Monday, March 3, 2008

Engagement is Key to Positive Change

One nice thing about shoveling the driveway so often in upstate New York is it gives one time to reflect. A valued colleague recently sent me an email with a quote from Michel Eyquem De Montaigne, a famous 16th century French author and statesman who said, “It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.” The quote has stayed with me all week and served as the basis for my weekend winter wonderland shoveling meditations.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the three touchstones of access, excellence, and engagement. All three have many layers to their definition and significance in our work at the College. Previous posts have covered access and excellence, but it's increasingly clear to me that engagement is critical if access and excellence are to be fully realized. Two major opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in change efforts at the College will come together over the course of the next two weeks and allow people to "...rub and polish our brain against that of others."

The core staff development workshop, The Times They Are a-Changin' is a two-hour session that will provide all full-time faculty and staff with a shared meaningful experience. The title comes from the fact that our self-study for accreditation identified a number of changes to strengthen our institution for the future. These are commitments we're making that make it clear - these times are a-changin'. One thing that can provide stability through periods of change is a core values statement that will provide clarity on how we go about our work. In addition, a clear mission statement will provide focus in our daily work and a refined vision statement will hopefully provide inspiration for what we strive to be as a community college. The more than twenty scheduled workshops will not only familiarize everyone with the importance of accreditation, but will also create an opportunity for everyone to provide input into the development of a core values statement and input on updating the mission and vision statements at the College.

Scheduled during the same two week period, but (somewhat) separate from the workshops, are seven Campus Conversations. It wasn't my intention to schedule these during the same two weeks as the workshops, but the calendar doesn't always agree with our intentions. To be sure however, we certainly have much to talk about at the College right now - we have a number of commitments from the results of the accreditation self-study; we have system design team recommendations coming together to improve our systems related to student intake (everything from recruitment to registration), student support (everything from registration to graduation), employee hiring, employee recognition, staff development, and adjunct faculty support. All of these ideas and recommendations will feed into the updating of the strategic plan, as will the workshop input on a core values statement and the mission and vision statements.

The Campus Conversations are an opportunity for me to share a little more about all of these efforts and how we might identify resources to implement as many as possible. I anticipate most of these recommendations to prompt changes to many of our primary administrative systems at the College. Systems and structure are inherently integrated, so changes to our systems create the need for changes in our organizational structure. Reviewing organizational structure is not something I take lightly, which is why I want to engage faculty and staff in the conversation. I want to discuss the objectives I'm developing to review the structure - things like, provide the opportunity for everyone to be in a position to do their best work every day; provide for a reasonable scope of responsibility for all areas and positions; strengthen communication throughout the organization; and create capacity to implement the new strategic plan and actively advance the strategic priorities, directions, and initiatives; and many others.

While much is still to be determined, these workshops and conversations are part of a significant moment in time at the College where it's important for everyone to engage and participate in these opportunities. Yogi Berra didn't say it, but I love to affirm that when you work at a College, you get to work with a lot of smart people. I'm counting on that fact and would appreciate any ideas you have regarding opportunities that are before us to implement positive change as well as any ideas or reactions to what I've put forth in this post. Please share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.