Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beyond Doing More with Less

I recently attended the fall colloquium of the Strategic Horizon Network, along with faculty and staff from the College and teams from 13 other Network community colleges. We spent the better part of the last three days in Ann Arbor and enjoyed dynamic presentations from a University of Michigan professor, a newly minted Ph.D. graduate who shared his dissertation findings, the CEO of Menlo Innovations - a very creative software development company - and a leader from the Ann Arbor office of Google. We also took "behind the scenes" tours of Borders, Whole Foods, Menlo Innovations and Zingerman's Deli, which is internationally known for its customer service training programs. The primary purpose of the Colloquium was to provide the college teams an opportunity to look beyond our "academic cultures" and peek into other organizations to see what we might learn about making our community colleges, as organizations, stronger for the ever-changing future that awaits us.

A few common themes emerged from all of the presentations, tours and small group conversations. Much of the discussion centered on employee empowerment and how healthy and vibrant cultures inspire people to work better together, replacing the vicious circles of negativity with a virtuous circle of positivity. All of that positivity can increase organizational capacity to do more...and that might quickly take one to the notion of “doing more with less.” With the implications of the financial meltdown in this country still yet to be revealed, "doing more with less" could easily be a rallying cry. Fortunately, that phrase was never once mentioned in the three days of the Colloquium. Instead, we were given some tools and insights to think about our places of work through a different lens.

I will likely blog in the future about some of the learning from the past few days, as it sinks in and I have more time to reflect. However, some early thoughts for me really reinforce some important reminders. Multiple speakers emphasized the notion that today’s workplace requires spending as many of our waking hours at work as we do at home. They challenged us to think about our places of work and to think about how we live while we work – in our world, this can translate to how we treat each other and our students, and in turn, how they treat us. Other common elements were to challenge long-held beliefs by asking questions and be willing to experiment more - a practice embraced by the CEO of Menlo Innovations, who often referenced Thomas Edison as he described how he re-invented his company’s work environment. It made me think about how often we try to "pilot" new ideas in a very traditional sense and how much more fun and rewarding it might be if we were to think of those pilot efforts as "experiments."

Throughout all the conceptual models, quotes and insights, my favorite and perhaps most challenging “take-away” was that of how to increase organizational capacity. How do we make our workplace more effective for those who access our programs and services and more enjoyable for those who work there? In other words, how do we do more of what works and less of what doesn't. I'd welcome any thoughts you have on helping MVCC do more of what works and less of what doesn't - email me at presblog@mvcc.edu.