Beyond our silos

John Lawrence’s message from Jan. 14, 2019

Silos are useful for preserving and protecting. You can keep things safe in a literal silo, whether you’re dealing with forage or ballistic missiles. In ISU Extension and Outreach, it’s our metaphorical silos that cause us problems. We get so focused on our own programs and the projects we are working on, that we might not share information beyond our silo walls, or we might not pay attention to what’s going on in the rest of our organization. But there’s a remedy for this condition. Did you know?

  • Each month our extension leadership team prepares a program update. It offers a glimpse of what’s going on in our program areas. You can read the January update on my blog.
  • The leadership team has been providing these monthly updates for about a year and a half now. (If you haven’t been reading them and want to catch up, check the program updates category on my blog.)

During my visits across the state, both staff and councils said they wanted better collaboration across counties, regions and programs; and more effective sharing of ideas, successes and resources. Reading the monthly program update is a quick way to stay informed about what is going on throughout ISU Extension and Outreach, and get beyond our silos. On a related note, the Jan. 10 issue of Inside Iowa State includes a summary article about the regional listening sessions. It may help the campus community get beyond their research and teaching silos to learn about extension!

From Epsilon Sigma Phi: How to Reach Millennials
The Epsilon Sigma Phi national membership, recruitment and retention committee has been discussing how to reach younger colleagues and invite them to join ESP. Our own Sandra McKinnon is a national committee member and shared her research on Millennials’ communication preferences in the recent ESP Connection newsletter. Here are some excerpts from her newsletter article:

Millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s, are currently 19-38 years old. Millennials are the majority of the workforce, but not the entirety. (Gen X-ers, born between 1965-1980, and Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, are in the workforce as well.) Millennials tend to have an aversion to the phone. They find calls disruptive and intrusive. It is best to schedule a call with them; then avoid small talk. For immediate topics, 72 percent prefer texts. There is no universal type of app to use (SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

Millennials will do email. It allows them time to think and reply. Many look at emails at night and weekends. If you write an email:

Be short and to the point, not long and complicated.

Be friendly, not stuffy or too professional; avoid “core competencies” kind of wording.

Be clear about what action they need to take. Consider the message as a how-to or a recipe.

Make the message fun, engaging and absorbing.

Use visuals – video, infographics, photos.

Let me take this opportunity to put in a plug for ESP, the professional society of extension workers. It’s the source of the Extension Professional’s Creed that we recite and live every day. Iowa State has a chapter of this national organization that several of our colleagues and I belong to. If you are an extension professional, I encourage you to join us. To learn more about the Iowa chapter of ESP, visit

More notes

  • The Structured for Success committee met Dec. 17. Check the website for a video report and related documents from the meeting.
  • The Internal Communications Task Force met twice in December and once in January. For an update, read the executive summary on Cybox.
  • County Services and 4-H are jointly hosting three webinars this winter on transitioning 4-H club finances to county extension offices. All three webinars intend to cover the same topics, but Q&A will be live and we encourage questions. All staff with 4-H, and bookkeeping and administrative staff are invited to attend. Webinars will be held Jan. 31 at 9 a.m., Feb. 21 at 10 a.m. and March 26 at 1 p.m. via Adobe Connect, Sessions also will be recorded.
  • In December, 42 county staff members began serving as website ambassadors in a new pilot program. Website ambassadors will train new content editors in their region, become a first line of support for other content editors, have direct communication with Extension Information Technology and other campus partners, and relay necessary information to others in their regions. The list of ambassadors and more information about the program is available in MyExtension.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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