Archive

Posts Tagged ‘people’

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 , , , ,

Superstars … Or the Whole Team?

May 3rd, 2012

Former NBA player Walter Bond gave the keynote address at the 2011 Farm Bureau annual meeting — and his message has been noodling around in my head ever since.

Walter talked about our tendency to focus on basketball superstars. However, he noted that it takes many people for the NBA to function. Superstars do not “make it” on their own. They need the other players, coaches, trainers, managers, and so on, to successfully compete. Together they are the whole team.

Walter really wasn’t talking about basketball; he’s a motivational speaker now, after all. He was talking about organizations and what organizations need to succeed. A few superstars aren’t going to cut it — a successful organization needs a team with the right combination of staff at all levels, doing the right things. All the members of the team have to be really good at what they do and provide exceptional service to their customers — so their customers will enjoy the experience and return for more.

We’re building for success in ISU Extension and Outreach — so we all can be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. That’s why we are restructuring extension administration into teams for County Services and Outreach, Operations, Program Leadership, and Organizational Advancement. That’s why we’re working on a professional development plan for our organization, but in the meantime we’re training our players. For example, ANR staff gathered for in-service in March, our office professionals participated in their conference April 4, and Families and 4-H staff held in-service this week. 

As we continue to follow up on our Leadership Summit, carry out our Strategic Plan, and implement our Business Plan, we will continue to address how we work as well as what we do, so we can more effectively engage Iowans and create increased impact through both existing and new programs. See you there.

– Cathann

professional development , , , , , ,

One Week After …

November 10th, 2011

Last week, more than 500 of us from 89 counties and campus came together for our leadership summit.  We agreed upon fundamental principles to guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  We also prioritized that we must collectively focus on some specific actions if we, as an organization, are going to thrive.  Finally, we pulled from the principles and actions to identify a set of priorities for our action. We agreed to strategically support partnerships and collaborations, the development of effective planning and coordination systems, including ones for professional development, and needs assessment.  The Leadership Team is already reviewing ways to realign resources and begin moving toward these priorities.  Prior to the summit, I pulled together a team that is already at work compiling everything we worked on into a report that will become our playbook. This action plan will guide how we invest resources—people, funds, and time—in the coming year and will be ready in a month.  In the meantime, see the one-page summary.

This summit marks the start of the new way we are going to do business in ISU Extension and Outreach. No more ad hoc, seat-of-the-pants operations. We have a lot of knowledge and best practices in ISU Extension and Outreach, and it would be good to have systems to share them. Think of the extraordinary capacity we would have if we could stand on each other’s shoulders.

We will have to strike a balance on a number of issues, and it won’t be easy:  how do we allow flexible entrepreneurship vs. having common structures, when do we use common systems vs. providing tailored responses, when is it most efficient to operate in a centralized vs. decentralized manner?  We’ll need to make these decisions as we proceed.

I went to the summit probably much like you, with expectations. I hope that like mine, most of your expectations were fulfilled.

  • I hoped that we would remember we are a team. No matter which category you selected during voting, we are all one team with common mission and common principles.
  • We are all part of moving us forward — decisions each of us makes determine our success and whether we create something meaningful as our “what’s next?” or whether we just go back to business as usual.
  • We want to be a part of a meaningful endeavor—a relevant, vibrant organization. The summit certainly offered evidence of our shared commitment.

As I’ve said before, here in Iowa, people care about each other and their communities. They believe if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Iowans see the value in serving the public good, and they come together to get things done.  But, WE ARE NOT done. Please keep engaged; when asked, give input, serve on committees, pilot new systems. Take responsibility for helping us become what our early pioneers envisioned. Let’s live according to our principles. Let’s carry out our mission. Let’s be Iowa State’s treasured resource. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. We are still taking comments related to the summit on the blog site.  To be able to review and share ideas when appropriate, we need comments by noon next Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Attitude, Communication, Leadership, Mission, Partnerships, vision , , , , , , ,

Knowledge That Works

August 11th, 2011

Well over a decade ago, the tagline for ISU Extension was Knowledge That Works. I was part of the committee that promoted it, and many of us felt that it identified the core of ISU Extension and what we brought to the citizens of Iowa. Then something called the Internet and the Food Network showed up.

The Internet and cable television were total game-changers for extension because they provided 24-hour immediate access to information to anyone who could figure out how to use them. Suddenly, all the questions that used to come to the local extension office started to be answered by “Ask Jeeves” and eventually, Google. Information about food became accessible around the clock and it was entertaining too. So, if everyone has access to similar kinds of information – what exactly is unique about what ISU Extension and Outreach has to offer? If we’re no longer operating within an “expert” model, what model do we use?

showing heifers at Story County Fair

Check out this photo for clues to what I think the answer is: That’s Jamie Flynn in the pink shirt, me, and Casey Allison at the Story County Fair. Jamie and Casey were kind enough to share their showmanship expertise with me in preparation for the State Fair. Clearly, I am not the expert in this situation. Marshall Ruble connected me with these young women, who were patient teachers.

ISU Extension and Outreach is people making connections with people and somehow changing for the better. Sometimes, extension educates citizens. Sometimes, citizens educate extension. The reason ISU Extension and Outreach can continue to be about knowledge long after that tagline is that we’re not just about information. We’re about people. That’s work that matters. See you there.

*Incidentally, the next day, Mary (the heifer I’m holding) was named Supreme Champion Breeding Heifer for the Story County Fair.  Congratulations to Jamie.

–Cathann

Communication, Partnerships , , , , , ,