For those of us in higher education, August and September are the real start of the new year. With that in mind, we are planning more posts for you to read in October after we all get the start of the new year behind us.
In the meantime, here are some interesting facts from MPR News. As we already know at Minnesota State, the article pointed out that today’s college students aren’t who we might think they are. For example, the authors shared these statistics about undergrad students:
- 2 out of 5 attend a two-year community college
- 1 in 5 is at least 30 years old
- About half are financially independent from their parents
- 1 in 4 is caring for a child
- 47 percent go to school part-time at some point
- 25 percent take a year off before starting school
- 44 percent have parents who never completed a bachelor’s degree
The article says that “nontraditional” students are the new normal. That should reinforce our efforts to look at our processes and procedures in a new way.
Welcome back to the new school year!
Dee Anne Bonebright
This quote from Peter Drucker highlights the importance of reflection as part of learning.
As adults, we know that most of what we learn doesn’t happen in a classroom. It happens during our work and personal lives. But here’s the thing – it’s not just the experience we learn from, it’s how we think about it afterwards. Researchers at Harvard Business School discovered that reflection on our experiences enhances learning. Taking time to understand the meaning of what happened has multiple benefits:
- Learning from experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection.
- Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
- Reflection builds confidence in our ability to achieve a goal.
With that in mind, we’ll be taking a break until after Labor Day. As our team spends the next month on vacation and catching up on projects, we’ll also take time to reflect on the past year and what we learned from it.
I hope you will have some time to relax, reflect, and re-energize during the rest of the summer.
Dee Anne Bonebright
I know this isn’t a surprise to any of you; it takes work to develop your leadership chops. And in the end, you need to take responsibility for your own development. Given that my profession is leadership development, that is hard to hear but it is reality. As we prepare to take a short break from our blog I want to share a few ideas for you to consider and perhaps use to drive your own leadership development, wherever you are on your leadership journey.
Natasha Bowman recently shared a short article in Forbes titled, Five Ways to Take Charge of Your Professional Development. Each of these give you an opportunity to drive your own development.
- Earn a certificate in your field. A few years ago I earned my Certified Professional in Learning and Performance certificate from the Association of Talent Development. Taking responsibility for diving into the 10 areas of expertise in my profession was a powerful development experience. Ask yourself, where do I want to expand and grow?
- Enroll in an online course. Technology has made available a wide range of inexpensive and easy-to-access courses on almost any topic. For us in higher education it gives us a chance to better understand our students by becoming one!
- Speak at a conference or seminar. Challenge yourself to move from the audience to the front of the room. Nothing helps you learn more than having to teach others about your topic.
- Expand your scope. Actively look for and propose to your boss projects, activities and experiences outside your normal responsibilities.
- Find a mentor. And meet with them! Reach out and ask someone to formally be your “mentor.” Most people love to help others, even if they are busy. Take responsibility to identify why you want a mentor and to schedule and drive the conversations.
As Bowman states, proactively “invest in yourself.”
I spent most of this week at the Luoma Leadership Academy, a year-long program in which about 60 leaders at Minnesota State have been learning about leadership and putting it into practice with action learning projects.
At the graduation program, Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Anderson spoke about the importance of developing ourselves as leaders. I appreciated his thoughts about the importance of development, even when it’s hard.
First, he talked about becoming comfortable living in the “murky space” of continuous change. He challenged us to stand up, step out of our comfort zones, and engage in what we could do, not just what we are doing. Increasing our comfort with change, from a work and personal standpoint, enables us to better serve our students, institutions, and the system.
He also challenged us to become comfortable with failure. As we push ourselves and our institutions into new places, we will try some things that don’t work. He reminded us that failure isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean we’re bad leaders. As long as we learn from it, failure is part of the development process.
As Vice Chancellor Anderson pointed out, we in higher ed are less likely than some other industries to support the idea of “fail early and often.” Developing ourselves as leaders for the future will mean moving into that space and trying new things, even if we aren’t sure whether it will work as planned.
Putting ourselves into places that may be uncomfortable, and stretching our boundaries, is a key component to our work as leaders. What uncomfortable challenge have you taken on recently?
Dee Anne Bonebright
A recent newsletter from the Association for Talent Development included an article called “9 Bad Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit.” They cited a statistic from Gallup that you’ve probably heard before – 70% of an employee’s motivation is directly tied to actions by his or her manager.
People don’t quit organizations, they quit managers. So how can you be the sort of manager that doesn’t send good employees job hunting? Here are some tips from the article, which was reprinted in Huffington Post.
- Manage workloads – I’ve heard many employees say that they appreciate the work/life balance provided in their job at Minnesota State. That not only supports motivation, but it’s effective management. Overworked people are not as productive and are significantly less engaged.
- Recognizing contributions – Everyone likes to be acknowledged for their good work, and high performers often value it even more. Figure out what type of recognition your employees need, and then provide it on a regular basis.
- Provide development opportunities – Our environment is about learning and growing. Not only do our employees want to provide that for students, but they also want a chance to keep their own skills current and develop new ones.
- Honor commitments – Highly engaged employees usually report that they work for a manager who is reliable and trustworthy.
- Engage creativity – Encourage people to use their talents to improve the work they do. It will engage their creative problem-solving skills and tap into their passions.
- Care about your employees – Effective mangers know how to balance professionalism with being human. They understand that people have lives outside of work – they help celebrate successes and are supportive of difficult issues.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Annual performance reviews can be a useful tool in building organizational talent. On the other hand, if it’s not done well it can be like going to the dentist or getting an immunization – necessary to maintain health but not particularly fun.
From the employee’s point of view it’s a chance to focus on what we’ve done well this year and where we’d like to go in the future. I was having a bad day on Monday morning, and receiving my review from Anita actually made it much better. It’s very engaging to hear what your supervisor appreciates about you and to think about possibilities for development.
From the manager’s point of view performance reviews are a chance to reinforce things that are going well and develop goals for the next year. It’s much easier to hold people accountable for their performance if you’ve both agreed on what successful performance looks like. In my review, Anita and I created a set of goals that I will be able to report on in our ongoing conversations.
As an HR professional, I see the value in having the annual review meeting. I’m also well aware that they are going out of favor in many organizations, with the focus shifting to more frequent ongoing conversations. Since many of us at Minnesota State are starting a new cycle, here are some tips to make next year’s reviews effective.
- No surprises – the annual review should be a summary of conversations that you’ve had throughout the year. It’s a chance to focus on what’s gone well and what should happen in the future.
- It’s not about the form – whatever the process is at your institution, focus on having a meaningful conversation, not on filling out the form and selecting ratings.
- Don’t rely on memory – If your employee does something extraordinary in the next month, it will be nearly impossible to remember that a year from now. Keeping notes will make the process easier and more accurately reflect the full year.
- Take it seriously – I’ve heard way too many stories about people who don’t get a review at all, or who are asked to fill out their own form, which the supervisor then signs without comment. That’s demoralizing for the employee and can come back to bite the manager. It’s really difficult to manage a performance problem if the employee has a track record of reviews that exceed expectations.
Making the annual review the capstone to a year of effective performance management will help it feel more like getting ready for a 4th of July party than a medical appointment.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Julie Selander is a former colleague from the U of M. I recently came across a presentation she made for the Innovative Educators group, Execptional Front-Line Customer Service in Higher Education.
Selander is the Director of One Stop Student Services, and she had some very useful advice for creating a service culture. As an example, her unit has a goal of being knowledgeable, efficient, empathetic, and friendly. Their basic principles include:
- Understanding customers and their expectations
- Providing accurate, timely, consistent information
- Being professional and courteous
- Delivering what was promised
- Being a problem-solver
Here are some questions she proposed to help you think about service principles and standards in your area:
- Who are our customers? What are their attributes and demographics?
- What are their perceptions and expectations?
- What are we offering them – products, services, and/or resources?
- Do we have the capacity to meet and exceed their expectations? If not, how can we get where we need to be?
As Selander points out, exceptional customer service leads to increased retention, improved graduation rates, a positive reputation for the institution, and more fulfilling work for staff. How can you create and maintain a positive service culture in your team?
Dee Anne Bonebright
“They are my patients, not customers. We aren’t a Target store!”
I heard that comment, or some variation, hundreds of times when I was working in health care. Physicians, nurses, providers, technicians, clinic staff all went into their roles to help people and thinking of their patients as “mere” customers was hard. Yet when we actually talked to our patients and asked them what was important in their health care they highlighted issues like:
- later office hours
- making it easier to get a hold of you
- clear and easy to understand information
- clear billing statements
They assumed we were good medical practitioners and wanted us to be better service providers. Leaders in higher education face the same issue. Students and their families count on us to provide a high quality education but what determines their loyalty and engagement with our schools is how they are treated day-to-day in all of their interactions with us. Certainly in the classroom, but also online, on the phone, through the mail and in person at the registrar, the advising office, the dorm, the student center, the billing office, the gym, the library, and on and on. We need to show we care and understand what is important to them.
Adam Toperek, in his book Be Your Customer’s Hero, describes “Seven Service Triggers” that you can use to examine your interactions with students, or any other customers, to identify where improvements are needed.
- Being ignored.
- Being abandoned.
- Being hassled.
- Being faced with incompetence.
- Being shuffled.
- Being powerless.
- Being disrespected.
Making a difference with the education and the service we provide can make us all heroes!
This week I am helping to host a group of students who are visiting from Thailand. They want to learn about US culture and practice their English skills.
I invited the students to visit my office in St. Paul. When I put out a call to my colleagues, several people stepped forward to give office tours. One of our administrative assistants put together bags of Minnesota State branded items for them to take home. Other people stopped to give a friendly welcome. The students had a great time.
Even though it wasn’t directly related to anyone’s job duties, I knew that I could count on my co-workers. We have created the sort of collaborative climate where we value providing good service to each other. Whether it’s an above-and-beyond event, or routine tasks like providing data or supporting someone’s project, we want to help each other succeed.
Our HR leadership team has worked hard to create this climate. They hold us accountable for collaboration and encourage cross-unit activities. Another practical thing that helps is our collaborative office space. We had an opportunity a couple of years ago to re-arrange the office and included a community gathering space. Rather than enter into a maze of cubicles, staff and visitors enter into a space with tables and a white board. Fairly often someone will bring in treats or start some sort of discussion on the board. A few months ago someone brought in several flavors of Oreo cookies and a pitcher of milk. We all voted on our favorite flavor. (The traditional cookies won.)
The gathering space is a fairly simple idea and it has made a difference in building a unified team across divisions. And knowing our colleagues better has helped us provide better service to each other. What have you done to promote collaboration among your team?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Give up your landline phone, stop wearing a watch, drive a car from the back seat, travel across the country without a map, buy a car without seeing it–these are all things we were told you can’t do. Yet today people do them routinely. By ignoring assumptions and the status quo, people designed solutions and created new ways of doing things to meet the needs of customers today.
Cathy N. Davidson in her new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, suggests that in order to succeed leaders must be aware of their legacy assumptions and challenge them. By examining and giving up assumptions, leaders can leverage new models and develop new solutions based on different assumptions that are relevant today.
Some assumptions in higher education that she believes need to be challenged include:
- Lectures are an effective learning method
- High-stakes, end of semester, summative testing accurately measures and promotes learning
- Cost of higher education delivers value
- Traditional faculty, professorial, tenure and apprentice models develop effective faculty members
- Discipline majors prepare students for success
Challenging our assumptions is hard but necessary to find solutions to the complex problems leaders face today.
What assumptions are holding you back?