I would have made it shorter

I wanted to start this post with the quote “I’m sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Turns out that has been attributed to a lot of people, starting with Blaise Pascal in 1657 and including Benjamin Franklin in 1750.

That means that for at least 350 years people have known that it’s harder to write a short and concise letter or document than a long one. Twitter aside, that is still true.

Here are some tips from writing consultant Mary Cullen at 87 advanced tips for business writing:

  • Purpose: Before you start, ask “who is my reader” and “what do I want them to know or do?”  If you don’t have an answer, there’s no purpose for continuing.
  • Plan: For a standard business document or email, spend about half of the time planning and half of the time writing.
  • Everyday language. Avoid jargon. Never use a big word when a small word will do.
  • Clear language. Use strong verbs (“We need to decide”… is better than “we need to make a decision”…) Any time a word is not truly needed, cut it.

Cullen says that online readers can only handle about 7 lines of text before readability goes down and they are more likely to skip it.  Adding headers, lists, and white space can help – as in the paragraph above.

As leaders, we can feel too busy to edit. But taking the time to remove extra words and present a clear message can save time in the long run. People will actually read what we send and are more likely to get the point!

Dee Anne Bonebright

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How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Not feeling heard?

“We didn’t feel like we were heard.

People were dancing around the topic to avoid offending anyone.

How can I get my message understood?”

Do those comments sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Those exact phrases were shared with me last week by a leader who was asking for help to communicate more effectively.

While the acts of listening, speaking, and sharing ideas seems straightforward and simple, they are anything but; especially when you add in the fact that we each bring our own filters or lenses through which we interpret messages. And if there are positional power differences or emotions are running high, communications can be fraught with peril.

During this month, we will be taking a deep dive into our Minnesota State leadership competency: communicates effectively, defined as:

  • Effectively conveys ideas and shares information with others using appropriate methods
  • Listens carefully and understands differing points of view
  • Presents ideas clearly and concisely

Please join in the conversation by sharing your leadership and communication challenges.

Anita Rios

Driving growth, fueling retention, and improving organizational outcomes

By guest blogger Josefina Landrieu

What if I told you that there is a practice out there that will get at:

  • Driving  growth?
  • Fueling retention?
  • Improving organizational outcomes?

You’ll likely question my idea by saying “there is no silver bullet!” And no, there is no silver bullet. But there is a practice that when implemented effectively, helps to address some of the greatest challenges in employee retention, workplace inclusion, and organizational outcomes. More importantly, THIS practice helps employers build a diverse and inclusive workforce, cultivate relationships with their employees and recruit/retain talent in an extremely competitive marketplace. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) deliver real value in promoting diversity and helping employees feel included in the organization’s culture. And it doesn’t have to stop there, ERGs help with retention, team productivity, and workplace climate. Although ERGs have been mostly used in the corporate sector, higher education is now following suit.

I was a member of an ERG at my previous institution and it served as a great opportunity to network with peers, to gain a stronger sense of belonging, and to experience mentorship opportunities. As an ERG, we co-sponsored events for professional development for employees of color that included bringing in speakers, conducting trainings, and delivering workshops. The group also provided less structured opportunities for employee socialization and engagement. It’s critical to allow the group to decide its focus while adhering to the organization’s principles, and mission for equity and inclusion.

What do ERGs look like in higher education? Here are some tips for successful implementation:

  • They are supported by an HR/Equity & Inclusion lead
  • They are open to all employees & participation is voluntary
  • They promote diversity, inclusion, and understanding
  • They adhere to the organization’s policies and procedures
  • They serve as a vehicle for a more distributed leadership model
  • They have organizational sponsors and sometimes funding

The first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves before the year is out. Research from the Conference Board shows that participating in an ERG leads to greater retention for employees from underrepresented groups. And, in addition to impacting employee retention, ERGs can provide key cultural insights, which can be critical to HR practices. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has actively embraced this inclusive practice. They report that ERGs have resulted in increased workplace satisfaction among participants and provide insightful feedback to the organization, an excellent return on investment.

Josefina Landrieu is the Assistant Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State.

Retention starts with us

By guest blogger Clyde Pickett

Student retention is a priority for higher education. We all have a responsibility to support retention efforts no matter our role or position.

To serve our students inclusively, we must commit ourselves to providing our students with outstanding service in every interaction they have with us.

In an article on academic advising, Ricky Boyd* provides some specific action steps to provide quality service to all students:

  1. Treat students with dignity and respect.
  2. Give students clear directions on how to solve their problems and issues, rather than giving them a run-around or sending them on a wild goose chase.
  3. Be responsive to students and their parents/families.
  4. Give timely answers to students’ questions and provide regular feedback on their progress.

Excellent service and communication should be the norm for all of our students no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they look like. Implementing these tips is a step towards advancing a positive campus climate and creating a culture to support retention.

As employees we must ask ourselves “what else can I do to support students in my interactions?” For some of us it might mean additional training on best practices. For others it might mean reviewing policy and procedural best practices to support front line service to students. Above all it means understanding we are here to serve their needs. The work of retention starts with us.

Clyde Pickett is the Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

*Boyd, R. L. (2012). Customer Service in Higher Education: Finding a Middle Ground. The Mentor, an Academic Advising Journal, 1. Retrieved from https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2012/06/customer-service-in-higher-education/

Seeking a diverse administration

By 2020, 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates will be non-white. Citing that fact, the American Council on Education says that it’s more important than ever to ensure diversity among admissions representatives. A 2017 blog post highlights the importance of admissions counselors in representing their institutions and in shaping the student body.

The articles says that, similar to other administrative roles, we have work to do to achieve that goal. The authors identified three issues that are limiting diversity in college administration.

Leaky pipelines – Students who graduate with four-year degrees are still predominantly white. This results in lower numbers of qualified minority individuals to fill administrative positions.

Insufficient recruiting – Search committees may not be skilled in recruiting and selecting diverse candidates. Members may not be aware of unconscious biases and strategies for mitigating them.

Lower retention – Even after hiring administrators who bring diversity to the campus, institutions may have difficulty retaining them. This can be especially true in high-turnover positions such as entry-level admissions counselors.

The article proposed some strategies that can help retain all administrators, including administrators of color.

  • Offer diversity and/or cultural competency training for all staff
  • Emphasize diversity in the recruitment process
  • Establishing orientation and mentoring programs for new administrators
  • Foster open communication
  • Invite administrators to be part of decision-making
  • Support administrators’ professional development goals

Building a faculty and administrative staff that reflects our student body is an ongoing challenge for Minnesota State. What effective strategies have you seen?

Dee Anne Bonebright

“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard