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.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More than a Ribbon Cutting

When we first moved to the Valley, I was continually amazed at the unexpected places MV Alumni turned up. I am no longer as surprised when someone tells me they “got their start” or “their restart” at MVCC. A couple weeks ago, in this blog, I described the good fortune of having many homegrown businesses in the Mohawk Valley, with a number being led by MVCC grads. Most of my experience for that post came from visiting many local businesses recently, to better understand their needs.

Another way I've gained exposure to “the amazing Mohawk Valley” is by attending community events, like a ribbon cutting this past week at the Air Force Research Lab in Rome. I responded to the invitation because the Lab is both a great community asset and a great partner with our engineering programs. Truth be told, I was also very curious about a ribbon cutting for a computer. The AFRL unveiled its newest supercomputer, the Condor.

In this case, a healthy dose of curiosity was a very good thing because we learned an awful lot in a relatively short period of time. The program flyer included phrases like “computing power of supercomputers is measured in FLOPS or floating point operations per second…a typical household laptop can achieve 10 billion FLOPS,” and the Condor will “…achieve 500 trillion FLOPS…equivalent to 50,000 laptops.” Whoa! Digesting that kind of information, I could only look forward to the rest of the presentation. They went on to describe the acceleration of information processing and supercomputer development over the recent past. We learned that supercomputers are closer than ever to being able to process information at speeds equal to the human brain. According to the Lab, we'll likely surpass that mark in the next few years. My head was spinning.

The more specifics they provided, the more interested I became. The Department of Defense was looking for a cost effective way to power and run a supercomputer for critical information processing of detailed imagery for the Air Force and other state-of-the-art research. In response, AFRL engineers connected and optimized 1,716 Sony Playstation III (PS3) game consoles (no kidding) and 168 General Processing Units – all off-the-shelf products. With the ability to put these processors in “sleep mode," the Condor produces an energy savings multiplier of 15 from comparable supercomputers. All that computing power, with far less use of electrical power to drive it is truly an amazing work of human ingenuity – produced right here in Oneida County.

During the ceremony recognizing folks who played an important part in conceiving and creating the Condor, several individuals stopped to say, “I’m one of yours.” I stayed long after the program finished to talk with a half dozen engineers and technicians who, upon completing their studies at MVCC, earned their B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Each one is now working in a degree relevant field at the Air Force Research Lab. Each spoke of the rigor, quality, and pride of their MVCC experience. Each noted the incredibly supportive learning environment they experienced at MV.

Some of the most important, cutting edge work in the world of supercomputing is being done just down the road...and all of it by highly trained and incredibly skilled professionals, many of whom got their start at MVCC. Driving back to the office, I marveled at what I had just experienced...and, from a slightly different perspective, that much of it didn’t surprise me at all. The work many of our colleagues did years ago played a significant role in the astounding demonstration of high technology I witnessed at the Rome Research Site last week. This technology will inevitably benefit millions of people around the globe - in so many unknown ways it’s hard to comprehend.

Like the work done with our alumni at AFRL, the work we do with students today, tomorrow, and next week will reap unknown accomplishments in the future. Every MVCC faculty and staff member should be proud because of the work we do to help every student who chooses to study here. Because of that work, the promise of the community college comes alive in the most fascinating ways every day. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.