“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
Best of 2015, first published on March 4, 2015
As the title suggests this dilemma cannot be vanquished but only revisited and managed – not solved!
Ever since we could argue it seems as if people have been debating the merits of working for the common good or working for individual success and survival. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, wrote in 1651 that we needed government to enforce behaviors that support the common good. The economist Adam Smith argued in 1776 that we must establish a free economic market to ensure that the common good wins. Otherwise the power of individual success will win.
I first got involved in this debate as a behavioral biology student in 1976 when Richard Dawkins published one of my favorite books, The Selfish Gene. At the time it was described as “the most thrilling stretches of explanatory writing ever penned. It’s breathtaking.” Dawkins continued the scientific debate that is occurring today: is it better to act for the common good or is it better to act for the good of the individual?
While this debate has fueled many wonderful conversations and arguments on college campuses, during long car trips, or at the local bar it highlights a dilemma that all leaders face. Do I focus on the success of my team and our services or do I focus on the success of the larger organization, even if it hurts my team or my success?
What if there isn’t a “right” answer and instead it is actually a polarity that you can leverage? In her 2014 post, Leveraging polarities, Anita introduced the concept of polarity thinking as a tool for leaders to use when facing these types of ongoing dilemmas. A recent article from the Polarity Partnership Group highlights the need to recognize the benefits of supporting the common good AND supporting your team while also acknowledging and acting on the downside of the common good AND the downside of team-focused success.
Over the next month we will be sharing tips and tools you can use to reap the benefits of focusing on the common good in your organization. Yet, in today’s complex environment we must also follow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice and “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It isn’t a debate between the common good and the good of your team, it is a polarity of the common good and the good of your team.
The changes that are required for our organizations to succeed and thrive will disturb our comfortable view of work. Successful leaders must not only manage that feeling of disequilibrium, but make it productive. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linksy label this Adaptive Leadership.
Adaptive leaders tackle the real issues we all face, while pushing people to look at the world differently. I just experienced a powerful example of adaptive leadership when Steven Rosenstone, the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, challenged a group of leaders to “…ask ourselves hard questions: Can we really succeed doing things the way we are now, and what do I need to do differently?” That was a scary question but it made me, and all of us, closely examine what is important to us and to our students! And what are we willing to do about it? Will we step into the disequilibrium of real change and make a difference?
Heifetz highlights that leaders must be able to manage their own reactions and those of their team during these unsettled times. A metaphor that he uses is to “get off the swirl of the dance floor and get onto the balcony.” Intentionally stepping back from the chaos of a situation and observing it from a distance can help leaders see patterns, underlying issues, connections, and unexpected opportunities. The view from the balcony also allows leaders to recognize their own fears and beliefs about the situation and not allow them to cloud their interpretation of the events.
Adaptive leadership is all about connecting first with your own values, beliefs and fears and then connecting with the values, beliefs and fears of your people while asking them to take on the tough challenges we face in making a real difference. That is deeply personal work.
Posted in building teams, change and transition, higher education, leadership challenges, leading authentically, self awareness, Uncategorized
Tagged Change, Charting the Future, higher education, innovation, integrity, Leadership, self-awareness, trust, values
Policies, procedures, rules, hierarchies and roles are the pylons or framework of organizational culture but you, the leader, provide the human element connecting your people to the structure. Like the incomplete Stillwater bridge, until you connect the individual pylons with your day to day actions, the culture won’t help them get to where they need to be.
Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen, authors of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, state it this way; “it is the human interaction within these structures – our emotional connections – that determines its (culture) effectiveness.”
I experienced a powerful example of this last week at the MnSCU annual orientation program for our new senior leaders. Chancellor Rosenstone was describing the challenges our system faces and our strategic framework and Charting the Future next steps. What made it real for me was when he added the human element. He reminded us of the difference each one of us can make in the lives of our students. He highlighted a core belief that all Minnesotans deserve an opportunity to improve their lives and he challenged each of us to take on the responsibility to bring that value to life in our day to day work! It sent chills down my back.
Coffman and Sorensen encourage leaders to serve as the translators, connectors and catalysts of culture. Adding the human element can make your culture inspiring!
Posted in building teams, communication, Engagement, higher education, Motivation, organizational culture
Tagged Charting the Future, communication, engagement, higher education, Leadership, motivation
“Shared space — whether physical, virtual or digital — is where collaborators agree to jointly create, manipulate, iterate, capture and critique…. Shared space is the essential means, medium, and mechanism that makes collaboration possible. No shared space? No real collaboration.” – Michael Schrage
Schrage is the author of Shared Minds: The New Technologies of Collaboration. Written in 1990, it is an early work on the value of collaborations. The quote is from a recent blog he posted on Harvard Business Review highlighting his work the past 25 years on collaboration. The big change since he published his book focuses on the importance of creating a culture that supports collaboration for groups, not just collaborations between two individuals. Or as he states, creating “a value and behavioral norm” that makes “collaboration simpler, more accessible, more effective, and more satisfying” for large numbers of people working in organizations.
The System Incentives and Rewards (SIR) team at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is taking on the challenge of building a culture of collaboration. One of their ideas is to work with our campuses to create “innovation labs” that will have space for collaborative work or “shared space” as Schrage described.
The SIR team’s overall goal is to find ways to redesign our financial and administrative models to reward collaboration. They have identified four important concepts that will make collaboration the core of how we provide higher education that drives student success.
- Redesign our financial model to reward collaboration
- Encourage entrepreneurial opportunities
- Support and encourage multi-institutional coordination
- Design a human resources model that incents and rewards collaboration
(For more information on the work of the System Incentive and Reward team visit their page at Charting the Future.)
While it can take a long time to build systems and spaces that incent and reward collaboration in a large organization, the SIR’s team has made a strong start. I am excited to be working in an organization that is taking this type of action. As Charles Darwin said, “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
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 aware 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?
Posted in change and transition, Evaluation, Leadership, leadership development, self awareness
Tagged asking questions, blind spots, career development, Change, Charting the Future, Leadership, leadership development, leadership journey, questions, self reflection, self-awareness, vision
Best of 2014, first published on February 19, 2014.
Yes, every year the holiday season sneaks up on me and I scramble to pack in all the fun, festivities and craziness before the year ends! In a similar manner, the transformational changes you are leading in higher education also will continue to reappear. Not because something is wrong but because leaders face adaptive, complex and ever-changing changes! — Todd Thorsgaard
How often does this thought run through your mind, “I thought that last change had solved our problem, I can’t believe I have to deal with it again!”
It seems like many of the changes that vex leaders are related to recurring issues that keep popping up, again and again. Does that mean we are making mistakes in our change leadership? Have the wrong solution or the wrong people on the team? I believe not! A more accurate assessment of your current state may be that you are dealing with an adaptive challenge.
Adaptive problems require a longer term change strategy to ensure success than technical problems do, as described by Dr. Ronald Heifetz in the following video. Heifitz, the founder of the Center for Public Leadership and a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Affairs, describes the differences between adaptive challenges and so-called technical problems and highlights adaptive challenges as requiring a “sustained period of disequilibrium.” The nature of adaptive challenges means that any resulting changes will evolve and shift over time and not be able to be implemented and done with. Your change management efforts will need to support “a productive zone of disturbance and discomfort” over a long period of time Dr. Ronald Heifetz video
Learning to recognize the differences between adaptive challenges and technical problems will help you as you assess your current state and develop your change strategy. It may also help you feel less stressed as “problems” resurface, like the critters in “whack a mole!”
“Ouch, that hurts!” I was mountain biking last weekend with my brothers and a co-worker and I crashed. It caught me by surprise. We were working hard, making progress, having fun, and suddenly, I was on my back – a little bloody but no worse for the wear. I picked up my bike, brushed the dirt off my body, smiled a bit, and continued down the trail. Sounds like leading change.
You can count on obstacles, and even a crash or two, when leading change. Being resilient and getting back on track can help determine the future of the change effort and your success as a leader. Last week I was participating in the Academic and Student Affairs Leadership Conference for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. While there we received notice that two of our major stakeholder groups are stepping away from our Charting the Future work. It was an emotional blow that requires leaders to get back up and keep moving forward. Psychologists call that resiliency, the ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned.
At the conference, I listened to our leaders describe the challenges they experience having to repeatedly get back up and keep moving forward. Their experiences reflect what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson describes in his book Hardwiring Happiness. Our brains act like velcro for bad news and teflon for good news. We absorb the crashes, ignore the victories and deplete our resiliency. Luckily new research has confirmed the concept of neuroplasticity. Our experiences literally can change our brains. We can develop our resiliency using a four step process Hanson describes as “the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory,” or HEAL:
- Have a positive experience – notice one or create one for yourself
- Enrich it – recognize it and stay with it for a moment
- Absorb it – really recognize it and let it sink in
- Link positive and negative material – acknowledge something negative in the background and notice it isn’t overwhelming the positive
Developing your resiliency can help you be prepared for and respond to the crashes you will encounter leading change. Yes, the bruises I get riding can hurt, but the memories of trails and friends help me get back on the bike.
Do you remember playing the children’s game where you had to watch closely and follow every move and action the leader took? One misstep and you were out! Reinforcing the new normal in a change effort works the same way.
William Bridges, in his classic book Managing Transitions describes it like this – “you have one reliable point of leverage…… the example of your own behavior.” As the leader, you are being watched closely by your people and they will follow your moves more than your words. At MnSCU, as a part of our Charting the Future strategy, we are working to become a more collaborative higher education system across our 31 colleges and universities. The real-life examples of leaders working collaboratively on the eight implementation teams demonstrates what collaboration looks like and reinforces collaboration as the new normal in the day-to-day work of staff and faculty at each college or university.
Alternatively, when leaders go “off-course” and don’t consistently reinforce the new normal it is human nature for everyone else to follow them, even if they know better. I was a course marshal at the Twin Cities Marathon this past weekend and saw an example of that. During the 10 mile run the lead car missed a turn and all the elite runners followed the car off-course. They knew the correct route, yet in the stress of the moment they just “followed the leader.” Lucky for them they were able to get back on course after just two blocks! Where are you leading your people?
Taking the time to purposely and consistently demonstrate the behaviors and actions you want to see in your people will help them gain confidence and comfort in the new normal.
Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it’s the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer, French Philosopher and Physician
If you could double your investment without risk, would you? Seems like an easy question to answer. Assuming the offer was legal and ethical, I know I would take action and make that investment. According to a 2012 study by McKinsey and Company, ongoing communication doubled the success rate of transformational change. As a leader, you have the opportunity to double the likelihood of successful change in your organization by investing in communication.
We have highlighted the importance of communication in previous Higher EDge posts, including; Communication for buy-in, Communicate, communicate, communicate!, The 8th message, Creating a stakeholder communication plan, and Again? Yes! among others. If you are looking for communication tips and resources I encourage you to revisit a few of them. The phrase, “eight times, eight ways” weaves through many of our communication posts so I hope you are not surprised that I am sharing the importance of communication again!
Why eight ways you ask? It actually may be overkill but recent work in neuroleadership demonstrates that individuals react differently and take meaning differently from the same message. In fact, Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken, authors of An Inconvenient Truth About Change Management report that only about 20% of people are energized by the same style or type of message as you are! They describe 5 sources of energy or meaning. Most of us only “hear” one of them.
- Societal good
- Customer satisfaction
- Organizational success
- Work team well-being
- Personal fulfillment
To energize your stakeholders and move them to action you must first know what is important to each group of stakeholders. Next, leaders need to craft multiple stories to ensure that you connect with the different sources of energy individuals in each stakeholder group resonate with. Eight times, eight ways is just the beginning.
Communication during the action phase of change helps provide the energy that people need to take accountability and ownership for actually changing their behavior and doing things differently. It also requires energy to continually communicate to multiple stakeholders, to use multiple methods of communication and to apply rigor and discipline to ensure engagement.
Your investment in communication creates the energy your people need to take action during transformational change.