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!

Establishing Intentional and Guided Career Pathways for Students and for Regional Economic Development

As we approach the new academic year in higher education, many of us are keenly aware of the seemingly intractable challenges facing our nation. Some of these are eroding our collective sense of well-being and our confidence in our abilities to achieve a range of goals for students. Thus, it seems more urgent than ever before to undergird the hopes of incoming and continuing students with curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities that will lead to better opportunities for themselves, their families, and their expanded communities.

FMU guidance2Even though I have welcomed new and returning students to institutions of higher education for decades, this year, I especially look forward to constructing guided career pathways through faculty leadership at Florida Memorial University (FMU). Located in the extremely diverse South Florida, FMU, like many liberal arts universities, produces responsible and contributing citizens who will hopefully continue to strive throughout their lifetimes, while illustrating character, leadership, and commitment to lifelong learning.

What is particularly refreshing and transformational about this year is that there is an energized faculty movement to create guided career pathways through curriculum innovation, co-curricular activities (such as early internships and capstone experiences), and collaborations with business leaders to insure that the holistic collegiate experience of FMU’s students fulfills their academic interests and personal upward mobility needs. In order to design guided and intentional career pathways, faculty and institutional researchers are employing regional and national data to identify majors, minors, certifications, and graduate programs that are most likely to lead to gainful, professional employment––and then filling in the gaps.

Like most other institutions of higher education, FMU has its share of student success stories, like the student who, by the time of this posting, will probably have completed her doctorate in radiochemistry. There are also significant numbers of students pursuing graduate study at prestigious graduate schools or beginning their professional careers. However, the faculty-led guided career pathways movement seeks to expose students to more choices for emerging career areas, and expand options in existing areas, as supported by data. These careers are, and will be, important to the economy–careers such as digital communications, cybersecurity, forensics, construction management, and data analytics.

So, as students commence another academic year, it is difficult to not be stimulated intellectually and inspired by this faculty-led movement that is supported by the UNCF and funded by the Lily Endowment. The development of career pathways will also help faculty review and identify specific intellectual competencies and skills that they can measure and certify, as students transition to varied positions and a lifetime of learning to further refine their post baccalaureate competencies and assure their continued professional growth.

Alas, it is time to end this blog and resume preparations for a coming faculty/business leaders forum that will focus on competencies needed by various industries to both guide our renewal as an institution of higher education, and furnish the intellectual capital needed for regional economic development. By this continuous renewal and assessment, we assure our students that they will be ready for the future!

The Value of Positive Civil Discourse in Making a More Perfect Union

Recently, I have been thinking about the nature, and value of, positive civil discourse while equally pondering the benefits of positive, nonviolent, civil disobedience. In our global village, we notice that few individuals and groups (of the billions of citizens on the planet), are choosing to express discontent and dissonance with political and governmental policies by engaging in violent demonstrations that often result in lost lives.

Even though opposing expressions to political ideologies and policies unnamedare not new, possibly, it is time to review and re-educate ourselves, and others, on the value of civil discourse, broadening our understandings,  and nonviolent civil disobedience that can also result in positive social change without the loss of human lives.

As long as there have been individuals and groups, there have also been disagreements-and sometimes violence to resolve those disagreements.  Some would argue, as societies continue to evolve technologically, it is equally important to help individuals and communities to develop their capacities for civil discourse, by recommending positive social actions that increase civil engagement, improve emotional intelligence, enhance the quality of life, and augment our understanding of global interdependence.

Many of us remember studying American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and reading his 1849 thesis Civil Disobedience in which he contemplated the nature of civil disobedience–highlighting, in his opinion, the right of the individual to resist government action or policies that were blatantly against an individual’s moral values or conscience.  Thoreau’s notion, and practice of, positive civil disobedience eventually resulted in his being arrested for not paying a poll tax.  Thoreau resisted the tax because  it conflicted with his conscience.  He believed that the funds generated from the tax would be used to finance the Mexican War, a campaign which he vehemently opposed.  Thoreau, further, saw the war as a means to expand slave territories in the United States, and he considered such an immoral undertaking.

unnamed-1From Thoreau’s thesis it appears that he is not arguing for no government, but that he is imagining a “State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it…” Even though it was penned over 100 years ago, Thoreau’s thesis reflects conflicts we continue to struggle with today.  He states further, “It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.”

Without a doubt, America, and our global communities, have certainly changed a great deal since Thoreau’s thesis.  According to historians of civil disobedience, there have been many more examples of civil disobedience in which people, or movements, have changed policies and improved living conditions for communities, by employing varying degrees of civil disobedience to effect positive social outcomes.

Although they are too numerous to name, some prominent civil disobedience involved Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948), for his role in leading India to independence; Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), for his role in leading the nation’s peaceful Civil Rights Movement until his assassination; Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) for his role in organizing a labor union to protect the rights of workers; Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) for his role in protesting apartheid which, after his imprisonment of nearly 30 years, eventually led to world recognition, a Nobel Peace Prize, and anti-apartheid improvements; and many more individuals–known and unknown–who have led and continue to inspire non-violent civil disobedience.NOT_hate_Fotor

So, what does this tell us as leaders of organizations, communities, and families?  Some might argue that it is our responsibility to ensure that students, and developing adults, are exposed to stories of non-violent civil disobedience–hopefully to counterbalance the other reports of more violent ways to resolve conflicts that are broadcasted via various news and entertainment media.

As managers of businesses and observers of interpersonal interactions, there are daily opportunities for us to model civil engagement, civil discourse, and decision-making that demonstrates the value of engagement of a broad range of individuals and appreciation of more diverse perspectives. As leaders, we can not only listen to diverse opinions and solutions with respect and understanding, but we can also help others recognize the value of diverse viewpoints.

Ultimately, the family is probably the first place to form meaningful viewpoints about the individual’s responsibilities in society. Possibly Jackson-2_Fotorconversations that occur in family worlds should also encompass strategies for supporting and expressing disagreement in civil and non-violent ways.  Because the family is the basic building block of society, when families actively promote listening, tolerance, civil discourse, and awareness of other cultures, they offer a strong foundation for productive civil discourse and nonviolent positive social action in our larger global communities.

As leaders–be it in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, or anywhere on our Earth–it is our critical responsibility to help each other work towards truly forming a more perfect union, the intention stated in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, thesis, 1849

Special thanks to Geri R. Vital, MA

How Can We Leverage the Creativity in the Workforce for a Better Future?

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source: http://evolllution.com/opinions/serving-the-next-generation-workforce/

I have been thinking lately a lot about work. What function does or should work have in establishing well-being in our society? Beyond earning salaries or wages, why should we work? Are there benefits in work beyond the satisfaction of performing your craft well? What role does work have in sustaining families and communities beyond paying household bills? Is there something ethereal in men/women that work touches, enhances or creates?  Can work lead to self-actualization–the merging of creativity with craft that lifts the individual, the organization, and the interrelated work families?

Probably as long as women/men have existed, there has been some version of work. It is reasonable to imagine that work for prehistoric humans related to tasks that increased survival–food, shelter, and probably other tasks related to Maslow’s hierarchy-physiological and safety needs. However, as many of us rush back and forth to work daily, we probably also realize that we share our lives with others in work worlds. These work worlds can furnish opportunities for us to collaborate and learn from colleagues while obtaining gratification and inspiration from attaining personal and professional goals. And, to attract new talents, some employers are realizing that work worlds need to evolve to fit the needs and expectations of several generations in the workplace.

From some Millennials, we are learning that work worlds that are more satisfying and supportive of a holistic and balanced lifestyle hold a competitive edge in recruiting new talent. Companies like Google attract Millennials with free food, dry cleaning, on-site fitness facilities, and flexible work schedules– attempting to respond to the values of this generation. Other employers report that Millennials work better in teams, when appreciation is shown, and when global opportunities are involved.

According to a 2014 article in Harvard Business Review, managers in the current and future workforce, are, and can be for some time, managing several generations of workers–the first time this situation has existed in history. Experts offer that managers should encourage collaboration, up and down mentoring, and above all, leverage the expertise of all individuals for a more creative and productive workforce.

As we redefine higher education and create technologically enhanced learning environments, leveraging expertise and promoting individual creativity will make all the difference in realizing the potential of higher education for a better future.

GENERATIONAL ISSUES
Managing People from 5 Generations
Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review,
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014