Sunday, October 5, 2008

Waiting on the World to Change

This past week Dick Alfred and Pat Carter from the Strategic Horizon Network visited the College. They spent a morning with the Board of Trustees before separate meetings with the College Senate, Strategic Planning Committee/President's Think Tank and the President's Cabinet. I found their visit very thought-provoking, as their presentations and the conversation they initiated prompted questions and reflections on where we are as a college. I wanted to share some of my own observations here in this post.

We have a very good Strategic Plan. However, it's different than anything the College had previously, and as an institution we seem to be tentative in bringing it to life. The Plan has a number of far-reaching directions and aggressive initiatives that may leave people asking the question, "Where do we start?" It's as though some of us are waiting on the world to change for us -- passively observing -- without recognizing the empowerment that results naturally from committing to and immersing ourselves in the dialogue, action and process of change.

Dick and Pat also challenged us to take the nice sounding words from the Strategic Plan and be sure we develop shared meaning for them - what do we mean by valuing learning, accessibility, collaboration, excellence, diversity, affordability and integrity? They also mentioned the greatest barriers they've seen for community colleges to overcome are a sense of entitlement among employees and a lack of strategic thinking throughout the organization. To overcome them and reach our fullest potential, we need to answer the question, "Do we want to survive or thrive?" Surviving is easy - putting your head down, doing your job and staying off the radar screen. Thriving takes work - jumping into "the too hard to do box" and bringing meaning, value, and yes, life to those pretty words in the Strategic Plan. Thriving will require the development of a collective will to advance our mission by truly working together. We must change the question from what's in it for me? to what's in it for our students? for our community?

Changing the questions we ask can be a powerful tool. Dick and Pat's visit made me think that I need to clarify something along those lines. With all the changes occurring around us, I don't think the main question is how will we change, but how will we evolve? Saying we need to change can imply something is broken or was done wrong in the past. Rather, I believe we need to evolve and move along a natural, strategic path with our vision, values, mission and purpose as our guide. We have a great Strategic Plan with some lofty goals. I'd rather accomplish 80% of lofty goals than 100% of easy goals. It's the difference between saying "it may be possible, but it's too difficult" and saying, "it may be difficult, but it's possible."

These are some of my reflections; share yours with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.