Higher Education, Middle Management

Responsibility ladder – to climb or not to climb

I’m deviating from thoughts explicit to higher education a bit in this blog post, however I’m going to use a couple higher education examples. Recently I received a call from a friend seeking some advice or at least someone to listen as she worked through the pros and cons of a professional opportunity to advance her career. Like many of us, I presume she had the proverbial list of pros and cons side by side to help in the decision. Many of us have done this to provide ourselves with appropriate perspective and maybe even rationale for our decision. It’s been my experience that some people want to climb the professional or corporate ladder of responsibility while others find their professional spot and are most comfortable fine-tuning their craft day in and day out.

This friend’s circumstance was providing her an opportunity to move from what I consider to be a middle management position- or director level- into a vice president and senior leadership role within a college. For further clarification purposes, I see a manager with supervisory responsibility of a variety number of staff who are department “worker-bees” carrying out the initiatives of the department every day. While these people have some level of decision-making responsibility, ultimately they follow the lead of the manager. The new role would provide this individual with an opportunity to participate more intimately with the strategic vision of the college while also assuming some responsibility of deploying that vision within her department.

As I listened, my mind quickly went back to a time when I was contemplating a similar decision. I wanted to provide her with some advice, both that of which I received and maybe advice that had not been shared with me. While I’m never short on an opinion or advice, I was fixated on one question that I felt would be relevant to her decision.

“Is management (of people or decisions) easier or more challenging as you move up the responsibility ladder?”

Three thoughts quickly came to mind.

First, managing (or “coaching”) experienced Directors is very different than managing less-experienced entry level positions.

A person in the vice president role must have the ability to articulate the vision and direction to create the buy-in of Directors who may at times have more experience in the business. Furthermore, it’s less likely that these individuals will simply do as you say. Instead, they will require greater rational and expect to provide greater input or influence on your decisions and rightfully so if you are to take advantage of their experience.   This can require more patience, persistence, and perseverance of the manager.  The challenge becomes when you disagree at this level.

Second, your enjoyment of the job is directly connected to the quality of the relationship you have with your direct reports.

This relates somewhat to point number one. You hear of people who come into high responsibility roles and immediately “clean house” with the previous management team. While there are different opinions on this I’m sure, in my experience I realized first-hand why some people may be inclined to do this from day one rather than go through the effort to determine if the partnership will work under new leadership. Sometimes the agony of that process can limit the ability to move forward with strategic goals as quickly as you or even your supervisor would like. So, a path with potentially less resistance may in fact be bringing in new people with expectations and roles defined by the new leadership. This allows both parties to start from day-one on the same page. Either way it can be messy, but I can see how the latter process can help move the performance needle quicker.

Third and possibly the most significant…There may be fewer decisions to make as you climb the ladder of responsibility, but the decisions can be anything but easy. The easy decisions are typically made by people who report to you. Now, decisions require more thought, the consequences are greater, and the answer will inevitably disappoint someone.

I’m sure this advice has been shared by many intelligent people. Nevertheless, I’m not sure we are ever really prepared for this until we get into the situation. Recently I experienced the management of three decisions which fit this category – two of which deal with the significant rain we received in southeast Nebraska in the last 10 days.

  1. Crete, Nebraska – High school superintendent chooses to not cancel school when a number of schools in the area cancelled due to flooding. Crete schools did not have flooding. While this decision was accepted by most, there were some who were vocal about their displeasure with the decision and others that could not make it to school due to the weather. Had school been cancelled, you can bet just as many people would have been upset with having to find childcare. Depending on your individual circumstance, this decision may be acceptable or totally wrong!
  2. Crete, Nebraska – Doane College president chooses at last minute to move commencement services from the traditional outdoor service to an indoor service. Despite the fact that most Doane students look forward to an outdoor commencement, inevitably some of the spectators do not enjoy managing the weather as much. As an individual who helped directing parking that day in the rain, I can attest to a few disgruntled adults regarding the late decision – none of them, however, were graduates.
  3. Doane College faculty wrestle with decisions of an academic calendar which inevitably impacts different faculty, staff, and students different.  I listened as they debated the issue and ultimately requested that more time be devoted to determining the best calendar solution.  When this decision is made, it is likely that some faculty will not be satisfied.

It’s easy to have an opinion on decisions that others have to make. It’s much more challenging to be in the position which makes the decision. To refer back to a prior blog post, there is no silver bullet to these decisions either. But, someone has to make them.  So, my question to my friend…Do you want to be in the position to make these decisions?

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Enrollment Management

Hard Times as Motivators toward Future Success

(Omar Correa is an admired colleague and great friend.  He is also guest blogger this week providing his perspective on the enrollment management and higher education today)

Do you remember the first time riding a bicycle on your own, your first ice cream cone, the excitement of riding a roller coaster? “Wow! Let’s do it again”! Is that what you said? Something similar?

I remember having the same experience during my very first high school visit as an admissions representative. It was a very small high school in southeastern Iowa. I was there early, had all my materials ready and I was prepared. I was nervous, anxious… would I represent my institution well? Will I remember my presentation? Will I be asked a question I couldn’t answer? I was there for about an hour, it was all a blur. Next thing I remember…I was driving on I-80 thinking,”WHOA!!!! Am I getting paid to do this?” What a great feeling, helping students, telling the institution’s story and having every student listen as if I was reading straight from Harry Potter (replace with whatever teen book is popular).

I count myself among those lucky individuals that have found a job they love. They have found more than a job, a vocation. Webster defines vocation as “a strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work”. That’s how I feel about my work in higher education and I feel blessed for that feeling. Do I feel that way because it is an easy job? Absolutely not! Since those days as a road warrior, the job has always been challenging, long hours and many sacrifices, personal and professional, are made by those in the world of enrollment management. But these challenges and sacrifices are overshadowed by the rewarding nature of the work that we do.

We also know that these challenges and rewards come in every year. We all know that this fall’s first year’s class will be challenging, so is next year’s class. We also know how it feels to work hard and smart trying to bring that class and still come up short. We know the consequences to the bottom line and the morale in the office and around campus. But we also know how it feels to welcome that new class to campus and see them grow personally and as students. Furthermore, we know that feeling when four years later, we have parents and students reminding us of the path traveled, the challenges and successes, once the student reaches graduation. We know that regardless of these feelings, the pressure is there to bring more students, better students and able-to-pay students.

As stated by Eric Hoover in the September 15, 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education article, The Hottest Seat on Campus, the market pressures are pushing institutions to search for “silver bullets.” The challenges on enrollment management are amplified by declining demographics, stagnant economy and heightened competition. Last month I experienced this phenomenon personally, where my institution did not need my services any longer, as the goals of the institution were not in line with what we could deliver, although all the forecast pointed toward a successful year. It is often difficult to realize the blessings that come, even disguised in the form of the loss of employment.

Jon Boeckenstedt wrote on his blog on February 3, 2014. Bloody Monday: Not just for the NFL:

In some sense, my colleagues are like NFL Coaches: Success, a finite commodity based on the nature of the game, is parceled out by the whims of the gods, and your hard work and good fortune bless you with it on occasion.  But the organizational appetite never goes away, and when it’s not fed sufficiently, good people are shown the door, and often replaced with someone who–in many ways–is just like the person leaving.  Only different.  The NFL has its Bloody Monday, the day after the season ends and coaches get fired.  In enrollment, we have bloody springs.

Having done this for so long, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to stay in one place as long as I wanted, but I’m also surprised when the pressures and the issues and the expectations we deal with are not obvious to those who don’t do it every day.  Maybe the same could be said of most professions. But for as much fun as this profession is, and for all the rewards it brings, I do wish we could bring a little more sanity to the continual upward spiral of expectations.

There is an expectation of More, Better and Less Needy that is part of the recipe for failure. As you may imagine, this has allowed me a lot of time to reflect and do some soul-searching. What’s next? What would I do differently? Is my passion for what I do extinguishing? I would still say that higher education is my vocation; I still have a passion for what I do, although we get shaken every now and then, we must continue to examine ourselves, grow from our challenges and don’t give up. A good friend of mine always says, “If it was easy, everybody would do it”.

In the last several weeks I have followed 4 Steps to keep moving forward in this crazy world of higher education that I love. What must I do to assess the next steps toward success and stay motivated?:

  1. Be objective and do some soul searching

Earl Nightingale once said, “We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.” I have to ask myself, what could I have done better? What will I do differently in the future? It’s always easier to look for an external force to blame, but we must bring some objectivity and reflection to the process.

  1. Revise your goals and vision

Where did you see yourself next year, 5, 10 years from now? Do you still see yourself there?, then don’t stop, revise the plan, the path. See whatever obstacle is in front of you as a detour and not the end of the road. Remember, who we were, who we are and who we will be are three different people.

  1. Remember your passion and your purpose

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of our purpose and passion. When times are tough, we must go back and remember why we started our journey in the first place. A good way to accomplish this is by surrounding ourselves with people that are passionate, and trust me, it is contagious.

  1. Let go of the past and embrace future success

Someone once said, “You can’t start the next chapter, if you keep re-reading the last.” Once we have learned from our past mistakes, we shouldn’t look back! Be willing to move on with purpose, remember the Chinese proverb that says, “The master has failed more times than the beginner has tried.”

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Higher Education

Why make the investment in a liberal arts college?

I had the pleasure of visiting with a father recently that is on the verge of sending his daughter to Doane College.  He shared with me that he had not attended college and has held many manual labor jobs over the course of his career.  While successful, he acknowledged that he had to scrape and claw most of his professional life in order to not only succeed but at times simply to make ends meet.  He confided in me his concern for his daughter.  He said, “She doesn’t really know what she wants to do.  I’m concerned about spending so much given that uncertainty.”

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard that concern.  He went on to share that what makes him more comfortable – although not completely comfortable – with her lack of career direction is the fact that she is choosing a liberal arts college.  While I was excited to hear this, I’ll admit that I don’t hear that as often as I would like from parents.  He admitted that this is his first (and only) child so the entire process is new to him, but he has paid particular attention to what colleges and universities have shared about the educational value that they offer.  He acknowledged that attending a private college is more expensive, but he desperately wants to believe in what we’ve put in our marketing material.  He wants to believe that our liberal arts education is the best investment in his daughter’s future.

First, what a great guy!  There is a great deal of discussion regarding the value of the liberal arts in higher education (and I think a misunderstanding of the word liberal altogether.  But, we’ll leave that for another day.)  For example, consider this great article on 5 reasons to attend a liberal arts college.  When I encounter this issue with students or parents, I typically share my personal experience.  I was like many high school students who have an interest but not necessarily true direction for a career.  Back in the early 1990’s when Apple was big in education I heard a lot about desktop publishing.  I was not an artist, but I did enjoy working with layout software on computers.  As a result, I did some work on the profession as a senior project.  Given that I had started down this path I felt to a degree obligated to continue forward.  So, my interest brought me to a small private college which was in the early stages of a graphic design degree program.  All this to share that while I obtained my BA degree with a major in graphic design, I ultimately decided that I did not have the necessary talent to earn a living doing that work.  Frankly, I just wasn’t creative enough.

I share this because what I learned – which had always been told to me – is that the sum of my liberal arts experience prepared me for much more than I could have imagined – more than any single class.  While it prepared me to be a graphic designer by trade if I chose to, it also opened my future options to a career and profession that I could not have imagined while in college.  I still remember not wanting to take the history course or the marriage & family course.  But now, I understand why those were important and why they provided me with a great foundation.  I didn’t particularly enjoy math and like most college students majoring in art, I often asked why I need a math course when I’m not going to use math in my career.  I was a stupid, smart kid!

I believe the liberal arts experience prepares a student for more than what they think they need to know to be successful.  But, possibly more important, it gives students the foundation for a long successful professional life which will likely take twists and turns that at the moment may seem absurd.  I believe that people hiring students out of college are looking for college experiences that show the person can think critically, communicate effectively, listen, and learn.  I recognize that the student’s major can and does matter but I believe there should be more to it.  After all, how does a graphic design major end up as a successful fundraiser and higher education enrollment manager?  And, oh by the way, while I’ve continued to utilize the skills I learned through my graphic design degree, I also use math a lot!  A college degree prepares you for a job.   A liberal arts degree prepares you for careers – particularly those that don’t exist today.  While it’s true that students can obtain a liberal arts-type experience at a large, public institution, they will have to work at it and seek it out.  At colleges like Doane, it’s interwoven into the entire experience.  It’s what we do and I believe we do it very well.

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Higher Education

In Higher Education, What Actions Represent a Commitment to Diversity – Inclusion?

I am a white, blond, blue-eyed male working at a rural Nebraska private, independent, liberal arts college.  I’m comfortable here – possibly too comfortable!  Hear me out.  I tend to believe the college educational environment should be created to challenge many of our beliefs in a safe environment.  This is one reason why I love the idea that students should travel abroad or experience an urban plunge.  We need to see how others live. I believe it’s healthy to be in uncomfortable (yet safe) environments to learn and reflect on experiences that may challenge our beliefs or personal expectations based on our own experiences.  When I consider skin color and student demographics, (as well as faculty and staff) there are many others “like me” on this campus.  Skin color is the same and like me, many students, faculty, and staff come from a small Midwest community.  And, like me, many have not been – let alone spent much time in – a metropolitan area (not sure Lincoln, NE applies here).

Recently, a gentleman conducted a workshop on our campus on diversity; Finding Common Ground.  He shared many things that stick with me but one activity in particular really got me thinking.  He was working us through our mission statement and strategic plan highlighting key words in the documents and engaging us in conversation about what these words meant to us.  Not the definition via Wikipedia, but the meanings in our minds.  There were many words we discussed but two that really hit home from our mission statement; “inclusive” and “commitment”.

What really struck me was the notion that both these words can mean slightly different things to different people.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.  I say them with relative ease and believe that they mean the same thing to most everyone.  That’s simply not true.  Put us all in a room and ask for each of us to interpret the meaning of “inclusive”.  There will be similarities no doubt but the speaker pointed out vividly an example in which context and culture impact the meaning of words to each of us.

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Reflect on this through-provoking example.  Consider the word “ethical”.  I believe that my understanding of what it means to be ethical is in line with most people.  But, picture for a moment a father with three children in a poverty stricken area where there is no food readily available.  He has no money to purchase food [Forget any argument that he should have a job or that he shouldn’t have had children if he can’t support them].  This man sees a food stand which in his opinion has plenty of food.  He makes the decision to take some food – not too much, but just enough – for his children to eat.  In fact, he doesn’t give himself any food.  He simply provides for his children.  In this man’s world, could he consider it to be ethical to steal in order to provide for a family?

I’m not condoning stealing nor is this an argument on ethics.  Rather, I’m pointing out the fact that what I tend to believe is a common understanding of a word or situation can be quite different from another person, particularly when you consider context.  So, when the topic of diversity is brought up, it is important to engage in a discussion in order to best understand what people think diversity means.  I believe there is a good chance that not everyone is thinking exactly the same way. 

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Back to my two words.  I believe in being inclusive.  But, to what extent do I believe in being inclusive?  Am I inclusive to the extent that I remain comfortable?  The fact that we at Doane College have a 13% minority population doesn’t make me uncomfortable.   I’m disappointed that our population isn’t more diverse as a college, but I’m certainly not uncomfortable.  So, it’s easy for me to say I want to be more inclusive.  In fact, is there a certain percent that would justify me saying we are inclusive?  What if 50% of our student body was Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American?  Is that now inclusive?  It’s much more inclusive no doubt.  At that level of diversity, would I still be comfortable?  And, if I’m uncomfortable do I still believe in being inclusive?  My point is that it’s easier to believe in inclusion because the antithesis may be frowned upon.  Who is going to say, “I don’t want to be inclusive?”  But do we truly believe?  Keep in mind my example is only related to skin color or ethnicity.  I don’t believe that the idea of inclusion is limited to our skin color.

Now, “commitment”.  Again, I believe most people understand the word commitment.  I wonder, however, if the level of commitment and the word commitment itself can be easily misleading.  At Doane we have a commitment to increasing diversity on our campus for students, faculty, and staff.  My question, what actions adequately represent commitment?  This diversity training workshop included 40 staff out of at least 200 potential attendees.  Does this workshop represent commitment?  To some it may.  We are moving forward with the appointment of a cabinet level position, Vice President for Access, Equity, and Diversity.  Will the appointment of a person in this position fulfill our commitment?  Or, is commitment ongoing regardless of what has been accomplished?

I bring this point up not to question our (Doane’s) commitment but to encourage people to reflect on a personal commitment to diversity and inclusion.  I’m working to reflect on my personal commitment and what I can do in my role to increase diversity and be more inclusive.  Thinking about it for 2 hours once every couple months may be one person’s definition of commitment because it represents movement forward beyond what was before.  To another, it may still not represent a true commitment.

I believe in the Doane College mission which embraces diversity.  I don’t say this as an expert or even someone who has experienced an environment with great diversity.  I want to be a man who embraces diversity personally and learns from my fellow man regardless of skin color or background.  I’m seeking to put myself in a position which may challenge my comforts and seek a greater appreciation and learning from those who have different experiences than me.  And, I believe higher education is the perfect environment to learn both as young adults and those of us old dogs that need to be taught new tricks.

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Doane College’s mission is to provide an exceptional liberal arts education in a creative, inclusive, and collaborative community where faculty and staff work closely with undergraduate and graduate students preparing them for lives rooted in intellectual inquiry, ethical values, and a commitment to engage as leaders and responsible citizens in the world.

 

The opinions expressed in this blog are that of Joel M. Weyand alone and do not reflect the position of Doane College.

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Higher Education

Social Media Follow-up: Successful Facebooking as a Professional

Last week’s post on social media seemed to hit home with many.  Truth be told, my 16 year-old niece has more experience in social media than I could imagine.  I think she was recently rated as the top “tweeter” in the Lincoln, Nebraska area.  Last fall when I contemplated starting a blog  I also gave thought to what might be the best way to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other tools (I have a lot to learn!).  Although a bit dated, I found a great read in the book Inbound Marketing written by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.  It provided some great insight on jumping into the social media world from a business perspective.  Another great resource is often our peers and colleagues.  For a Friday easy read I’d like to give a shout-out to respected colleague, W. Kent Barnds, VP for Enrollment, Communication and Planning at Augustana College.  His post, “Facebooking and being a professional in higher ed: does it mix?” provides some great guidance for those looking at how to approach Facebook as a professional.

Here are a few quick snippets from his blog post:

W. Kent Barnds, March 6, 2012

I know many, many people have addressed this topic and I am not sure I am any better equipped to do so than those who already done so. However, last week I was asked by someone, who I group into the categories of friend, Facebook friend and professional colleague, about my approach to using Facebook. 

This friend and professional colleague asked how I prevent or avoid getting engaged in an Augustana College debate/discussion on Facebook?

My summary tips…

1. Don’t abandon Facebook, but figure out how to shape it. 

2. Don’t abandon your raunchy friends, but figure out a way to ensure they respect the microscope you are under as a professional.

3. Use Facebook to shape your raunchy and non-raunchy friends. How do you want them to perceive your professional life and what you are doing? I try to show the following things: I am professional. I am a thought-leader. I am excited about my role and my colleague. I am excited about the place I work. I am fun to be around and have opinions, but not opinions about anything directly related to college business.

4. Choose your method of communication for professional dialog and stick to it. Don’t go back and forth and don’t treat all Facebook friends equally. 

5. Don’t abandon Facebook. It has the very powerful potential to demonstrate attitude and personality. I think that’s important.

 

Interested in reading more?  Check out the full post.

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