In my last post, I discussed starting a new position at a local community college. This was a big change for me professionally, as I have never attended or worked at a 2-year institution and was also quite new to the responsibilities in the new role. What I can say after a full month on the job is that my graduate school preparation and work experience have been essential to my success in the position, and I’d like to share some of my most meaningful takeaways from this month below. Much of this you may have heard before, but I find that reminders are always useful and will help to avoid unnecessary conflict and confusion.
I came into the position knowing something about the institution but not a lot about the professional role and how to accomplish the mission of the office. What I did have was a willingness to learn and a knack for networking with new people so that I could get, as much as possible, at 360 degree view of our operations and how the pieces fit together. Like many subunits in an institution, ours relies heavily on the quality of our connections and communication with other offices, faculty, and external partners.
So the first lesson is: ABC — Always Be Communicating.
I don’t mean to be cc’ing your supervisor on every email or to be dominating all conversations. But what I have noticed is that my colleagues, both academic and on the staff side, appreciate an openness to new ideas and to collaborating. This involves communicating ideas and sharing goals and visions of what can be built together. Without consistent communication, I would not be able to gather support from around the institution for implementing the ideas and initiatives that I think are important to realize our mission and improve service to our stakeholders. This humorous take on communication brings home the point that context and audience are critical to our communication strategies, and we have to be aware of both. (Note: it’s a short commercial for a mortgage company).
Recently I read a book called Monday Morning Motivation, part of a series of “Monday Morning” books geared toward self-improvement and business improvement. Normally I don’t spend a lot of time on these, as I find the advice to be somewhat less relevant to the non-profit higher education world. But one idea from the book that I have implemented in the past month is that of consistently reiterating our office’s core mission and vision. We want to be a trusted partner that facilitates access to high-quality college courses for high school students.
My second bit of learning is: Keep the mission central for yourself and your staff. Even after a month, I expect the staff I work with may be tiring of hearing about our mission and goals. But even after this short time, I have noticed that the way our office is perceived, and the way that our staff talk about what they do on a daily basis, is shifting. Instead of just going through what we’ve always done, I am getting suggestions about how we can improve our processes and ensure high-quality interactions with both internal and external partners. This is going to be even more critical as our task and the complexity of it grows over time. I am not complacent and not satisfied with just growing organically; we must keep our attention on not only maintaining but expanding our reach and outcomes.
Recently one of my colleagues mentioned that I had a lot of meetings to attend. It’s true. As a program director, a lot of your time is spent in meetings.
If you can’t read the caption, it says: A motion has been made and seconded that this be one of those meetings where nothing actually gets done.
Though I enjoy meeting and socializing as much as the next person, it was intentional on my part to have meetings. A lot of meetings. I’ve met colleagues for lunch, for 30 minutes in the middle of the day, and will even meet staff from an area high school at 7:30 in the morning, twice in one week! Why did I do it? It gave me my third learning this month.
People are more likely to tell you the truth when you are sitting next to them. These meetings have given me a perspective on the institution and allowed me to make sense of what is happening on campus and in the statewide system much faster than if I had quietly stayed in my office and sent emails. Building relationships with faculty, administrators, and with high school staff is key to success for both the short and long term. In the short term, this demonstrates my willingness to collaborate and partner on initiatives that are of interest to others. I’ve helped Student Affairs recently, and am going to start working with a local nonprofit educational group later this fall. In the long term, a strong network will make it easier to deal with inevitable challenges and disappointments that others have when events do not work out as well as expected. I don’t keep track of “chits” or try to score relationships. Even so, when a relationship it built on trust and good communication, you’ll often get the benefit of the doubt in tough situations. That can make the difference between a minor problem and a major disaster. As I’ve told my staff, I want to be informed so we can handle issues early. Professional networks help identify, isolate, and solve problems early.
I hope this post has been helpful to you, particularly those who are taking on positions of management and leadership. Drop me a line or reply! I’d love to hear your thoughts on what has been most salient to you when beginning a new position that involves providing service and leadership for others.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Chris Conzen on Community Colleges