Tag Archives: career development

Let’s do this together!

FAFSA-Application-2016-2017Do you recognize this form? My daughter will be a freshman in college next year so the long and complicated FAFSA form is near and dear to my heart. It reminds me of a form that many leaders and HR Offices use – the IDP or Individual Development Plan. Ask yourself, who likes to fill out forms and sign “on the line?” Not me, I imagine not you, and certainly not the people on your team. Yet we continue to be surprised that a once-a-year form-based event does not engage our people or lead to robust conversations and actual professional development.

Authors and employee development experts Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni agree and wrote Redeveloping the Individual Development Plan  to address this concern. Instead filling out an Individual Development Plan once a year they recommend leaders initiate Iterative Dialogue around Possibilities (IDP) with their people. Working together, employees and leaders can embed continuous learning and development into their day-to-day work.

This new approach to IDPs relies on the following four key ideas that are easy to try out.

  1. Start a new conversation. Begin having regular dialogue focused on asking questions and exploring interests. Demonstrate sincere curiosity in your people’s interests and be open to their questions. Clearly demonstrate that you expect and are confident that everyone can learn and develop.
  2. Move away from complicated forms and plans and try development “Post-Its.” Simplify the process and make it an iterative and flexible approach that can be easily modified, re-sequenced, and updated.
  3. Promote possibility thinking. Encourage your people to be creative and unbound when they think about development. Ask to to build long and diverse lists of ideas and options for development to discuss and share. Facilitate team members working together to explore development strategies and experiences.
  4. Distribute development. Move development conversations and actions into the day-to-day work and communication of your team. Include updates and debriefing conversations into staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, prep time, and other regular work activities.

Together, you and your people can energize both the conversation and the action that is needed to continuously develop everyone in your workforce.

Todd Thorsgaard

Now what?

Flat tirePssssssssss – the dreaded sound of air leaking out of my tire. Nothing can ruin the best planned bike ride as a slow leak in my tire. I pump it up, it looks good but a few miles later I am slowing down. Stuck on the side of the road and the precious air that I work so hard to pump in is escaping.

Leaders face the same issue when building a diverse workforce. You work hard to expand your recruiting pool. Your organization weeds out selection practices that unfairly penalize diverse candidates. You hire an increasingly diverse team but you notice over time that you lose more of your diverse employees. All that work leaking away like air out of a tire! Now what?

Josh Bersin, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, encourages leaders to focus on providing training and support for all your people to make your organization irresistible ,  one that people won’t want to leave. Bersin cites research that reinforces the importance of development activities and opportunities for growth as a key determinant of retention, particularly for new hires. A starting point is formal training that leads to competence and success in their current role. Your willingness to provide the time and support of training demonstrates your commitment to your new employees. As important are the more informal development opportunities you provide through:

  • Developmental and stretch assignments
  • On-the-job training
  • Lateral assignments
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching

Focusing on professional development and formal and informal growth opportunities will patch the leaks in your organization and help you keep the people you have worked so hard to recruit and hire.

Todd Thorsgaard


What do (did) we face in 2014?

Best of 2014, first published on January 29, 2014.
Happy New Year’s Eve! Before you set your resolutions and goals for 2015 take time to look back, reflect and learn from what happened in 2014. How did you react to change, what worked well, what didn’t work as well? What do you want to continue to do in 2015? What do you want to do differently? Through reflection leaders can grow and not just repeat experiences — Todd Thorsgaard

Successful leaders are vigilant and pay attention to factors, large and small, that will have an impact on their people and themselves. It is almost impossible to not be awafuture signsre of the key issues that exist in higher education that will be driving change over the next year. Yet as leaders it is also important to be continually scanning the entire environment and using that information to help you lead your people during change.

In conjunction with leadership consultant Sarah Bridges, we have created a Situational Awareness Worksheet that can be used to help you conduct an “environmental scan” to identify external factors that will need to be a part of your overall change leadership strategy. One factor when leading change is an awareness of the workplace culture. Each institution and each work team has its own culture but a recent article from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists provides a Top 10 List Workplace Trends for 2014 that can be used as a starting point when you scan your environment.

Trend #6, Integrating Technology into the Workplace, is one that will be very important in my work leading change over the next year. I have discovered that new technology often feels like a threat and that reaction can derail change efforts. What I view as a tech enhancement and a positive change is viewed as a condemnation of past practice and stops collaboration and change! Including that knowledge into the change plan ensures that it is not overlooked and the concerns addresses.

What trends will be most important for you as you lead change in 2014?

Todd Thorsgaard

Failure and success

A key strategy for leading change is to empower others to take initiative to support an organization’s change vision and goals. And one of the most important ways a leader can accomplish this is by creating a climate where it is safe to make mistakes.

As we all know, one of the side effects of innovation is failure. You can’t be part of major change efforts without taking risks, and not all risks work out. How we as leaders deal with failure is critical to creating an environment that fosters innovation.

failure free to useThere’s a new trend among some creative companies – the “Heroic Failure Award.”  This award is given an honored place along with the more typical recognition for success. The Wall Street Journal quoted an executive from one of these companies who believed that “if employees try something that was worth trying and fail, and if they are open about it, and if they learn from that failure, that is a good thing.” (Read the article here.)

A contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog made the case for failure even more strongly in a post on “Why I Hire People Who Fail“:

We don’t just encourage risk taking at our offices: we demand failure. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re probably not advancing. Mistakes are the predecessors to both innovation and success, so it is important to celebrate mistakes as a central component of any culture.

Most of us have a hard time celebrating failure – our own or others’. This mindset may be holding us back from creating the kind of new and innovative solutions we need to address tomorrow’s challenges.

Can you identify a time when you tried something new, failed, and learned from it?

How do you typically respond to employees or colleagues who have failed?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Summer reading and building talent?

summer readingYes, it is still blistering hot here in Minnesota and finding a shaded spot for some summer reading is compelling! However, the work of leaders building talent never stops, even your own professional development. You are a key piece of your organization’s talent, yet finding time for building your own talent can be a challenge. I have some good news for you. A recent podcast by Professor James Badaracco, a Harvard Business School professor, suggests that you can develop your leadership talent while enjoying that summer reading in the shade.

Badaracco encourages leaders to embrace reading fiction, fiction that engages you, to become a better leader. Classic novels, short stories and contemporary literature all offer compelling stories that are actually “case studies” of people making decisions, working with other people, solving problems, managing conflict, building relationships, and communicating with groups large and small. All aspects of leadership. A novel I read a decade ago, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, showed me the role perceptions play when working with people. I have developed a better understanding that each person on my team will have a different perception of my behavior, and thus of my intent.

In his podcast, Badaracco lists the following questions to ask yourself while you are reading:

  • Did they get the decisions right? 
  • Did they think about them in the right way?
  • Would you have handled them differently?
  • Why did they do what they did?

·        Overall, think about the characters as people making decisions and taking action in an organization and what can I learn from them.

Grabbing a new novel or a classic piece of literature, a cool drink and your beach towel can give you a respite from the heat and some powerful professional development on a hot summer day.

Please share with us and our followers what you have read lately and what lessons you learned.

Todd Thorsgaard

Leader as manager

Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and sometimes is actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.
— John Kotter

This month we’ve been focusing on building organizational talent. Last month’s topic was customer service. I’d like to step back for a minute and think about why these activities are important to leadership. Aren’t they much more about tactical management?

Our teamKotter is preparing to facilitate an executive leadership development program, so I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at literature on leadership. One of the articles that I find very helpful is John Kotter’s What Leaders Really Do, (first published in Harvard Business Review and then in a book of the same name).

Kotter’s model helps explain why one of MnSCU’s four leadership competency domains focuses on leader as manager. He highlights the difference between leadership and management, and makes the case that both are needed:

  • Management is about coping with complexity. Managers bring order and consistency to key activities such as student enrollment or quality of the academic experience.
  • Leadership is about coping with change. Leaders look to the future and make sense of new educational technologies, changing student demographics, and new sources of competition.

Kotter argues that one of the best ways to develop strong leaders who are also strong managers is through on-the-job experience. This is vital for our new staff members, and continues to be important throughout their careers. As we help our people develop as leaders, it is essential to provide experiences that allow them to cope with both complexity and change.

As we address the challenges identified in the recent draft report on Charting the Future of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the MnSCU system will need to develop strong managers, strong leaders, and most importantly, people who can do both.  What kind of learning opportunities do you seek for yourself? What opportunities do you provide for the people you lead?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Making the most of assessments

If you’ve been part of a leadership development program, you’ve probably taken some sort of assessment designed to increase your self-awareness and help you relate more effectively to others.  There are hundreds of assessments to hedoglp you learn about communication styles, learning styles, approaches to conflict, and strengths.  They range from complex instruments backed by scholarly research to icebreaker-type “get to know you” quizzes.  I even found over a dozen that predict what sort of dog breed someone would be.  (Consensus is that I’m a Labrador Retriever.)

Here are two “do’s” and one “don’t” to help you get the most from these assessments.

  1. Do analyze your reactions.  They can give useful insights into your leadership strengths and potential blind spots.  Which results seem intuitive and obvious?  Which seem completely wrong?  I’ve found that I often react more strongly to items that have a grain of truth than I do to ones that are completely off the mark.  Consider asking a trusted colleague to review the results with you – it can be very informative.
  2. Do look for themes.  Any given assessment may or may not ring true for you, but if the same message keeps repeating, it’s worth consideration.  A few years ago I took several assessments in a row and they all described me as a big-picture person with a tendency to be impatient with details.  This wasn’t news, and it’s not completely accurate.  I love the big picture, and I like details too – in the right place and time.  My first reaction was to ignore the development tips, but instead I took it as an opportunity to pay attention to my behavior in project teams.  Sure enough, I could feel myself getting frustrated with people who, in my mind, were moving too quickly into the process details without exploring all the alternatives. Stepping back, taking a deep breath, and then exploring their viewpoints helped me to be a better leader and team member.
  3. Don’t use the results as an excuse to avoid doing hard development work.  It’s a good idea to focus on your strengths and abilities when making development plans.  However, results of assessments shouldn’t be used to get off the behavioral hook.  For example, I usually score as an introvert on style assessments.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have to do networking.  It means I need to build connections in more introvert-friendly ways.  As a new employee, I had a lot of one-on-one appointments and coffee breaks to get to know my new colleagues.  And when I’m going to be involved in a day-long meeting, I plan some down time afterwards.

Have you taken any assessments that helped you develop as a leader?  What insights did you gain from them?

Dee Anne Bonebright