Monday, November 30, 2009

Recognizing Years of Service

Throughout the fall, we've been implementing a new and different, Employee Recognition Design Team endorsed, Years of Service recognition process. Communitas has been doing a great job of chronicling this effort each week, and some of you may have seen our balloon festooned entourage hiking through the campuses on occasion. Participating in this new program, I have been inspired by the number of faculty and staff committed to the important mission of MVCC over many years. The opportunity to connect with these recipients in a variety of campus locations has deepened my appreciation for the history of this great organization and the dedication of so many who make this place work in so many special ways.

Recognizing hundreds of years of service (literally!) this fall also reminds me of my dissertation study - "Factors that influence the perception of organizational change." Back then I surveyed over 500 faculty and staff from 12 community colleges in Colorado on their perceptions of institutional change and determined several factors that influence how that change was perceived. Interestingly enough, I found that the more people could put change into a larger context, the more positively they viewed it. Another factor determined to influence the perception of change in that study was actually years of service! And that notion rings true with me today as I make these Years of Service visits throughout the organization. I've truly enjoyed talking with each and every one of the folks we've honored for Years of Service this fall, having listened to them, their supervisors, and their colleagues. I've truly learned something valuable from each one.

I've been thinking back to other change efforts I've led and pictured so many of the senior faculty and staff who provided tremendous leadership in periods of great change. Most have held multiple positions and served in numerous committee and college-wide assignments that have provided them with an appreciation for the overall operation and context of the college. Nearly a decade later, I remain struck by the value and perspective that senior faculty and staff bring to an ever unfolding organizational narrative. Together, as we continue to roll out the new Years of Service recognition program, the Employee Recognition Committee and I are committed to refining this process to make it as good as it can be for all those who put so much into this College. If you have any reactions to, or thoughts about, the new program, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Untangling the Social Safety Net

The relationship between our region's economic and social challenges is vexing. Every day another story and every story another insight into the complex nature of the variables at play. One ray of hope is the work of the United Way, as it develops a plan for shifting its annual grant funding process from "individual program initiatives" to "collective community priorities" that bring a common focus to the work of agencies and organizations throughout the area. In addition, the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties is focusing many of its strategic efforts on addressing root causes of these challenges, like their work to facilitate the improvement of literacy in our region.

Any search for the root causes of our region's societal problems must address the need to break the multi-generational cycle of poverty and how easy it is for people to get tangled up in the social safety net this country provides. Rather than providing temporary support for people as originally intended, we often hear about the myriad social service programs that, sometimes, act more like anchors than wings, leaving individuals and families negotiating lifestyles full of limitations. I think we need a new paradigm.

For many, education can be a tangle proof safety net. When speaking to first generation college students, I often highlight the fact that an education is something no one can take away from them. The challenge is to get children at an early age thinking about, and believing in, the successful completion of high school and the real possibility of attending college. The ironic component to this challenge is that those individuals living in poverty are not aware that the financial disadvantages they face every day qualify them for full financial aid, making college attendance not only financially possible, but realistically achievable!

It's a matter of connecting with these students and families early - and often - and getting them the information they need. Our job is to demonstrate the possibilities, providing motivation to break the cycle of helplessness and hopelessness; to release them from the anchor disguised as a safety net.

Programs like Upward Bound and campus visits for elementary and middle school students have proven themselves to be great models to expose younger students to these possibilities. MVCC has made significant strides in this area. However, I think our position in the community is such that MVCC must play a more central role in addressing these issues – a role that will take much effort, focus and creativity. If you have any thoughts on this subject, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Entrepreneurship Revisited

After more than 100 posts on this blog, I’m finding myself revisiting previous posts with a new perspective. A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about how interesting it might be if the Mohawk Valley region branded itself around Education, Environment and Entrepreneurship in similar fashion to Saratoga Springs with their History, Health and Horses theme. I received a few interesting responses on that post, some offering their own ideas and others picking up on the importance of entrepreneurship.

Along those same lines, I had a very interesting conversation recently with a lifelong Mohawk Valley resident and very successful businessman. We talked about the state of the economy and the fundamental shifts at work with regard to manufacturing and globalization – the cost of doing business and producing goods in New York State versus, say, China. I shared that this is the first time in my career where I find it very difficult to identify exactly what new programs we need to develop, because it’s hard to see where the jobs are going to come from – other than everyone hanging their hats on the new “green economy.” I referenced the “Shift Happens/Did You Know” video that I included in one of my earliest blog posts. My favorite component of that video speaks volumes to what we’re up against – “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet!”

It got me thinking again about the importance of entrepreneurship. Wouldn’t it be better to have ten small businesses that grow to 100 employees versus having a single employer, likely not rooted in this area, with 1,000 employees – that could come and go and at any time? Then the challenges with teaching entrepreneurship came to mind – budding entrepreneurs often don’t want to spend time sitting in classrooms while we as educators, by our nature, wrestle with the need to be more entrepreneurial in one of the most secure professions available.

My latest thinking on this is that perhaps entrepreneurship is a future component of general education. I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but we talk about new transferable skills like problem solving, critical thinking, human relations and creativity…perhaps all of these can converge into the notion of entrepreneurial spirit. Manufacturing peaked in the U.S. in 1979 and will never be what it was. I’m increasingly of the belief that entrepreneurship is what will drive the new economy – once we know what that looks like. All signs point to the fact that the new economy is likely years away, so MVCC may as well begin preparing for it today by thinking about these notions. If we can’t identify what the jobs of the future will be, why don’t we start by training people to develop their ideas along with their plans and practices to make their businesses and organizations better by creating those jobs that don’t yet exist and invent those technologies and processes that haven’t been invented yet through entrepreneurial skills and spirit that all of us need? If you have any thoughts on this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The New Equilibrium

Just a short 18 months ago, I remember a hallway conversation where someone said that “new ideas had trouble seeing the light of day around here” because too many of us had the habit of quickly punching holes in a suggestion that might lead to doing things differently.  The good news is that new ideas are far more welcomed here than ever.  The bad news is that new ideas are far more welcomed here than ever…

The past week or so has provided the opportunity to have multiple conversations with individuals and groups about the pace of change at the College.  We talked about it at a Cabinet meeting and a Think Tank meeting, where comments were made regarding the emerging sense that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all the changes.  It’s not just about the reorganization, change is coming from all angles - a tweak to this system; a shift in that office; a sudden refinement to whatever process. The College has been very successful for sixty three years – certainly some changes were needed, but now it feels like everything is changing.  In addition, the pace of change is straining our ability to keep everyone informed of this or that change.  In short, it’s just hard to keep up!

Although adjustments will still need to be made, it’s incumbent on all of us to let a few things settle in for a bit – to the extent possible.  Having to respond to double digit enrollment growth, it’s challenging – if not impossible - to say slow down.  I think it’s more, really, about working together.  It’s making the extra effort to talk through differences; reach common priorities; and leverage change for the greatest return to our students.

Concentrating our efforts to make system changes, and include communicating with others in a timely fashion, so that we can all  make better use of our time and increase our success is most important (it’s not always about allusers emails or an hour meeting just because we scheduled an hour). 

Certainly refining our processes is important, but we also need to think about how those changes effect other areas of the College – taking care to address concerns openly as they arise, to insure that all those who want to be part of MVCC’s future are able to do so.  Keeping the big picture in mind and thinking through the timing of changes will help everyone thrive and minimize change fatigue throughout the College.

These notions of change prompted me to revisit a blog post of mine from last May on the punctuated equilibrium model of change – Tushman and Romanelli’s notion of organizations experiencing periods of equilibrium interrupted by punctuations of change.  They stated that a healthy organization can move from a state of equilibrium to punctuation and emerge stronger and healthier as it experiences the next period of relative equilibrium. When the next punctuation occurs, it's generally shorter because the organization is better-equipped to handle it. Over time, as the organization becomes stronger and more effective, the periods of equilibrium are shorter so the punctuations come quicker, but they are less significant because the organization is better equipped to respond and absorb the associated changes.  Safe to say, we’re experiencing a fair sense of punctuation right now - but I know we’ll get through it and catch our breath in the new equilibrium.  If you have any thoughts on this, let me know at presblog@mvcc.edu.