The Heart of any Company is its Employees

Recently at a meeting with colleagues at the American Council on Education, we discussed the College presidency, the average age of college presidents, and how to engage in both succession planning and preparation of a qualified cadre of candidates for future college presidents, or those at least willing to consider the opportunities and challenges of leading an institution of higher education.

working_together_teamwork_jigsaw_puzzleEven though higher education is witnessing a transitional in leadership and re-envisioning its responsiveness to societal needs, as a sector, it is probably not alone. Many industries are undergoing similar transformations, as they experience rapid technological changes, the surge of online transactions, new generations of workers, and global competitors.  One of the obvious questions in the workforce is how do we prepare leaders who will lead multi-generational and diverse workforces in a very digital age, in a range of industries, to meet current and future consumer and societal needs? Without a doubt, there are numerous leadership gurus and perspectives, programs, and adages.

Yet, the core of it is that the heart of any company is its employees. Regardless of rank, education, or generation, employees, for the most part, are the key to innovation, productivity, and perceived value of the company. Employees, for their part, want to be recognized, respected, valued, and informed how their daily activities somehow benefit the well-being of society. Because employees change jobs six or more times in their careers, it is also important for employers to furnish incentives, design collaborative teams, and offer acknowledgements to keep talented employees and to maintain a positive working environment.

Given our current national political divides, creating a cohesive workforce based on shared values could be at least one way to bridge some of our differences and build a more perfect union.

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Wacky Creativity from Diverse Teams

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Graphic from Teerath Garg, Pulse, LinkedIn

Once upon a time, in the Milky Way Galaxy, in the Northern Hemisphere, in a time not unlike the present, I participated in a team project that illuminated the value of diverse perspectives in creating new paradigms, discussing solutions, and in ultimately contributing to intellectual capital and economic development in our region. In order to portray this team’s project accurately, it seems appropriate to disclose that this particular teamwork occurred within a very diverse metropolitan population with participants of very diverse backgrounds, intellectual disciplines, and world views—in an institution of higher education.

Admittedly, in the Northern Hemisphere, and probably in the Southern Hemisphere, too, extraordinary illustrations of the value of teamwork are becoming increasingly common in many industries, and among participants globally distant but connected via the Internet. However, I am relating this microcosmos story because I probably know more about it, and working on the team was intellectually stimulating and affirming for future projects.

So, here is what happened. At a small liberal arts college, with the leadership of the president, we decided to encourage the development of a team to compete for grant funds that would help transform the University over the course of five years by enhancing academic degree programs, engaging students more in experiential learning through co-curricular activities, and heightening awareness of career possibilities for students from on-boarding to obtaining professional careers.  Our charge was also to ensure students were gaining appropriate liberal arts exposure and competencies through the college core and then acquiring specialized knowledge in majors, minors, concentrations, and certifications to compete better in professional careers.

Thus, the team’s responsibility was to work closely with faculty, staff, and industry partners to ascertain maximum alignment between liberal arts competencies of the University and those desired in entry-professions—while at the same time strengthening specific academic disciplines. The steering committee that formed to answer this charge was composed partially of persons with specific work functions and those with interest in the project. What was so remarkable about our team of five individuals who formed the steering committee?

Well, for one thing, in terms of variables such as academic disciplines, life experiences, geographical origins, philosophies, and paradigms about solving problems, the five-member steering committee members and their subcommittees brought different lenses to view opportunities.   Possibly, not too unexpectedly, team meetings were characterized by spirited dialogue, wacky creativity, and openness to listening to the perspectives of others.

Agreed upon pathways definitely underscored the team’s diverse philosophical bents, geographical backgrounds, and disciplinary approaches. Measuring progress by empirical analysis was paramount to all members, and the many ways of gathering data were discussed and debated within the team. Participating in each team meeting was stimulating and energizing—unlike some academic committee meetings. Because of the backgrounds of the participants, we were able to expand our individual perspectives and ease pass our comfort zones, to view our opportunities from the combined lenses of a chemist, an exceptional student educator, a mathematician, a seasoned administrator, an external affairs and business community liaison, and a liberal arts/social scientist. At times, it seemed like our perspectives were evolving into 3-dimensional paradigms—with views that encompassed 360 degrees of possibilities, realities, and limitations.

The team project was successful in obtaining grant funds, in heightening awareness of how the University could both enhance its liberal arts curriculum and work with more alignment internally and externally. One major outcome is that the project’s outcomes will augment students’ competencies for competing professionally in a global workplace.

The original steering committee continues to work together, and it has expanded into a larger group of faculty and staff adding to the spirited conversations and stimulating more wacky creativity.

I am just loving it!

Magical Moments—Capturing the Spirit of the Season

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For some Americans and our global neighbors, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day helps us to rekindle memories of magical moments involving family and friends, or to work hard to create those special moments for our loved ones. Possibly, the magic involves the almost indescribable joy of remembering times when our wishes were granted, or when we granted wishes for others.

Some of my treasured memories include holding a parent’s hand, as we gazed with awe at the elaborate holiday window displays in Marshall Field’s, Carson’s, and Sears stores in downtown Chicago where animated storybook characters came alive and created sparkling fantasies before our eyes. Each year, our family looked forward to strolling down State Street to be delighted by the beauty and artistry of it all.

For others, those memories might include traveling in the family car to a Christmas tree farm in the country to carefully select that special tree for the family, lacing up skates for the first time to glide across the ice at Rockefeller Center or in your town’s rink, caroling while navigating through traffic to visit family and friends, having lunch around a giant Christmas tree while admiring how the miniature lights glow, or carefully arranging old and new ornaments on the family tree.

Each year, perhaps some part of our consciousness journeys back to special times, like when we first watched the enormous, decorated balsam trees with shiny red, blue, and gold ornaments. The holiday season, I suspect, rekindles the memories of magical moments we work to recapture or recreate each year. Possibly, this is why we look forward to the season—another chance to be lighthearted, to create some magic, or to let others know how thankful we are that they are sharing a part of our lives.

Yet, each holiday season, many of us also experience bittersweet memories of those who are no longer with us—reminding us how fragile it all is. If we are fortunate, we relive special moments with lost loved ones by recalling memories or retelling, once more, the stories of special times we shared. Even as adults, some of us still cherish the efforts of our parents and relatives to fulfill our wishes for bikes, skates, train sets, computers, musical instruments, video games, and toys (we now barely remember) under the tree. As we grow from child, to teenager, to parent, and grandparent, our roles might change, and the holidays might become more diffused, but we probably still hope for the magic of wishes fulfilled.

Nowadays, with online ordering available for just about everything, the season appears to require less frenetic running about. Yet, we still devote considerable time shopping for gifts, preparing holiday dinners, and traveling home to visit relatives. Why do we engage in all of this activity? I suspect that there is a spirit or feeling of the holidays that we are seeking to rekindle—the warmth, love, wonder, and magical moments we share/shared with parents, siblings, relatives and friends. At its core, it could be argued that despite its commercialization, the holiday season is still about rekindling innocence, the hope for wishes fulfilled, and granting the heart’s desires of others.

So, here’s to wishing that the Holiday Season brings some profound magic to our lives, helps us get through the tough times, and reminds us that we can create real magic by sharing our lives, and hearts, with others every day throughout the year.

Civility, Tolerance, and Building a More Perfect Union Begin in Family Worlds

clipart-american-flag-3-2Reflecting on what just happened, like many other Americans, and some of our global neighbors, there is a lingering anguish that we have passed through some membrane of civility and tolerance on a macro-level.   Even though some historians remind us that vitriolic, political campaigns and muckraking are not new, somehow that does not make anything better.

However, the streaming barrage of media messages and social media dialogues possibly could have reached a new, almost fevered pitch. Some colleagues also caution that the negativity and lack of tolerance in the last presidential campaign could have long, sustaining effects on our collective psyches and American ideal of working towards building a more perfect union.

Thus, reflecting on “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” might require some actions in our family worlds. Preamble, Constitution of the United States of America

At its core, it can be argued that America is a nation of families and communities based on family worlds laden with intrinsic values and preconceived notions about the good life. So, possibly, it is time to look inward, and reaffirm, that our family worlds are the building blocks of communities and, depending on the family worlds, the more perfect Union of America strengthens or weakens.

Arguably, family worlds evolve within the larger context of streaming consumerism, political affiliations, dueling ideologies, religious beliefs, and assumptions about what is, and how to obtain, the good life. However, it is in the family worlds that adults model behavior for children. It is also in family worlds that discussions about diversity, tolerance, values, and the individual’s responsibility as an American and global citizen are wrought. Family worlds also help developing adults balance consumerism with seeking a sense of purpose in life that is rewarding beyond consumerism, selfies, and collections of stuff.

Another opportunity for extending the building blocks of family worlds are the workplace worlds. Many adults spend a great deal of their time in workplaces. Over the last couple of months, I have counseled several colleagues experiencing microaggressions and tolerance issues in their workplaces. Unfortunately, stress and workforce/life style conflicts are noticeable in too many of our professional lives.  It is hard to imagine that millions of building blocks fraught with intolerance and lack of knowledge can build a more perfect union.

It would seem that in order to build a more perfect Union, the building blocks of America known as family worlds and workplace worlds need our attention. In the workplace, possibly we can measure the economic value of workplace civility, and employ analytics to determine factors that contribute to productivity and increased individual and team satisfaction.

Maybe, there is an App for developing family worlds and workplace worlds that are building blocks for a more perfect union that can be half as popular as Pokemon Go!