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.
Ok, 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:
- Values – act as a steward and take actions that demonstrate concern for your people and organization.
- Innovation – provide opportunities for all your people to contribute their ideas to meet your customers’ needs.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
Posted in build organizational talent, building teams, change and transition, Developing Capacity, Engagement, integrity, Leadership, leading authentically, stewardship, stewardship
Tagged Change, engagement, innovation, integrity, Leadership, organizational culture, stewardship, values
Stewardship 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!
“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.
- Act as an enterprise
- Consolidate the delivery of core functions
- Build partnerships that prepare students for a successful college or university experience
- Adopt more creative and flexible labor practices
- 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?
Posted in common good, Developing Capacity, higher education, integrity, Leadership, stakeholders, stewardship, stewardship
Tagged accountability, Charting the Future, Leadership, organizational culture, stakeholders, stewardship, transformational change
I learned a new term when researching topics for this month – Stewardship of Place. As explained by the Association of American State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), it’s the idea that we have a responsibility to collaborate with community stakeholders in the places we are located to maximize shared opportunities and jointly address critical issues.
State colleges and universities are closely linked to their communities. Issues such as economic development, education reform, and environmental protection are often addressed through local and regional partnerships. AASCU says that this type of public engagement:
- Has meaning and value for an institution’s neighbors
- Is interactive, with institutions serving as both learners and teachers
- Is mutually beneficial
- Is integrated into all levels of the institution
The AASCU report describes a range of methods for implementing this kind of community engagement. The key point is that it needs to be an integral part of the organization – and recognized as part of its core values.
As campus leaders, many of us have the opportunity to participate in strategy conversations at the institutional, departmental, and unit level. What kinds of community engagement are important in those conversations? How can we support our colleges and universities in being stewards of place?
Dee Anne Bonebright
AASCU (Assn. of American State Colleges and Universities) – Stepping Forward as Stewards of Place
Public Purpose – Stewardship in an Era of Constraint
As we consider our Minnesota State leadership competencies and focus on stewardship, I find myself wondering how it applies to me as a leader. While I try to be responsible with the resources assigned to me, I don’t meet with donors or make financial decisions. So how can I demonstrate stewardship in my day-to-day leadership?
Rose Pascarell is the VP for Student Life at George Mason University. She wrote an article challenging her readers to consider how student affairs might look if stewardship was the guiding principal. How might that change the services we provide to students and the outcomes they experience?
Pascarell said that stewardship means examining how we use our financial resources to support our core goals. To do this, we need to seek new perspectives and multiple viewpoints.
“I challenge us all to consider whether we truly serve our students to the best of our ability when we build organizations that are complex, internally competitive, and focus on our own professional growth and professional curiosity without honest reflection on resources necessary to build our ideal student affairs environment.”
I can take “student affairs” out of the challenge above and insert my own area of human resources.Thinking about the goals of my work unit, I can ask whether my actions support Minnesota State in attracting, retaining, and developing employees to meet current and future educational needs. If I can’t make a direct connection, then being a good steward means taking a look at that activity and thinking of ways to stop doing it, or to do it more effectively.
How might your work be different if stewardship was the guiding principle?
Dee Anne Bonebright
As it happens, we are in a budget crunch and so the budget for my team’s professional development has been cut by 75%. I’ve often heard leaders bemoan this circumstance, saying that there is nothing they can do to build organizational talent, if they don’t have funds to invest in conferences, courses, or certifications for their staff.
While having few professional development funds can be limiting, there are other strategies that leaders can employ to ensure that their staff are continuing to build their knowledge, skills, and abilities and grow in their careers. In fact, research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1980s demonstrated that 70% of learning by successful managers comes from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others, and only 10% from formal educational events. It’s called the 70:20:10 model for learning and development.
Think about it. When did you learn the most in your career? Was it by taking a course? Or was it by tackling a new job or assignment that had a steep learning curve? I know my most challenging assignments have produced the greatest learning for me. The times I learned from my own mistakes, while humbling, also were the most valuable. And the times when I had caring mentors who were willing to give me good feedback increased my learning.
Using the 70:20:10 model as a guide, leaders can mine opportunities to develop their staff by making sure that they have stretch assignments or goals that help them expand or refine their job-related skills, make decisions, and address tough challenges. Giving staff increased opportunities to interact with influential people, cross-functional teams, and mentors can also build their skill and confidence. And giving staff immediate performance feedback and encouraging them to learn from their mistakes provides invaluable growth opportunities that can’t be replicated in a conference or a course.