Own It. Solve It. Do It.

June 12th, 2014

This week we released the follow-up report from our annual conference. Our four-page report summarizes themes that emerged from our discussions. Overall, we issued a call for more fully uniting campus and county. The report also provides three action steps based on the data gathered from our discussions and post-conference evaluations: addressing Iowa’s changing demographics, adapting to our new reality, and continuing to invest in professional development. Embedded in these action steps is a recognition that we need to get moving and make some changes.  Like now.  Even when it’s uncomfortable.  Especially when it’s uncomfortable! Roosevelt Thomas said it best, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  We’re not alone.  I just came from a strategic planning session for National 4-H Council and we found ourselves asking, “Does Extension want to grow?”  If the answer is yes, it means we are going to have to do some things differently. Extension across the nation is grappling with these issues and we can join the dialogue (see Extension is Broken or go to Twitter and search #FixExt).

Each of us has a role in carrying out these action steps. How will you use technology more effectively?  Who will you interact with to develop new relationships?  How will you adapt to new audiences?  What can each person in Extension and Outreach do to build a better culture for our organization?  Own it. Solve it. Do it. See you there.

— Cathann

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Report Card Time

June 5th, 2014

Cathann and friends at ISU graduationSelfie taken at ISU Spring Commencement – President of the Senior Class Ben Zelle, Associate VP for Student Affairs Martino Harmon, Provost Jonathan Wickert, Dean of the Graduate College David Holger, Senior VP for Student Affairs Tom Hill, VPEO Cathann Kress, and Dean of Students Pamela Anthony.

I always enjoy graduation season. As usual, Iowa State’s commencement was a fine occasion of pomp and circumstance, as well as tweets and selfies and unfettered happiness as our students became graduates and alumni of our land-grant university. Hilton Coliseum was filled with young people in their caps and gowns, triumphantly walking across the stage and out into the world. (There were a few not-so-young people there, too, as this selfie attests.) Similar scenes have been playing out in high school auditoriums and gymnasiums throughout the state in recent weeks, with so many of our young people moving on to the next stage of their lives. But even the younger students, who may have a long way to go before their graduations, are filled with anticipation at this time of year as they await their report cards.

Report card time, for many of us, was a time of wonder, as in, I wonder what grade I’ll get in math class. Did that last English paper make the difference? Was that chemistry final good enough to land a passing grade for the semester?

We’ve all had our performance reviews so we know how well we did individually this past year. But how did we do as a group? What does Extension and Outreach’s report card look like? Let’s take a look at some of the things we said we’d do.

  • Update and finalize the ISU Extension and Outreach Strategic Plan: Done
  • Streamline ISU Extension and Outreach Administration into functional units responsible for key actions: Done
  • Develop and support systems to improve internal communications, coordination, and collaboration: Underway
  • Complete our business plan: Underway
  • Invest in meaningful partnerships: Underway
  • Refine a system to collectively identify emerging and current needs: Done, and sharing
  • Develop and support a structure to sustain professional development: Launching

We set these goals at our leadership summit, and we’ve made substantial progress in the last two and a half years. Yes, there’s more we can do. That’s why we began examining our organizational culture during our 2014 annual conference, so we can better align our behaviors with our values and vision. The conference report, with action steps based on our facilitated discussions and our post-conference evaluations, will be released next week.

We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans. Together we try new ideas and approaches, we get our report card, and we learn from our experiences. See you there.

— Cathann

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Let Freedom Rock

May 22nd, 2014

freedom-rockLast week I had the opportunity to visit southwest Iowa, specifically, our ISU Extension and Outreach Region 18. My trip included tours of Owner Revolution Inc. (a plastics manufacturing company that works with our partner CIRAS), a wind turbine, and the Warren Cultural Center and Adair County Extension office. I also had a great conversation with ISU Extension and Outreach staff about our organizational culture, outcomes from our recent annual conference, and where we’re headed as an organization.

I always appreciate the opportunity to stay in touch with our partners and the work our staff, faculty, and specialists do throughout the state. But this visit also was inspiring, because along the way I met an individual who in his own way is making a difference for Iowans. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II painted Iowa’s original Freedom Rock, a 12-foot-tall boulder located along Iowa Highway 25 about a mile south of exit 86 on Interstate 80. He repaints it every year, just in time for Memorial Day. It’s his way of thanking U.S. veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice for our nation. He doesn’t get paid and he doesn’t receive a commission to do it. He just does it, with his own funds, donations, and sales of Freedom Rock merchandise. Last year he began The Freedom Rock Tour, with the goal of painting a patriotic-themed rock in every Iowa county.

My family still calls it Decoration Day, but Memorial Day was intended to remember those who died in service to our country. I think of it as a day to reflect upon service, and Ray’s artwork provides a powerful visual of what service can entail. While I worked at the Pentagon, I attended national ceremonies at Arlington — a definite reminder of the service of so many. Next week many communities will be having parades, celebrations, or service events to commemorate the day. There are many kinds of service and at its best, it’s action necessary for communities to thrive and prosper.

Whether you celebrate with marching bands and 21-gun salutes, or let freedom “rock” in quiet contemplation by a painted stone, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on service and how critical it is for freedom. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Special thanks to Deena Wells, Adair County office assistant, for taking this photo.

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Sustaining the Future

May 16th, 2014

Coalitions, partnerships, and collaborations are built one relationship at a time. It may be relatively easy to bring a number of people and groups together around an issue. However, getting them to stay and work together is another matter — even though there is good evidence that people working together are better off and more successful than people working alone. They’ll have more ideas, develop more capacity to get things done, and feed off one another’s energy to keep the effort moving. If it’s possible, concerted action is almost always more effective in the long run than one person or organization going it alone.

To that end, we have started our Partnership Perspectives meetings around the state to bring together small groups of key partners to learn more about our positioning and collaboration with programs. Invitees include mayors, city council members, community college presidents, AEA directors, hospital foundation directors, Farm Bureau regional directors, chamber of commerce directors, extension council members, and other leaders. We are discussing their past involvement with ISU Extension and Outreach, as well as gathering their ideas on future opportunities to partner and further mutual goals.

The case for partnership in community-based education is compelling. The challenges facing communities across Iowa are such that solutions must be found and scaled up. Many of us must respond to increasingly complex challenges, usually with restricted budgets, so finding ways we can maximize impacts by leveraging the extraordinary problem-solving abilities of partners, and the reach and the complementary resources partnership can bring, is critical.

It’s worth noting that partnerships don’t just happen. Clear management allows partnerships to flourish and partners can focus on programs rather than the details and processes. We also should ask ourselves how well our organizational culture supports our ability to sustain effective partnerships. According to Katie Fry Hester, a senior associate with The Partnering Initiative:

Organizations that have historically operated using transactional relationships find it hard to relinquish control and are resistant to change; especially without the stimulus of a high profile success or failure. For others, while ‘humility isn’t the natural currency of most big organizations, there is a genuine recognition that the organization can’t go it alone.’ The research identified a number of key elements conducive to an effective partnering culture — humility, equity, transparency and adaptability.

It’s our relationships – among our staff and with our clients and partners – that make what we do worthwhile. Your efforts – small and large – touch and help many people. Staying focused on what sustains partnerships also sustains our communities, our organization, and our shared future. See you there.

— Cathann

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Rising to the Challenge

May 8th, 2014

Recently Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talked about the work of Cooperative Extension:

“As a mayor of a small town, a small-town lawyer, a former Governor of Iowa, and now as Secretary of Agriculture, I’ve seen firsthand how Extension benefits Americans each and every day. Extension has improved the lives of millions of consumers and families through things like nutrition education, food safety training, and youth leadership development through the 4-H program. Extension also has contributed to the success of countless farms, ranches, and rural businesses through everything from integrated pest management training on farms, to business planning and risk management tips for entrepreneurs. … In the coming years, we’ll be challenged to find new and improved ways to feed, clothe, and shelter the growing world population. I’m confident that the Extension System will rise to the challenge of bringing these advancements to those who need them most, to support agriculture in the 21st century and beyond.”

Watch the video at http://youtu.be/w_M9THJQeNk.

I thought about Secretary Vilsack’s encouraging words often this week, as I participated in the national convocation for the Cooperative Extension centennial May 7-8 in Washington, D.C. I also thought about our own Iowa Senate, which unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution that celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act and showed the senators’ support for our work. We even recited the 4-H Pledge together.

See http://www.extension.iastate.edu/content/celebrating-cooperative-extension.

We were first in the nation to begin this great work, partnering with citizens to take our university research to the people. We’re honored to serve in a state that believes that education and partnership are how you solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. We’re excited about being part of a nationwide system that is ready, willing, and able to extend knowledge and change lives, provide leadership for the next generation, and rise to the challenge of the next century. See you there.

–Cathann

On Our Watch

May 1st, 2014

I have a terrific job. Not only do I represent ISU Extension and Outreach and all of our dedicated workforce, but as a person with an unquenchable sense of curiosity, I find myself in all kinds of situations and environments, from driving a half-million-dollar combine last fall (which blew me away with its technology) to observing cutting edge research that I can barely wrap my head around most of the time. I highly value these opportunities to learn about the latest discoveries and to apply that learning in ways that enhance our communities.

Recently I was talking about organizational culture with some industry partners and one of them handed me a little card. It unfolded into a slightly larger document entitled, “The Courage to Care.”

“I have the courage to care. Worn with a lion’s pride, it means those I work with will have my back, and I will have theirs. I pledge to shield myself and my team from harm. I will take action to keep them safe, by fixing an unsafe situation, addressing an unsafe behavior, or stopping the line. In turn, I will have the courage to accept the same actions from my coworkers, who care enough to correct my path. We wear this badge out of respect for each other and those who have gone before us. On my watch, we will all go home safe to our families every day.”

This pledge comes from Union Pacific. The company wanted to develop a culture of safety, a culture in which their people would have the opportunity to recognize that they were part of a team, all looking out for each other.

Creeds summarize core beliefs that drive thoughts and behaviors and define culture. Many groups use them to repeat their most highly cherished values. When I worked at the Pentagon, we recited our creed before meetings. We were a team serving the people of the United States of America and living the values of mission first, never quitting, never leaving a comrade, being a guardian of the American way of life, and defenders of the Constitution. That’s heady stuff, but creeds usually are.  They call us to our most cherished values, to our greatest ideals, to our better selves.

This spring we closed our annual conference by reciting our Extension Professional’s Creed. Our creed helps us frame the beliefs of our profession and the unique work of Extension. How do we implement these beliefs in our daily work? How do we challenge ourselves to keep changing to best represent our ideals?  Because yes, to live up to our creed, ongoing change is required. If our creed doesn’t guide our work — what does? What will we ensure for our colleagues, our institution, and our citizens on our watch? See you there.

— Cathann

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Carrying the Best Parts Forward

April 25th, 2014

Becky BrayThis week’s message is from guest contributor Becky Bray, Scott County Extension Director.

Some people are still feeling the effects of the changes, uncertainty, and stress of the 2009 reorganization. Although we have moved on in many ways, there is still some feeling that the “old” Extension is gone and we don’t know what the new Extension really is. I’ve felt, and noticed in others, some negative feelings at times and it hasn’t set well with me. This is an organization that has been important — at times even crucial — in the lives of our clientele, and we want to continue to serve. How do we best do that with volunteers and staff who still feel unsettled and uncertain?

In my search for ideas, I found appreciative inquiry, which notes that all organizations have some good things going on and that we should focus on those good things. Rather than look for problems (and, therefore, find them), appreciative inquiry encourages organizations to find what they’ve done well and figure out how and why those things have been successful.

It occurs to me that in Extension and Outreach, we have written “success stories” for years. We have been told that they are used for communicating with legislators and stakeholders about our good work so they will continue to support our efforts. If we follow the ideas in appreciate inquiry, we would write those stories and share them with each other. We would learn what works and what we should feel good about in order to do even better.

Two of the assumptions made in appreciative inquiry resonate strongly with me: People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known). And, if we carry parts of the past forward, it should be what is best about the past.

Moving past the 2009 reorganization was part of the discussions at our annual conference in March. People acknowledged some lingering negativity, but also expressed the need to get past those feelings to create a more positive organizational culture moving forward. Becky makes a strong case for this approach – appreciating what we’ve done well and understanding the reasons for our success. We also recognize there is much for us to be positive about, we are carrying the best parts forward.  See you there.

— Cathann

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An Incrementally Better Bucket

April 17th, 2014

This week’s message is from guest contributor Bob Dodds, Region 20 director:

BobDodds2I like visiting gardening centers as spring nears as it’s a great morale boost. While looking through the new gadgets and general supplies on a recent visit, I came across some very bright-handled buckets. As I looked closer, I knew that I needed this one-of-a-kind 3.5-gallon bucket. Now, we have no less than 50 buckets on our farm. However, this one was different, and at $7.50 I just had to have one.

My newly purchased bucket is not high tech. I will not be able to do incredible things that I cannot already do with the other buckets I have on hand. I thought about this on the way home from the garden center. What made this bucket a “must have”? It could be the size, 3.5 gallons instead of the traditional 5-gallon bucket. It could be the soft and colorful handle. It is definitely a step up from most of my favorite recycled buckets that once held oil. I’m referring to those buckets missing the plastic handle so you grip only wire; leaving a line and a bright red mark on your hand each time you use it. Another reason could be the great spout built into the bucket that keeps your shoes dry as you pour, versus the traditional farm bucket that pours everywhere. The unique finger grips on the bottom of the bucket are a nice improvement in engineering over the quarter-inch plastic rim on the bottom of a standard bucket from which your fingers always seem to loose grip and slip off just as the bucket is half empty. This, of course, results in a quick upright motion and a great splash in the face. The hand grip on the side, molded into the plastic, also is a great help. Inside the bucket are marks in quarts and gallon measurements with lines, quite helpful when measuring and evaluating the mixing of various concoctions. For sure it will be much more accurate than the method of eyeing 1/4, 1/3 or 5/8 full. Did I mention that this bucket has just been patented?

I think this bucket story applies to programs and tasks in Extension and Outreach. Many times our successes are not something incredibly new or high tech. Success can be as simple as taking a research-based program and adding relevancy, value, or new technology, or maybe taking a minute to measure and evaluate with greater accuracy than the eyeing method. It might mean that we may turn to Mail Chimp or Constant Contact instead of the traditional newsletter. Instead of handing out paper after paper at a council meeting, the documents could be stored and viewed on an iPad. It could mean adding a marketing plan to a program or offering the program to a new audience. As we review the program catalog and select programs from our signature issues, give thought to the bucket story. Let’s make our bucket better!

 

I agree with Bob. There are two ways forward- – radical innovation or incremental innovation.  The idea behind incremental innovation is simple: instead of thinking up and executing against completely new and risky ideas, you make small changes to existing products and services. This method of user-centered design thinking can be accomplished much like the bucket redesign by focusing on single tangible customer “pain points” and using existing anchors to build from.  What “pain points” exist for the users of your programs?  What anchor can be extended or enhanced?  Let’s work together to make our bucket better. See you there.

— Cathann

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 http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/seeyouthere/.

Key Influencers

April 3rd, 2014

County Office Professionals were in town this week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn more about how things are really going out in the counties – and there’s no one better than this group of key influencers for finding out a thing or two. Here’s what we talked about, what I learned, and what I know.

  • This is a very important group of individuals.
  • They represent us. They are the first face, the first voice, the helping hand, the kind gesture, the gentle reminder, the history, the changing culture, the “get it done,” the good idea.
  • They are eager to learn. We introduced them to the brand new Hansen Agricultural Learning Center, we provided professional development key to their daily work, we encouraged, and we listened.
  • I reminded them that they are key influencers and the guardians of our educational mission. They have the opportunity to inspire people to live up to their talents and do the best work of their lives – work they never imagined they could do – and THEY have that same opportunity. I encouraged them to reflect, to care, and to be confident.

Our office professionals are working for ISU Extension and Outreach for the same reasons we all are. We all want to make life better, all across the state. Here’s something to consider: think about what even one day would be like in your professional lives without them. There; that says it all.

I hope our county office professionals – and all our office professionals – feel appreciated. I know I appreciate them. Whatever your role for ISU Extension and Outreach, I want you to remember that today– and every day that follows, for the rest of your life – each day is an opportunity for you to make the world better. See you there.

— Cathann

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