Tag Archives: stakeholders

You mean I have to talk (and listen) to people!

As a confirmed and proud introvert it is hard for me to reach out and ask for help. Others of you may be confident extroverts and struggle to truly listen to others. Either way, when you transition into a new leadership role it is crucial to take the time to initiate conversations and to spend time listening to what others have to say.

Peter Daly and Michael Watson, authors of The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at all Levels,   describe five crucial subjects or themes that  new leaders need to understand as they move into a new role or take on a new project. This requires having the following “the five conversations” with your leader or colleagues.

  1. The Situation Conversation – discover how your boss and others perceive the current standing or status of the overall organization and your unit. Your goal is to ensure a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities you face.
  2. The Expectations Conversation – define, clarify, and perhaps, negotiate what success looks like for you in your new job.
  3. The Style Conversation – discuss and determine how the relationship with your new boss and colleagues or stakeholders will work. How do you each prefer to communicate, what boundaries exist, how are decisions made, and how frequent do you need to interact to ensure trust and success.
  4. The Resources Conversation – determine what resources are available, what you believe you need, confirm how resources are allocated and begin negotiating to ensure access to critical resources.
  5. The Personal Development Conversation – mutually identify opportunities and expectations for continual development to ensure success in your current and future roles in the organization.

In reality these will not be distinct one-time conversations but they are a framework to help leaders strategically approach the transition to a new role.

Todd Thorsgaard

Advertisements

Where’s the meaning?

where-is-the-meaningIf the people on your team have to ask “Where is the meaning in my work?” something is wrong!

In his book  Meaning, Inc. , Gurnek Bains ecourages leaders to bring the organization’s mission and vision to life through meaningful work. Between actual work time and digital connections people spend over half of their waking hours “at work.” Understanding how those work activities are making a contribution to customers (students at Minnesota State), the community or larger society will make work more meaningful.

While each person on your team has their own personal values and beliefs about what is important, there are actions that leaders can take to strengthen meaning at work.  Bains identifies the following leadership activities that help create more meaningful work:

  • Discussing and supporting personal stretch goals that are related to the vision.
  • Focusing on the unique strengths and talents that each person brings to work.
  • Documenting, evaluating, providing feedback and highlighting each person’s work and contribution to group efforts.
  • Clearly linking individual and team work activities and accomplishments to wider issues.
  • Ensuring that short-term goals don’t conflict with the deeper organizational purpose.
  • Role modeling stated ideals.

Making sure your people know the difference their work makes in the lives of other people builds meaning. And meaning is powerful.

Todd Thorsgaard

Find the sweet spot!

diagram_sweet-spot_clear-background-3-1024x804Author Dan Pontefract has released a new book that I found energizing and I encourage you to check it out. In The Purpose Effect (2016) he suggests that leaders can help their people recognize the “sweet spot” where the organizational mission overlaps with their role purpose and their own personal vision. You can read a summary of the book here – getAbstract

The sweet spot is the space where people feel engaged in their work, energized by how they can make a contribution and clearly understand the contributions their organization makes to their stakeholders. As leaders we rarely have the opportunity to be involved in the crafting of the organizational mission and vision but we can connect it to the day to day work being done and the unique aspirations of each person on your team.

Pontefract suggests that leaders focus on understanding and facilitating two-way dialogue in these three areas:

  1. Individual and personal goals or purpose and how they relate to the day to day work.
    • what motivates the people on your team?
    • how do they want to develop themselves?
    • what most interests them in their job?
    • how can you and the organization support their success?
  2. The organizational purpose, mission and vision.
    • what are your organization’s values?
    • how does the organization live out it’s purpose?
    • what are examples of the organizational purpose?
  3. Role-based purpose.
    • how do individual roles contribute to the success of the organization?
    • where do individual roles make a difference to stakeholders?
    • how can a leader recognize individual role contributions to the success of the department or organization?

Taking the time to understand each of these three areas is the first step. Then taking the time to consistently help your team members find their own personal sweet spot at work will help you bring your mission and vision to life.

Todd Thorsgaard

A balancing act!

balanceStewardship 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!

Todd Thorsgaard

Stewardship means change!

houston“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.

  1. Act as an enterprise
  2. Consolidate the delivery of core functions
  3. Build partnerships that prepare students for a successful college or university experience
  4. Adopt more creative and flexible labor practices
  5. 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?

Todd Thorsgaard

Is the customer always right?

customer always rightI imagine this isn’t a revelation to anyone who has ever worked with another person – no one is ALWAYS right – not even the customer. On the other hand, we know that customer satisfaction in higher education is the greatest predictor of retention and completion. (Schreiner, 2009) And a core component of satisfaction is the service students perceive they get from their college or university. Our students, our customers, may not always be right. But their success, and our success, is dependent on the service we provide and their satisfaction with it!

Neal Raisman,  author of Embrace the Oxymoron: Customer Service in Higher Education defines customer service in higher education as how students perceive their return on investment in:

  1. Financial rewards – will they find a field of work or service that provides security?
  2. Emotional rewards – do faculty and staff treat them with respect and consideration?
  3. Associative awards – do they feel accepted and a part of the institution?

The day-to-day interactions that your people have with students, whatever their role, will determine first how accepted students feel, and second how respectful the overall campus experience is for each student.

Laurie Brown, a communication and customer service consultant, encourages leaders to focus on the following seven attributes of customer service when coaching and developing people to meet emotional and associative expectations:

  1. Accessibility – is it easy for students to navigate the institution and processes?
  2. Availability – are people and services available when needed?
  3. Affability – are students greeted warmly and with genuine concern?
  4. Agreeability – do your people have the skills and support to find creative solutions and not say “NO?”
  5. Accountability – are your people empowered to take action and coached to be responsible for solutions?
  6. Adaptability – is your institution staying current and responding to the issues that are relevant today and tomorrow?
  7. Ability – have you continued to develop your people so they can serve students?

No one is ever always right, but we can always help our students feel accepted and supported!

Todd Thorsgaard

Listening as customer service

Last weeklistening I attended the 2016 Minnesota summit on preventing campus sexual violence. It was a difficult topic, but very energizing to be with 300 people from 57 different campuses who are engaged in this work.

One thing that I heard repeatedly was the importance of investigating complaints through well-informed listening. Paul Schnell, the Chief of Police for Maplewood, talked about false assumptions that can get in the way of an investigation. For example, some police officers believe that most reports of sexual assault are false, whereas research shows that the level of false reports is only around 5%. We learned about the neurological response to trauma that results in fragmented memories and non-linear stories. You can imagine the difference that assumption could make when listening to a survivor. Is the person doing as much as possible to describe a traumatic event? Or is she making things up as she goes along?

I was struck by the knowledge that just being well-intentioned isn’t enough. A good investigator understands the psychology of trauma and is knowledgeable about the proper techniques for interviewing survivors.

The same thing can be true in many of our leadership roles. Listening with good intentions is a start. But informing ourselves about our customer’s needs, background, and context is often essential. I’ve experienced that in my own life as a team member on a large project. The difference between talking to a sponsor who had read the report and had meaningful questions was striking when compared to another sponsor who tended to say versions of “nice job, keep up the good work.” While she might not describe it this way, my impression is that the first sponsor treated business interactions as a chance to provide service to the other person – to understand their needs, acknowledge key issues, and use her expertise to strategically address them.

When you experience well-informed listening, how does it make you feel? What lessons can you apply to customer service?

Dee Anne Bonebright