Tag Archives: stakeholders

Customers? In higher education?

Blazing Saddles, No Stinking Badges scene-8x6At times higher education seems to be channeling Mel Brooks, “Customers? We don’t need no stinking customers!”  We have students that need to be educated. In fact, the term “customer service” can lead to a full debate on the merits of considering students and their families as customers or descriptions of how many students are “bad” customers. At other times you will hear reasoned dialogue describing the value of treating students as customers or well thought out concerns detailing how higher education is different.

Despite this angst in higher education we will take time during June to highlight the value customer service can have for leaders, in higher education and in other fields. At Minnesota State Colleges and Universities customer service is a crucial element in the role leaders have as managers of people and services. We define it as:

  • demonstrating a positive attitude
  • listening attentively and respectfully
  • responding effectively to internal and external customer needs, requests, and concerns
  • exercising creative problem solving

While I hope we get some good dialogue and I would enjoy some lively banter I believe strongly that we can be better educators and provide better opportunities for our students if we focus on “helping students make the most of their experiences on our college campuses.” (Boyd, 2012.)

Todd Thorsgaard

Get Lean!

Glass-half-empty-half-fullAre you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person? Do you see great opportunities for making significant change in higher education over the next few years or does it feel like the decrease in funding and financial instability will rob us of our ability to educate our students?

However you answer it is clear that higher education leaders need to be stewards of diminishing resources while providing hope and opportunity to their communities and to our society. This demands that we identify the crucial and eliminate the unnecessary. Or as the old saying goes, “doing more with less.”

While this is a daunting task one concrete place to start is to think LEAN.

Lean thinking asks leaders to fully engage the people on their team and identify how and where they make the greatest contribution to student success and, as importantly, what obstacles or inefficiencies exist in their day-to-day work. It focuses on the work flows and work processes that support higher education and applies a rigorous examination of how valuable each step in the process is and what is getting in the way of your people and making it harder to do their jobs!

A colleague of mine, Theresa Waterbury, wrote a book titled, Educational Lean:Theory and Practice. It provides an introduction to lean thinking and hands-on examples of how to make changes in your workplace. A simple way to start thinking lean is to ask your team the following questions – do this both with your whole team and with individuals:

• What things keep you from doing your work?
• What is something you should not have to do?
• What would make your work easier?
• What would make your work more satisfying?
• What would improve the skills and capabilities of those who work for you?
• What would improve your work environment?
• What would make you more successful in your job?

We can’t magically change the national economy or print more money but leaders can help ensure that the work they are doing and the work of their team is focused and efficient by thinking lean.

Todd Thorsgaard


For more information on Lean Thinking in Higher Education check out the following resources:

Constanta Maritime University Annals, Vol. 18, 2012.








I wasn’t expecting that to happen

I am confident that if I asked all the readers of this blog, “do you focus on the common good of your organization?” the overwhelming response would be, “Yes!” The reality is that most of us believe our actions contribute to the common good, and we are trying to look at our organization as a system. Yet over time many well-intentioned actions can actually end up in conflict with the mission of our organizations. How can that be?

Peter Senge, named “strategist of the century,” answers this question in his classic book, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. Many of you may remember (or have nightmares about) the loops and diagrams used to illustrate systems thinking. loopsSenge encourages leaders to use archetypes, or common patterns of behavior, to diagnose why we get unexpected results that don’t support the common good.


You can find detailed descriptions of archetypes on pages 121-161 in the fieldbook. I want to highlight the three that best describe the organizational challenges leaders face and potential actions to take.

  1. “Fixes That Backfire” – this archetype can explain why issues continually resurface or get solved in one area only to pop up somewhere else. It describes the unintended consequences of decisions made on either long-term outcomes or other parts of the organization. Key leadership actions are:
    • understand both the short and long-term consequences of actions
    • explore the potential outcomes outside your sphere of influence
    • challenge the need to take immediate action
    • dig deeper to expose the root issue
  2. “Shifting the Burden” – this occurs when leaders are driven to solve a problem they face, and the relief causes the organization to get distracted from addressing a greater underlying issue. Key leadership actions include:
    • recognize the limitations of fire-fighting responses
    • take time to explore alternative solutions
    • seek input from other areas of the organization
    • clarify organizational goals and long-term expectations
    • build capacity for growth
  3. “Accidental Adversaries” – this describes a situation where groups that would benefit from collaborating end up competing or even fighting. It happens naturally when one group makes a choices that improves their own results and it has an unintended negative consequence for the other group. Instead of changing a “successful” choice each group tries to explain or convince the other to see it their way. The unintended consequences continue and communication deteriorates. Leaders can help break this archetype if they:
    • bring groups together to understand the local pressures each face to succeed
    • include multiple stakeholders when making decisions
    • ask questions about how a decision in one area will affect another area
    • establish on-going dialogue across groups to identify unintended consequences early

The Fifth DisciplineI still have a love/hate relationship with the loops and diagrams but the ideas and actions Senge shares provide insight time and again when addressing system issues.

Todd Thorsgaard

Did it work?

“Did it work?” looks like a simple question to answer but when dealing with people and change there are no easy answers. In fact, there is usually more than one answer, and it takes a lot of work to unearth them!  digging-a-hole

Evaluating the overall results of your change effort starts with digging deep to identify and document what each stakeholder group finds important and learn their definition of success. For those of us in higher education success can be defined as increased enrollment, student learning, decreased student debt, program sustainability, fiscal viability, community engagement, graduation rate, student completion, faculty engagement, student engagement, and on and on.

Recently I discovered the work of an international group of experts in the field of evaluation. They can help you focus your evaluation and determine what is most important to all of your stakeholders. Managing the evaluation process provides a set of resources and tools you can use to involve and engage your stakeholders during your evaluation planning, implementation and communication. Stakeholder engagement helps you:

  • provide credible and useful evaluation information
  • collect high quality data
  • understand and interpret evaluation data
  • build knowledge about the value of evaluation
  • facilitate the use and dissemination of your results

You can find more information on their website, Better Evaluation.

Engaging your stakeholders in your evaluation process clarifies what will count as success and helps you answer each stakeholder when they ask you, “did it work?”

Todd Thorsgaard


Energize to act!

If you could double your investment without risk, would you? success-chartSeems 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.

  1. Societal good
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Organizational success
  4. Work team well-being
  5. 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.

Todd Thorsgaard

Who’s on first?

abbott_and_costelloSad to say, many change initiatives start out with great ideas, energy and high engagement before they dissolve into confusion, frustration or apathy. In fact, I have been in change meetings that sounded like the classic bit by Abbott & Costello.

What I have discovered, as I am sure you have, is that bringing groups together from different divisions, functions and initiatives leads to conversations that are as fruitful as Abbott and Costello’s. Yet, the challenges we face in higher education, and most other fields these days, require collaboration and cross-initiative integration to find long-term success. When groups and individuals don’t understands each other, then no one knows who’s job it is to do what, who gets to decide and why, when we have decided, why we are even doing it, what we are actually doing, or just plain “who’s on first?”

As Scott Keller and Colin Price, from McKinsey & Company, describe in Beyond Performance, successful transformation requires clear structure and ownership. Helping your teams discuss and document accountability, decision-rights, and roles allows cross-functional teams to understand each other better and take action. A tool that can help provide that structure and ownership and develop the capacity for successful change is the RACI matrix.

For key tasks, actions, decisions and events that drive the change identify who is:

  • Responsible – makes recommendations, will be doing it, responsible for getting it done
  • Accountable – makes the decision, gives approval, has the authority
  • Consulted – subject-matter experts, crucial stakeholders with information needed before decision is made
  • Informed – stakeholders, groups, individuals who will be affected by the decision or need to be aware of the event

Consistent use of a tool like the RACI matrix will support the development of a powerful change engine that has the capacity to take action and drive success. HARMON KILLEBREWEveryone will know who is on first and why!

Todd Thorsgaard

No is the beginning of commitment


“…if we cannot say no, then our yes has no meaning.” – Peter Block

block2In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block helps leaders understand how to build accountability and commitment for transforming our organizations and communities through six important conversations with stakeholders. One of those conversations focuses on dissent, which can seem counter-intuitive in our American culture. Dissent can be perceived as being disloyal or negative. And those who voice dissent can be branded as someone who is not a team player.

However, Block makes a good point that each of us needs the chance to express our doubts and reservations when we are part of a large collective effort to transform an organization. And he aptly points out: “creating space for dissent is the way diversity gets valued in the world.” It is the role of leaders to allow space for people to say no.

In working with leaders over the years, I’ve observed that many find it scary to allow space for dissent. It can feel messy. Leaders may also worry that allowing for dissent can send the organization’s members into a negative spiral. That’s where it is helpful to construct questions and facilitated conversations that allow for stakeholders to voice their doubts. Block suggests some of the following questions:

  • What doubts and reservations do you have?
  • What is the no, or refusal, that you keep postponing?
  • What have you said yes to, that you no longer really mean?
  • What is a commitment or decision that you have changed your mind about?
  • What resentment do you hold that no one knows about?

Allowing organizational members and stakeholders space to express their doubts and reservations can be powerful, especially as a leader listens deeply and with curiosity. Block also states that “the key for the leader is not to take the dissent personally or to argue in any way with the doubts that get expressed.” If a concern can be addressed, a leader should do that. If it is too complex to be addressed, which many doubts are, it is enough for a leader to just listen.

Allowing public space for dissent takes those conversations out of the hallway and restrooms and makes it safe for people to say no, so that when they move on to conversations about possibilities, their yes has true meaning and builds commitment towards a shared and desired future.

Anita Rios


How do you make them feel?

 Maya 2“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

This week, one of my modern-day heroes passed away. In her memory, I wanted to pause and share my favorite Maya Angelou quote. It applies to people and interpersonal relationships everywhere, but has a special meaning for leaders who are working to engage stakeholders in change.

Change is often first perceived as a threat by the human brain, according to recent neuroscience research. So it goes to reason, that people who feel threatened will be feeling many negative emotions like fear, anger, confusion, and so on.

To offset those negative reactions towards change, it is imperative for leaders to think about how they can fully engage stakeholders and counteract those negative perceptions.

Here are a few questions that leaders can ask themselves to focus not only on greater stakeholder engagement, but to attend to how people “feel” about the change effort:

  1. What am I doing and saying to inspire others and make them feel a part of co-creating a new, desired future?
  2. What am I doing and saying to build trust and help stakeholders feel safe?
  3. What communication methods and modes am I utilizing to help stakeholders feel fully informed of the change effort?
  4. What feedback loops am I employing to make sure that there is a free flow of communication and help stakeholders feel they have a voice?
  5. What structures and processes am I creating or supporting that allow stakeholders to fully participate and feel ownership?

Anita Rios

Who are your stakeholders?

This month we will be focusing our blog on engaging stakeholders in your change effort. By definition, a stakeholder is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of your organization’s objectives and/or your change effort.

As DeeAnne mentioned in her blog last Friday, most change efforts fail because the right people weren’t consulted, involved, or committed to the change. But who are the right people? Before launching into your change strategy, it is critical to conduct a stakeholder analysis. An analysis typically begins with a brainstorming session to identify groups and individuals who can either affect change or will be affected by the change effort.

After your initial brainstorm session, you may generate a very daunting list. This is where it can be helpful to narrow the list down by asking the following questions:

  1. Does the stakeholder have a fundamental impact on your organization’s performance?
  2. Can you clearly identify what you want from the stakeholder?
  3. Is the relationship dynamic — that is, do you want it to grow?
  4. Can you exist without or easily replace the stakeholder?

If you answered yes to the first three questions and no to the last question, this stakeholder group or person is vital to your change effort.

After identifying your stakeholders, you can then determine what actions you need to take to engage your stakeholders and keep them informed. Using a grid similar to the one below, where you determine stakeholder’s influence and interest levels, can help you with strategies to manage your stakeholder relationships effectively.

stakeholder management

There are many tools available to help you with stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management. For a set of easily adopted resources, I recommend visiting MindTools.

What tools have you found useful in identifying and managing your stakeholders?

Anita Rios



Want support for change? Involve your stakeholders!

lots-of-thumbs-ups“In an age where everything and everyone is linked through networks of glass and air, no one – no business, organization, government agency, country–is an island. We need to do right by all our stakeholders, and that’s how you create value….” –Don Tapscott, author

In my early 20s, I learned an important lesson about stakeholders. I had just graduated from college and was invited to serve on a Board of Directors for a community-based theater company. My undergraduate degree was in Fine Arts and Theater, so I thought I was well-prepared for the role and could bring a lot of value to the organization. At the time, the board was discussing how to make a greater impact in the area. As I began studying the community theater company, I surmised that it could be much more successful, if we expanded the number of plays produced and included an educational program for children. So in my first months on the board, I wrote a proposal for discussion. It was a well-crafted plan with a clear rationale and achievable budget. The proposal represented significant change to the community theater company, in that it would involve bringing in another director to supplement the efforts of the already overtaxed artistic director.

When it came time to present my proposal at the board meeting, I was completely floored when it was met with hostility by the artistic director, vascillating support from a few members, and multiple reasons why the plan would not work. Thinking over what I did wrong, I realized that I had not consulted with or understood all the stakeholder needs involved in such a change effort. Certainly, I had underestimated the artistic director’s need to have artistic control over every production. It was a valuable lesson for me and one that I won’t forget.

Understanding and managing stakeholders is a key part of strategy setting in any change effort. Yet, it is often overlooked or undermanaged. Just as I neglected to consult with stakeholders when proposing a change to a community theater’s operation, it can be enticing to just get started with a change effort, without the necessary step of conducting a stakeholder analysis. Stakeholders in higher education include students, employees (faculty, staff, and administrators), government, community and business members. Anyone who has an interest in our colleges and universities ability to educate students and deliver and sustain the enterprise into the future can be a stakeholder.

Involving and consulting with stakeholders as you develop your change strategy can increase the likelihood that your change effort is both successful and sustainable. To get started, I recommend conducting a stakeholder analysis to:

  • Identify critical stakeholders
  • Understand their short- and long-term interests
  • Analyze stakeholder influence on your change strategy
  • Assess the impact of change on multiple stakeholders

There are many good stakeholder analysis tools available today, including matrix grids and spider web diagrams. I’d recommend the following link, if you’re looking for a place to get started: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_07.htm

How have you successfully consulted with or  involved stakeholders in change efforts?

Anita Rios