Archive for the ‘Attitude’ Category

Remember Who We Are

April 10th, 2014
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I’ve watched some great animated movies with my kids through the years, and I’m always appreciative of a movie with a message. In The Lion King, Simba reaches a turning point on his journey to adulthood. He is sorting through what is really important to him and to his family legacy, when the music swells and he hears the voice of the father he so admired and recently lost … “Remember who you are.”

I believe it is critical for us in ISU Extension and Outreach to remember who we are. I don’t want us to get so caught up in tasks, that we forget what our work really is. I want us to be relentlessly getting better – and continuing our national reputation for premiere programs in extension. I believe in our collective greatness. I believe in our evolving culture because it is the product of exciting innovation blended into our rich tradition. I believe it is our willingness to keep doing it better that has earned us our support and accolades.

At our annual conference last month our speaker, Debra Davis, discussed how our experiences lead to our beliefs, how a healthy culture belongs to an organization with a shared vision, accountability – where there is trust, respect, communication and engagement. Back in 2011 at our Leadership Summit we came together and agreed to the following fundamental principles which guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities:

• Our core purpose is to engage citizens through research-based educational programs. We extend the resources of Iowa State University across our state.
• We accomplish our goals by developing diverse and meaningful partnerships.
• Through our purpose and partnerships, we provide relevant, needs-driven resources, and as a result, we create significant impact in the state of Iowa.

As a result of these fundamental principles, we agreed to invest in meaningful partnerships, refine a system to collectively identify emerging and current needs, develop and support a structure to sustain professional development, and develop and support systems to improve internal communications, coordination, and collaboration. The documents outlining our principles and priorities are located on my See You There page. I encourage you to review our planning documents along with our annual reports, and let me know how you think we are doing. As we celebrate this great work we call extension – all 100 years of it – I challenge each of us to think about our evolving culture and how it aligns with our guiding principles. When you do, I hope you are as encouraged as I am.

Remember who we are. See you there.

- Cathann

P.S. You can share your comments about this message on the blog, at

Attitude, Mission, Partnerships, Programs, Quality, Uncategorized, vision

A Culture of Innovation

October 11th, 2013

I follow several bloggers, journals, and other sources that often talk about innovation within large and established organizations. The consensus seems to be that if you want to encourage innovation and actually see some success, you have to pay attention to the culture and structure of the organization. I find this compelling because I am a firm believer that Extension was created to transmit and communicate innovation to our citizens.

Business leader and author Fred Hassan described how “internal tribalism” was hurting a company, and I wondered how that might apply to Extension and Outreach. We have many tribes within Extension and Outreach and often that’s a good thing, but sometimes it limits us. We’ve had a somewhat disjointed leadership structure in the past, and some tough challenges — which may have hindered our ability to align faculty and staff toward our common purpose. My informal organizational survey this summer suggested we have issues with messages being transmitted across the communication barriers of our internal tribes.

Innovation and communication (or the lack thereof) are part of an organization’s culture. That’s why our annual conference next March will focus on promoting an organizational culture committed to excellence and responsiveness to change. In a recent study, researchers identified four key pieces to fostering an innovation culture:

1. Inspire curiosity
2. Challenge current perspectives
3. Create freedom
4. Drive discipline

It seems to me that we need to create more opportunities for people to move from just passion for their unique programs to passion with accountability and an appreciation for the principles of our larger organization. Part of what I’ve seen in our organizational culture is a tendency for some of us to “delegate up” — we push tough decisions to our supervisors, while we embrace our program and passionately fight for the status quo. That prevents us from having to take responsibility or put ourselves at risk. However, the very nature of innovation IS risk. Innovation means applying a new idea or the novel combination of ideas or processes in ways that lead to impact. Innovation means doing something different, not merely doing the same thing better. See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude, change , ,

Plan for Lightning

September 27th, 2013

Thunderstorms can be beautiful, unless the lightning hits your house. That’s why we have lightning rods. Lightning rods don’t prevent lightning. They provide a path to safely pass currents to the ground. Perhaps we also can plan for the figurative lightning strikes in our lives. In other words, plan for chaos. Plan for frustration. Plan for resistance. Expect your fridge might break down during your most stressful week at work. Don’t be surprised when the deadline for the grant is announced late when key staff members are out of town. Plan for the possibility that your daughter will tell you at 10 p.m. she needs brownies for homeroom in the morning.

Plan for those lightning strikes and build a personal lightning protection system. Stash brownie mixes in your pantry. Keep your ideas for grant proposals in a folder, ready to be used. Eat the fudge ripple ice cream in the freezer so it doesn’t melt.  And learn to let go. Learn to let it pass through you.

Essentially, to manage frustration is to accept reality.  I read somewhere that it’s OK to swish your feet in the waters of self-pity, but don’t dive in. Refocus yourself and accept that sometimes things don’t go according to plan.  I’d also recommend learning to be fully present where you are.  For example, if you sit through meetings checking email, you’re not contributing to the task at hand. If you’re focused on tomorrow’s big presentation, you could be missing great dinner conversations with your family.

Lastly, sometimes it’s not only that things don’t go according to plan, but sometimes I just can’t get the brownies made.  So, it’s probably good to learn to forgive yourself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude, change ,

Crazy Super Awesome!

November 15th, 2012

My daughter, Wren, now a high school freshman, is also a cheerleader. I was familiar with cartwheels and back flips, but now I know about aerials, straight cradles, and extended stunts, among other things. And I’ve learned a new phrase, something Wren’s coach often says. She describes the squad as “crazy super awesome!” (And I think an exclamation point may be required!)

Cheerleading originated in the United States, and while it may be easy to dismiss all that jumping about, these young people are ambassadors for their schools, promote school spirit, and essentially, organize a crowd to work together to support a common goal. You might be surprised to know that three U.S. presidents were once cheerleaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George W. Bush). It may not be a big surprise, but I was once a cheerleader too, for football, basketball, and wrestling. Go, Mid-Prairie Golden Hawks! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). I learned a few things that I think still apply:

  1. Cheer the whole team. Encourage all your team members, not just the stars. Success relies on everyone doing his or her job well.
  2. Move on. When something doesn’t go as planned (a fumble, a botched play), acknowledge the setback and move on.
  3. Harness momentum. Figure out ways to build on the interest and enthusiasm of the crowd.
  4. Focus on team success. Celebrate what the team has accomplished together.

My daughter cheers for Ames High, but we all can appreciate the success of our team, ISU Extension and Outreach. Looking back over the past nearly year and a half, we have a lot to cheer about. You all work diligently to serve the people of Iowa, and it shows. We have story after story that demonstrates the commitment and dedication of our entire team. All this awesomeness is due to one valuable resource: People. Thanks for everything you do — but be careful with those back flips. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. As a reminder, there are thank you notes for all of you in the video that debuted at our 2011 leadership summit. If you haven’t watched it in a while, take another look.

Attitude, Mission , , ,

The Barney Factor

October 11th, 2012

Recently, I travelled with President Leath to Black Hawk County, to tour a CIRAS partner company. Power Engineering and Manufacturing (PEM) specializes in custom design and manufacturing of heavy-duty gearboxes. While touring their line, Dennis Schilling, Quality Assurance Manager, shared that one of their greatest challenges has been something they call the “Barney Factor.”

A former plant manager, nicknamed Barney, attempted to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. If a gear didn’t fit over a pinion, instead of taking time to determine the root cause and resolve the issue properly, Barney would have the machinists make the internal dimensions of the gear larger, so when it got to assembly, all the parts fit. He did this so often in fact, that he eventually required machinists to do this for ALL gears produced at PEM.  Barney did this so often, in fact, that the “Barney Factor” eventually became an accepted and management approved method of problem prevention.  There are two problems with this approach. First, by making gears larger, Barney reduced their strength, which led to a higher rate of failure in the field. In other words — and this is important — Barney solved his problem in the plant by, essentially, pushing the problem down the road to the customer. Second, by solving the immediate problem and not investigating the root cause, Barney wasn’t able to discover fundamental engineering errors. So the company never knew where the problem originated and would never improve the quality of the final product.

This particularly impacted the company when it came to “endplay,” which is the amount of clearance designed into a stack-up of parts in an assembly. According to Dennis, you usually want some endplay, because it allows parts to spin freely, which reduces wear. But with too much endplay parts can move around, crash into each other, and create damage and wear.  So, all assemblies are designed with a pre-determined, acceptable amount of endplay. When PEM operated with the Barney Factor, machinists were instructed to always take bores deeper than the drawings called for, and then simply shim additional endplay back to specifications. It sounds like a workable solution to the numerous endplay issues they experienced over the year, until you factor in the amount of resources Dennis estimates was spent measuring for shims, creating shims, and purchasing material for the great number of shims they needed for each gearbox. Furthermore, this manufacturing “solution” also hid fundamental engineering errors that led to them needing a solution in the first place.

This is not how they do it anymore. Now, PEM uses sophisticated quality control measures to evaluate each part and determine errors prior to and during assembly. Not only has this sped up the line, but it also takes fewer resources (no more shims) and results in a higher quality product with an increased service life, for the customer.  As I listened to Dennis tell his story, I wondered: Does Extension and Outreach operate with our own version of the Barney Factor? Rather than getting at the heart of a problem, do we sometimes push the problem down the road, or let immediate solutions generate more problems?  Do we create more work with fixes which require greater resources or are inefficient?

Dennis reports that when they first started to implement the quality control measures, there was tremendous resistance from machinists, assemblers, and others, because initially, things got worse. Dennis attributes that to pulling the problem back from the customer to the plant and that, frankly, people were resistant to change. A very common phrase heard throughout the plant was, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  He says he knew what they were doing was right, but it helped to have the support of others who understood that making things easy on us internally doesn’t always help us build a stronger, longer lasting product overall. In other words, PEM moved from a corrective action system that created more problems to really solving their problems. See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude, change, Quality , , ,

Birds of a Feather, Flock Together

August 31st, 2012

Early in my extension career, I took an inventory to determine my personality style. The facilitator then posted our styles up on an overhead (yes, that’s what we used) so we could all learn to work together as a team. What struck me was how everyone in the group clustered together … except for one outlier. The facilitator described the main group — the “people” people, and as she did so, I recognized who the outlier might be. I was the lone “idea” person. That made sense to me as I contemplated our work. Extension is full of interactions with people, and relationships are a key to our success. You want to have “people” people for this kind of work.  It also means we have a lot of nice people who work in extension, people who are agreeable and concerned about others. It’s unlikely you choose a line of work like extension if you aren’t a nice person.

I want to be clear that nice is a good thing to be. However, with so many nice birds flocking together, extension work can become mired in a “culture of nice,” keeping bad work from being eliminated and good work from getting better. We’re too nice to call a bad project a bad project. When we criticize, we criticize in vague, general statements. Of course, we engage in these behaviors out of human decency. Who wants to be the one to say that someone’s program is not worth the effort?

There also is self-interest. We work with a lot of partners in this business. You don’t want to have criticized someone’s program only to find out you need his or her help on your next effort. So we shut up, and sometimes efforts that everyone knows are sinkholes of mismanagement just keep floating along. I’m not saying we should stop being polite, but doing our best work requires that we address the less efficient practices, the programs with little or no impact, the publications we spend money printing and storing in air conditioning but that no one wants any longer, or the time-draining meetings that no one wants to talk about.

In the article, “When Nice Won’t Suffice: Honest Discourse Is Key to Shifting School Culture,” Elisa MacDonald describes how educators feel deeply reluctant to openly critique their own practices or those of others, and how this serves as a barrier to thoughtful, meaningful sharing, especially in professional contexts. MacDonald provides a helpful list of signs that the culture of nice may be creeping into your professional conversation, including rarely questioning practices and assumptions, only sharing successful efforts to avoid judgment from peers, and recommending strategies that are not applied to our own efforts.

MacDonald gives examples and offers strategies to refocus the discussion in a more critical, honest direction. The goal, she argues, is to replace the culture of nice with a culture of trust, where educators feel safe in sharing their own growth areas and shifting thinking and behavior. She maintains that improvement only can occur when we can openly question long-standing norms and have rigorous collaborative discourse. MacDonald mentions it takes courage to respond in ways that will lead to incremental shifts in thinking and behavior. See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude, Communication , , , ,

In the Trenches – The Very Hot, Dry Trenches

July 26th, 2012

This summer has not necessarily gone the way most of us might have envisioned it back in the spring.  You remember spring?  When temperatures hovered in the 70’s?  Craig Hill, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, says they planned this past week’s Agriculture Economic Summit with the idea that we’d be talking about a bumper crop of corn and managing prices.  As Harrison, Clinton, and Muscatine counties planned their 100th anniversary celebrations, I’m guessing they weren’t expecting the temperature to match or surpass the number of years of county extension work being celebrated.  And on a personal note, I can tell you that I had other plans for the funds I’m now paying for repairing my old AC unit and keeping up with my electric bills.

As Sherry Glenn and I traveled across the state in the last couple of weeks, we heard a lot about the impact of the summer’s weather on our friends and neighbors.  All of us in Extension and Outreach are attempting to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Extension and Outreach has been steadily assisting Iowans as they deal with this year’s drought conditions.

•    Joel DeJong reported that more than 250 people attended an emergency meeting that ISU Extension and Outreach organized in Le Mars on July 19 to receive updates on crop production, livestock feeding, and crop insurance from extension specialists and government crop programs from Farm Service Agency personnel. That same day in Davis County more than 60 people came to another emergency meeting, bringing their questions on chopping corn, baling soybeans, grazing cover crops, and more. Mark Carlton noted that the meeting had not even been advertised – clients heard through word of mouth. Extension field specialists are holding additional local meetings in stressed areas throughout the state. This year’s farmland leasing meetings are covering drought issues as well.

•    At least 11 locations hosted the July 20 webinar covering fruit, vegetable, lawn, and tree issues. The archived sessions are linked from the Dealing with Drought Web page, Thirty-six sites hosted the crop and livestock issues webinar on July 25. The archived segments from that webinar also are linked from the drought Web page.

•    Questions and answers from the webinars as well as answers to other frequently asked questions received from clients will be added to the Dealing with Drought Web page. Check the page frequently for resources to help Iowans deal with drought and other natural disasters. Iowans will find materials related to crops, livestock, dealing with stress, home and yard, financial concerns, and tips for businesses.

•    Lee County Extension Council member Steve Newberry and his wife, Linda Newberry, hosted U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack and FSA Executive Director John Whitaker on Saturday, July 21, for a tour of parched fields. See for a story from The Hawk Eye.

ANR Extension hotlines, Families Answer Line and Iowa Concern hotline are responding to calls and emails on drought related issues.  The Iowa Concern Hotline is available 24/7 to provide assistance.

Our Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) is scanning communities to determine water rationing policies and potential impacts on manufacturers.

We’re reaching out to Georgia Tech and Texas A&M, both partner institutions and requesting materials which were useful during their droughts and which may have utility in Iowa.

Faced with a situation that demands leadership, Extension and Outreach faculty and staff are ready.  We bring our mission to educate and our unwavering belief that education best prepares our citizens to recognize change is inevitable and that there will always be challenges.  An educational perspective allows us to see the opportunities and benefits in taking risks and learning from past mistakes.  It encourages us to constantly reflect on our actions and beliefs and think about the results and consequences of each and it best prepares us to make good decisions for the future.  See you there.


P.S. You can share your comments about this message on the blog, at

Attitude, Public value ,

Facing House Rock

June 7th, 2012

Last fall, Doug Steele, director of extension at Montana State University, shared this story during the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting.  I thought it was relevant for our work and asked Doug if I could share it.

If you have ever had the pleasure of rafting the Gallatin River in Montana, then you know that there is a bend in the river that is the location of “House Rock.”  House Rock is appropriately named, because it is bigger than a house, and is great peril for rafters. Right before the curve in which House Rock resides, there is a calming straight of water that requires little paddling where one can enjoy the passing scenery. It is during this brief intermission that the rafting guide will warn you and your boating companions that House Rock is just around the corner.  The guide will tell your group that you have three choices:

1. You can operate independently of each other and surely hit the rock, which may send some of your party overboard.

2. You can paddle with all your strength and might, but not work together, and end up in the internal vortex that swirls around House Rock, waiting for someone to rescue you.

3. You can work together as a team, paddling together, following directions, and striving for the same goal — to successfully navigate around House Rock.

In terms of ISU Extension and Outreach, let’s choose to work together to face upcoming challenges, realizing that we all have a vested interest in our mutual success. Let’s welcome opportunities to carry forth research, educational programming, and engagement with Iowa State in all the counties. Let’s ensure that ISU Extension and Outreach will be relevant, viable, and necessary for years to come. Let’s face our House Rock together. See you there.

 – Cathann

Attitude , , , , ,

What’s Your Mindset?

December 8th, 2011

In 1998 Tom McBride and Ron Nief, with Beloit College in Wisconsin, launched the Mindset List. Every year since then they’ve compiled a list of what is “normal” for incoming college freshmen. For example, for this year’s freshman:

  •  There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
  •  They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
  •  Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief.

McBride and Nief have expanded their list —back to 1898 and forward to 2026 — in their new book, “The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal.” They say:

“People have always predicted that certain innovations would mean the end of everything, only to have other generations realize that these changes actually meant the start of something else. … We make seemingly small decisions that accumulate into something grand — retrospectively labeled Major Change.”

“Some things remain as they’ve always been. Yet the human race adjusts. It invents, and then in time the inventing generation becomes the adapting one. We bend. In time most of us adjust to the ‘new normal’…”

In ISU Extension and Outreach we are experiencing our new normal as we get ready to implement our summit action plan, which will guide how we invest resources — people and funds and time — in the coming year. We’re developing our business plan to guide our operations, create systems to streamline our work, bring routine to shared functions, and provide consistency and organization for key processes so we all understand how we move forward together and influence future decisions. We are part of history in the making. See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude , ,

Look for the Sparkle

December 1st, 2011

As we all await the report from our leadership summit, does anyone feel a little bit like those Sparkle cheerleaders we heard about — “a little excited, a little nervous … in a cheerleader way”? Capstone speaker Ginny Wilson-Peters shared the story of the Sparkle Effect and how some teens from Bettendorf, Iowa, started this student-run program that helps students across the country create cheerleading and dance teams that include students with disabilities. (See “Cheering for Acceptance.”) Sparkle Effect teams aren’t about perfection, but about connection — because “when everyone cheers, everyone wins.” 

That’s true for ISU Extension and Outreach, as well. Whether you participated in the summit or held down the fort at home and then heard about the summit from your colleagues, you have a role to play on the team. As Ginny said,

  • Start from where you are;
  • Follow your passion and the rest will come;
  • Create a vision, set goals, and push yourself to do things you don’t think are possible; and
  • Continually focus on building relationships.

It’s about taking responsibility. And as Ginny said, responsibility doesn’t mean pointing your finger at somebody else – it’s how we choose to respond. Each of us needs to look at the way things are. If I’m not happy with it, it’s my responsibility to change. If you’re not happy with it, it’s your responsibility to change. There is always a choice. What are you willing to do to create change? See you there.

– Cathann

Attitude, Leadership, Uncategorized , , , ,