Monday, October 27, 2008

Building the Brand

Brand. We all know it when we see it. The curved checkmark embraced and modified by Nike to now be known as the “swoosh.” The white script on red background that will always spell out Coca-Cola. The team of draft horses and catchy jingle that for years represented Budweiser (and still does at holiday time). Think about where and when you’ve seen these brands – and in what context – and you are likely reflecting on the process of integrated marketing.
The American Marketing Association defines integrated marketing as “a planning process designed to assure that all brand contacts received by a customer or prospect for a product, service, or organization are relevant to that person and consistent over time” (Brand is defined as a product's attributes — name, appearance, reputation, and so on — taken collectively and abstractly).

Integrated marketing begins with branding. While we can relate visually to Nike’s swoosh, we are also relating subliminally to all the characteristics that the swoosh represents – physical fitness, excellent athletic apparel, exceptional sports performance are just a few. These are the attributes of Nike’s brand, and consumers expect these attributes and a lot more every time they come in contact with Nike marketing, such as purchasing a Nike product, watching a Nike-sponsored sporting event, or hearing from an athlete who endorses Nike apparel.
If we were to define a brand for MVCC, what attributes would be included? Excellent education? Friendly and welcoming atmosphere? Convenience and flexibility? What would our brand look like? Tea leaves? A hawk? What would our brand promise be?

The college’s Marketing and Communications department, with my support, will be conducting focus groups across the college, to collect faculty, staff and student opinions on branding, through an exercise known as the Brand Platform. The Brand Platform is a five-step process designed to elicit our best thinking about brand purpose, values, positioning, personality and promise. Working with many of the current college committees, we will try to survey as many of you as possible so that our brand development is as informed as it can be. Our goal is to complete the surveying process by December, so that branding – the first step in achieving truly integrated marketing – can be developed and finalized during the spring.

I know many of you have clear opinions on what the college should represent to our students, and what it should not. Please share your answers to the questions above by emailing me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Silent Epidemic - student failure

I recently had the good fortune of attending the Governor's Student Engagement and Dropout Prevention Summit. It was very interesting for me to attend, since just a few days before, I listened to a lively College Senate discussion focused on underprepared students. The nexus for me in all of this is that there are some significant alterations in what is happening to our youth and to education overall. We have two overwhelming forces at play - numbing figures of high school dropouts coupled with staggering figures of college students in remedial/college prep courses because they are not prepared for college-level work.

At the Summit, I learned about how important the calculation of high school dropouts can be. For many years, the rate was focused on how many 12th graders started their senior year and how many graduated. More recently however, the standard calculation considers those that dropped out of high school in 11th, 10th, and the even larger numbers seen dropping out in 9th grade - 9th grade! You can learn more than you want to know about this topic by a simple Google search on "the silent epidemic." I was also intrigued by the statement "the normalization of failure" made by our amazing keynote speaker, Dr. Pedro Noguera, from NYU, as he spoke about how schools (and colleges) plan for a "certain number" of students in each grade (or class) to dropout. His remarks provided the many ways in which we as educators have tried to ignore, or at least explain away, this disturbing trend of student failure in this country and this state.

We can cite all the data we want - the financial impact of educational attainment - High school dropout average salary - $17,299; High school diploma - $26,933; Associate's degree - $36,645; and Bachelor's degree - $52,671 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005) and we still can't make the point. Rather a focus on the financial advantages of education to a student’s future does not seem to effectively counteract student perceptions about school. The message that I heard from a student panel at the Summit is that education is not relevant. Indeed, the “Silent Epidemic” report tells us that nearly half of the high school drop-outs surveyed found their classes boring and an even greater percentage—69%--said that they were unmotivated and uninspired at school. It seems to me that as adults we fail to fully comprehend the implications of the exponential ways in which students have changed in their ways of thinking, their comfort with technology, and their methods of interacting with us and their peers. We are so busy trying to “tell” students that education is relevant that we are not spending enough time “showing them.” The study suggests that more experiential learning opportunities—internships, job shadowing, and service learning activities, which help to demonstrate the applicability of learning--may be effective ways to offset that perception.

At the College Senate meeting last week, everyone received a copy of the Diploma to Nowhere report. I've included a link to the website here, with links to the executive summary and full, 17-page report. http://www.edin08.com/diplomatonowhere.aspx. As educators at the College level, community college faculty and staff are growing increasingly frustrated by the challenges associated with increasingly high numbers of students needing remediation before enrolling in college-level courses. It's not that community colleges aren't used to or capable of helping students address deficiencies. We've helped those returning adults who have been out of the classroom for years. However, the issues seem to be deeper and more complex than they've ever been. Our frustration is combined with that of our students, who thought their diploma would qualify them for college. We share in their frustration in federal and state financial aid policies that place limits on students' abilities to afford these developmental/college-prep classes, leaving students in a hurry to get these classes over with so they can get on with what they think they came for - "college."

Addressing the needs of underprepared students and the curriculum they learn is a key initiative in our Strategic Plan. In addition, we will do a better job of communicating with our partner school districts to provide them with better information about what college-level work looks like. Attending the Summit and listening to the Senate conversation, I'm left wrestling with some very tough questions - To what extent have we normalized failure? How different are we than the high schools? If the students are bored in high school classrooms, how bored are they in ours? The high performing high schools - those large urban schools in high poverty areas that achieve 90%+ graduation rates - that buck the trend do so by focusing on what works. We know that schools (and colleges) that focus on rigor, relevance and relationships create environments that promote and produce student success in ways less focused schools (and colleges) can even dream. How can we organize our efforts around simultaneously maintaining and/or increasing rigor, relevance and relationships for the benefit of our students?

I'd appreciate your thoughts and insights. You can share them with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

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.