 79 institutions, Academic Impressions found that respondents did not give their institutions outstanding grades in customer service to students. That may or may not surprise you. Here are the common challenges they found that stop colleges and universities from delivering excellent customer service:

  • Faculty and staff don’t see customer service as necessary
  • Effective customer service training is not provided
  • Uncertainty or inability to audit their current service and identify bottlenecks/gaps

Authors of the study showcase various institution’s approaches to auditing and improving their services in enrollment, academic advising and student support services. For example, to begin identifying academic policies and procedures that impede student success, they recommend three key steps:

  1. Review student complaints as opportunities to identify and correct outdated policies or procedures, recognizing that recurring complaints may point toward a systemic issue.
  2. Survey students to help prioritize where you need to focus.
  3. Audit your academic policies for some of the most common inefficiencies.

In addition to addressing gaps/bottlenecks in service to students, it’s important to address our long-held beliefs and assumptions about students and how we do our work. As Rich Weems, AVP for Enrollment at Southern Oregon University says, “We need to stop thinking about service to the student as an interruption to our work. Service to the student is why we’re there. Your #1 priority is taking care of the student. Drill that in.”

Anita Rios

 

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Don’t surprise your customers. Delight them!

According to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, “Customers don’t want to be surprised, they want to be delighted!”

While I work in higher education, I am also a customer of higher education. My youngest daughter Sophie is entering college in the fall, and I can tell you that we have both been delighted by her new school.

Every communication with students and parents has been designed to welcome her and help her navigate the transition from high school to college. Her initial visit to the college wowed her with a tour of the program and demonstrations from current students in the architecture program. Upon acceptance, Sophie received a welcome package, complete with a swag bag of college-branded goodies to get her excited.

The school connects students with potential roommates and helps students register for dorm rooms online. With the help of social media, Sophie has been communicating with all the girls on her dorm floor and feels that she already knows them pretty well. Amazing, huh? I can tell you that she feels far more comfortable entering her freshman year than I did at her age when I knew no one.

As a parent, I’ve been completely informed about the admissions and orientation processes all along the way and I’ve recently been invited to join a Facebook group of parents for the class of 2022, where the current conversation among parents is “what type of computer is required for my son/daughter’s course of study?”

Just before Sophie graduated from high school, the college even sent her a branded top for her mortar board. What fun! And how delightful!

In their book, Stewart and O’Connell outline five principles of excellent service design, one of which is “Customers Want to Be Delighted.” To do that they recommend that you:

  • Meet their expectations with no guesses or surprises by providing an overall satisfying experience.
  • Define the delight you deliver to customers. Delight represents your customers’ experiences (how good were they?) multiplied by your “technical excellence” (how well did you deliver them?)
  • Ensure that customers know what to expect as they move from one touchpoint to another.

The authors say, that “such delight will “woo, wow, and win” customers.” I can certainly say that Sophie’s new college has wooed, wowed, and won me over completely through absolute delight!

What can you do to delight your customers?

Anita Rios

 

Trust and failure at work

One of your employees made a major mistake. It cost time, money, and stakeholder goodwill. You made a major effort and repaired the damage. So what happens next?

Many of us like to think that we would expect the person to learn from the mistake and continue to be a high-performing part of the team. But it can be hard to trust that person with similar projects in the future.

Several years ago I read a book called The Set Up to Fail Syndrome. The authors made the argument that an employee’s poor performance is often directly related to the behavior of his or her boss.

As they explained in this blog post, the pattern is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect.  Rather than helping an individual live up to great expectations, the set-up-to-fail syndrome encourages people to live down to low expectations.

  1. An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
  2. The manager decides to take a more hands-on approach in managing performance by providing extra feedback, adding approval steps, and watching the employee more closely.
  3. Even though the manager is well meaning, the employee interprets this behavior as lack of confidence and trust. This leads to second-guessing themselves, withdrawing, and making fewer autonomous decisions.
  4. The boss perceives this behavior as further demonstration that the person is not a strong contributor, and the cycle continues.

This can become a self-reinforcing cycle in which even high-performing employees are no longer able to bring their best to the work. And it’s not unusual. What stuck with me about the book was this quote:

Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.

Some years ago I worked with a colleague that had very different personality preferences than our manager. She made several choices that were different from what the manager would have done. The manager interpreted her work style as problematic and quit including her in planning meetings or seeking her feedback about programs she worked on. The employee began to feel like she couldn’t do anything right. She quit trying, thereby making the manager believe that he was correct to doubt  her abilities.

Eventually the employee transferred to a different department and immediately began to thrive. She was put in charge of increasingly complex tasks and earned at least one promotion. Her basic work performance and style didn’t change. What did change was her relationship with her manager and her resulting self-confidence.

Re-building trust after a mistake, or even a difference of opinion, can be hard. Not doing it means that some employees are given assignments and flexibility while others are not. The consequences can be costly for the employee, the work unit, and the organization.

What do you do after someone makes a mistake to ensure you are re-building trust instead of setting them up to fail?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Photo: Untitled photograph (Broken red vase) by Sarah Charlesworth

 

 

 

Your best laid plans

Strategic plans, work plans, goals, action items, tactics, timelines… these are all fantastic tools for strategic leaders. They are important, and even necessary, to help leverage people’s work efforts and accomplish organizational mission. But we all know that our best laid plans can be disrupted by problems and opportunities during the year.

In those cases, what is a strategic leader to do? Abandon all hope of strategic planning and just go with the flow? Dump your plan and stay in reactive mode? I think not!

One strategy my team used to plan for unexpected problems or opportunities was a priority-setting brainstorm session. We identified criteria that should be used in prioritizing the activities we already have in our work plan as well as any new work that might emerge during the year. Some of the questions we explored included:

  • How should we set priorities?
  • What criteria do strategies or activities need to meet in order to be included in our work plan?
  • What goals and guiding principles should we be consistently supporting as a unit?
  • Does new work need to meet ALL priority-setting criteria or just some?

It was a fruitful discussion that helped us anchor our work plan and work priorities in overarching goals for our division and the system. We discussed the impact of our work, our customer’s needs, and the environment in which we work. We also had a useful conversation about how we want to work together as a team, and we agreed upon our own set of operating principles.

Since that conversation, I’ve noticed some of my team members have been more mindful of high-level priorities and have increased confidence in setting boundaries with other colleagues. In fact, just today I was copied on an email one of my team members sent to a colleague, explaining that a particular project would need to sit on the back burner until her higher priority work was completed. Now that’s leading and working strategically.

Anita Rios

 

 

Who would have predicted that!

dewey-winsOk, I admit it. This post is a day late. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday night watching the presidential electoral college vote results and the commentators trying to explain how all the predictions were wrong. Then on Wednesday, more analysis and exploration of what happened. I promise, this will not be a political post, but the election of president-elect Trump highlights how hard it is to predict the future! And we have a long history of getting predictions wrong.

So, how do leaders build organizational capacity to meet future challenges when it is so hard to see what will happen in the future?

Gary Hamel encourages leaders in his book What Matters Now (2012) to go back to the basics and focus on values to prepare for an uncertain future. He lists the following as “pivotal, overarching concerns” for leaders:

  1. Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
  2. Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
  3. Adaptability – “future-proof” your company by relentlessly pushing for internal change to match external changes. Hamel stresses the need to “seek out the most discomforting facts you can find and share them with everyone in your organization.”
  4. Passion – clearly demonstrate that your people are affecting the outside world with their work. Highlight the importance of each and every person’s day-to-day work.
  5. Ideology – examine, discuss and challenge the status quo. Make it safe for people to express their opinions and concerns.

We may mess up predicting the future but Hamel implores leaders to speak up for “the good, the just and the beautiful” to better prepare for the uncertainty ahead.

The following link provides a detailed summary of What Matters Now.

https://www.getabstract.com/en/summary/leadership-and-management/what-matters-now/17412?dfs=wxmmqkfksovueayhlzbvluhtiwngbj&rf=DLZPJVUFWN&utm_campaign=share&utm_souce=getAbstract&utm_medium=email&u=MNSCU

Todd Thorsgaard

A balancing act!

balanceStewardship and fundraising is a delicate balancing act for leaders in higher education. And it is easy to crash!

A 2014 doctoral thesis from Penn State provides details on what drives donors to contribute to higher educational institutions and how leaders can utilize stewardship to build donor relationships and generate additional resources for their colleges and universities. You can download the thesis here if you are interested.

The author shares a 2011 story of a large donor who felt ignored and halted his $7 million dollar donation. The donor actually asked for money back and for his name to be removed from a building that was already completed. That is a big crash!

The researcher found that donors in higher education have a unique connection with the school, potentially as an alum or due to a family or community connection, and this influences the type of interactions they expect when they donate. While much of the responsibility for donor relations resides with the development area, leaders can make a significant difference.

The top strategy for nurturing donor relationships focuses on treating them with respect. Leaders can support this by actively:

  • thanking donors
  • communicating with donors even when not soliciting money
  • looking for opportunities to give donors private attention or private time

Building relationships with your development area, offering leadership support, and spending time with donors will help leaders be better at overall stewardship in higher education – and avoid any painful crashes!

Todd Thorsgaard

Stewardship means change!

houston“Houston, we have a problem….” is how Jane Wellman, higher education finance expert, describes the reality most public higher education institutions are facing today in an Inside Higher Education report. Minnesota State Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, at his final board of trustee retreat, reinforced our need to take action to respond to the “tectonic” changes our system is facing if we are to be stewards of the resources we receive from the public and our students and their families.

Stewardship, or long-term sustainability, in higher education requires more than carefully watching how we spend our money. Former interim president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Avelino Mills-Novoa, implores us to change from training our students how to fit into our colleges and universities to actually changing our colleges and universities so they fit our students!

This type of stewardship demands that we challenge ourselves and our teams to tackle issues that we have not been willing to address in the past. At a previous organization where I worked at we used the term “sacred cows” to open up dialogue with all employees. What existing practices, policies, procedures, work habits, leadership styles, infrastructure, labor agreements, ideas, or traditions need to be examined and potentially given up or radically changed to allow us to serve our students and communities as they deserve to be served?

A cross-functional workgroup representing stakeholders from our campuses and the system recently identified five potential recommendations to ensure our financial sustainability. It included students, union representatives, campus leaders, and outside experts. As you read through the report you will see that a number of sacred cows are identified. As leaders in higher education, setting the stage for your teams to examine and discuss these recommendations is an example of stewardship.

  1. Act as an enterprise
  2. Consolidate the delivery of core functions
  3. Build partnerships that prepare students for a successful college or university experience
  4. Adopt more creative and flexible labor practices
  5. Re-calibrate physical plant and space capacity

What are your reactions to the report? Are there other sacred cows for us to challenge and change?

Todd Thorsgaard