Monday, December 13, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Having worked at and studied community colleges for two decades, I am often intrigued by the relevance of personal health as a metaphor for organizational health. Like human beings, organizations are living, ever-changing, complex systems. Metaphors abound about the “health of organizations"; about "organizational wellness” as a framework - taken right off bookstore self-help and dietary shelves; and about organizations as “lean” or “lethargic” when describing the operations or sense people have about them. Community colleges, like all complex organizations, are comprised of individuals whose collective efforts combine to make a unified whole, in order to make a difference.

This time of year many of us think about the Holiday Season and the fast-approaching new year - often accompanied with New Year resolutions. If I were to make a list of New Year resolutions for MVCC, it would reflect a number of elements gleaned from many recent conversations I’ve had with faculty and staff around both campuses!

For example:

- We resolve to be a more kind organization. With an estimated fall unduplicated headcount of more than 7,200 individual students, students and families come to us with more needs than ever – needs more complex and sensitive than those we've experienced in the past. Each of us needs to be more kind and helpful - being more intentional with every interaction with each student and with each other. The Rev. Jesse Jackson captured this notion when he said, “Never look down on anybody unless you're helping them up.”

- We resolve to be a more respectful organization. It would seem being respectful is simple. For whatever reasons, however, rudeness and disrespect are on the rise all around us and people are more sensitive than ever. Employers often tell me that “the ability to relate to others in a respectful manner” is a top concern. We should be no different. In fact, modeling respect is as important for us as it is for our students. Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson once declared, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me…All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."

- We resolve to work more on trusting and earning trust. Research increasingly shows the importance of positive, productive relationships to achieving happy, healthy, and long lives. The same likely holds true for achieving the long, happy, and healthy life of an organization. At the core of any relationship is trust. Our community trusts us. Our students' families trust us. It’s critically important for us to trust our partners and, as well, to trust each other. The importance of trust is highlighted in a quote attributed to Frank Cane, “You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough.”

- We resolve to be a more accountable organization. The ongoing and increasing efforts of leadership organizations within the Institution, like the Cabinet, College Senate, Bargaining Units, Strategic Planning Council, Institutional Effectiveness Committee, and a host of other college councils and committees are helping MVCC become more accountable, both collectively and individually. Achieving accountability is not easy and maintaining it requires constant attention. “Walking the talk” as they say; being responsible for our actions and not passing blame are the key elements. The work of holding ourselves and each other accountable is difficult. In the book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencione writes, “Some people are hard to hold accountable because they are so helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating….accountability is hard, even with your own kids.” But the work of building an accountable organization in the new year will make us better. When we've achieved full accountability we will, individually and collectively, be able to serve the students who choose to enroll here, their families, regional business owners and companies, and our entire community by providing the best access to excellence....and that opportunity will have immeasurable benefits.

- We resolve to be a more patient organization. As I’ve often said about life at MVCC, things move too fast for some, too slow for others. Exercising patience leads to understanding and an appreciation for the "why." Not that it’s okay to explain everything away or disregard the importance of accountability but often, when impatience is foremost in an organization, focus is lost, words are said, and things are done that might be regretted. It's all about courtesy and perspective. With regard to this notion, author Bill McGlashen is quoted as saying, “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, but not in one ahead.”

The collective resolve to be more kind, respectful, trusting, accountable, and patient comes from many at MVCC who are embracing a simple, understated action plan for a better MVCC. My thanks to all who have offered their thoughts and energies along these lines, as my intent here was to capture their ideas in the form of a New Year’s resolution. As Oprah Winfrey said, “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.”  If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.