Friday, January 20, 2017

Finding Strength and Value in Data

MVCC recently held its third annual Data Summit to kick off the Spring semester for faculty and staff. As we collectively paused to consider assessment results and progress made through our Strategic Plan, Catalyst 2020, I was struck at how symbolic this Data Summit is of the College living its values of encouraging excellence, inspiring confidence, modeling the way, and embracing our community.

Researcher Brene’ Brown says “excellence comes from vulnerability” so to encourage excellence is to encourage a sense of being vulnerable, allowing ourselves to really be seen, imperfections and all. This requires us — individually and collectively — to put our egos aside and open ourselves up to being vulnerable in order to be receptive to ideas and changes that can make us wholeheartedly committed to being better, as people and as an institution.

Allowing vulnerability takes great courage, and courage is a pre-requisite to inspiring confidence, as it allows us to admit that we are less than perfect. Tapping into our courage and inspiring confidence in ourselves — and others — builds on that gift of vulnerability and helps us find ways to improve.

It is the will to improve that helps us embrace our community by committing to finding new ways to be better on behalf of our students and community, all the while recognizing that the essence of a community college is to change as the community changes and reflect its needs through our programs and services.

When we accept the important work of identifying what data to collect, then collect it, analyze it, and apply it, we model the way by doing what’s right — even though doing what’s right is not always easy. As business consultant and author Jim Collins found in his research on organizations that go from good to great, they employ what he calls the Stockdale paradox — the unwavering faith that things will get better while simultaneously confronting (if not embracing) the brutal facts. Not all data tell you what you want to hear, and sometimes it can be brutal.

Having an organizational culture that is transparent enough to shine a light on critically important data — and trusts enough to collectively and productively analyze and apply it — is a special thing. Picture what can happen if we all increase our curiosity with data as a means to make things better. It doesn’t happen easily in organizations. It does, however, put us in the fortunate position to shift from our natural tendencies of finding blame and excuses to the more productive and better part of ourselves, exploring ideas and identifying solutions.

It’s not surprising that our culture is evolving in this manner. More than 70 percent of full-time employees have taken the Gallup Strengthsfinder. The top five themes across all the employees who have taken Strengths at MVCC are Learner, Input, Empathy, Responsibility, and Achiever. My Arranger strength can’t resist the chance to “arrange” these themes. The Learner and Input themes (and all those themes connected to them) open us up to wanting to collect more information and understand it. The Empathy and Responsibility themes strike an emotional chord that makes us want to do better on behalf of those we serve. And the Achiever theme puts into action all of the passion and energy in our minds (Learner/Input) and in our hearts (Empathy/Responsibility). Now that we know our top five themes as an organization, we continue to draw on them and turn them into our strengths.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.