Monday, February 28, 2011

Tying Our Shoelaces

Budget requests are due this week. When I’m out and about, people ask me, “How’s the state budget picture going to effect MV?” Lately, my response has been pretty consistent, “It all depends!”

In an environment where we serve more students at a disproportionately lower amount per student, the environment brings to mind too many clichés – “do more with less”; tighten your belts a couple more notches; work smarter, not harder; tie your shoelaces a little better!

The last one, about the shoelaces, probably isn’t top of mind for most people, but it is for me. It comes from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach whose teams won 88 straight games and 7 consecutive national championships from 1967-1973. When asked about his approach to winning and how he prepared his team for a championship run each year, he responded by describing how he started every season. The first practice of the year was spent making sure each player was an expert at tying his basketball shoes correctly. If their shoes weren’t tied correctly, not only did their chances of tripping on an untied lace increase, but they were certain to get blisters on their feet and subsequently miss out on valuable preseason practice time – making them less efficient preparing for the grind of the year to come.

Although I play a lot of sports, I try to minimize my use of sports metaphors. However, the notion of tying one’s shoelaces to diminish efficiencies seems to have relevance to our budget and the overall operation of the College. The budget constraints we’re currently operating under, and will continue to do so next year, create an environment that calls for a reexamination of all processes, along with the manner in which we work. It’s more than breaking through the increasingly worn excuse, “we can’t do it that way because we’ve always done it this way.” It’s about approaching every part of our operation from a different perspective, asking “how might we do this better?” It requires us to listen more closely to students, the community, and each other. It requires us to be more open to feedback and talk about things in a critical way without being critical. It’s the open dialogue that doesn’t allow people to simply rant about why something doesn’t work, but calls for an expression of opinion, saying, “I disagree, but I have another (not necessarily a better) idea to consider.”

By looking closely at our processes, we need to spend more time collecting and analyzing data to inform our decision-making processes. It makes assessment relevant – we should collect and analyze data because it helps make more informed decisions, not because our accrediting agencies require it. Our culture needs to change from one that says, “in order to do more, we’re going to need more” to one that says, “we can implement that new process or program because we created additional capacity by changing this or eliminating that inefficiency.”

This approach would require everyone to respect the ideas, strengths, and talents of others and work together to develop a culture of continuous assessment and improvement in everything we do. We work at a most amazing place that has the potential to provide our students, and the community it serves, even more than it already does! If we make sure our “shoelaces are tied correctly” we can “minimize the blisters” and find ourselves running faster and farther than any of us could ever imagine.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.