Archives

Going Together

I recently attended the 2016 World Food Prize Symposium, which was amazing for many reasons – including the featured speakers. I heard from foreign dignitaries, scientists, corporate CEOs; the array of people all in some way concerned with global food security and production.

I have many notes from the sessions, but one idea kept circling in my head. Kellogg Company CEO John Bryant quoted it as he announced Kellogg’s 3 Billion Better Days effort. Mr. Bryant attributed it to being an African proverb, which we’ve been unable to confirm, but it’s still a powerful saying:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Mr. Bryant was using it because he was focused on how Kellogg plans to fight hunger by donating food to people in need; expanding breakfast programs for children worldwide; and supporting 500,000 farmers, their families, and communities with Climate Smart Agriculture practices. Kellogg’s plan will take time – about nine years – and the efforts of many; but if they can make it happen, they will indeed have gone far for many.

Of course, this is something we’ve always known in our work. Extension is based on partnership, on cooperation, on public good – on going together. Sometimes it takes a long time to see the results of that work, and that can be frustrating. But we don’t want to go alone – we want to go far. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Kind and Brave

Cathann Kress and Cy with young girl in an elementary school classroomAuthor and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton says kind people are brave people. That’s because brave is a decision that compassion is more important than fear or fitting in.

When I read this in her blog, I remembered something a young Iowan once told me: “I wish that everybody – everybody – would be kind.” That was her brave wish for the future of our state. I met this young Iowan a few years ago while we were shooting an ISU Extension and Outreach video. She told me how she dreams that cities won’t have pollution and everybody will be healthy. We talked for several minutes about her ideas for the future, and then she was off on her way.

The grownup blogger and the young Iowan have the right idea. To be kind we have to be brave, because it requires putting the needs of others ahead of our own: like when we’re helping those hit by flooding to deal with the aftermath, or offering guidance to farmers under financial stress, or developing the necessary skills to engage in a diverse and global society. In ISU Extension and Outreach we have about 1,200 faculty and staff all across the state so we can be everywhere for all Iowans. We strive to be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. I think it’s safe to say we also strive to be kind and compassionate as we work with Iowans to meet common goals and aspirations. That’s what cooperatives do.

And that’s how we’ll achieve a strong Iowa – when we take care of each other, when we pay it forward, when we act with kindness. Because when we are kind, we are brave. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Maybe you’ve seen our video, but it’s worth watching again to learn what some young Iowans think about “Whatever the Future Holds.” You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Extension and Outreach Is for Problem Solvers

This week’s message is from guest contributor Linda Brinkmeyer, Administrative Assistant in my office.

This harvest season my new daughter-in-law pickled jalapeño peppers from her garden. Impressive. I have enjoyed hearing about how she started her garden from a seed tray, her success with the kale and pepper crops, and the struggles with her tomatoes.

This woman is a down-to-earth problem solver. However, she became frustrated enough with her tomato plants’ non-performance that she pulled them out and threw them into the compost pile behind the garage. (Extension and Outreach has something to say about that: “The Do’s and Don’ts of Composting.”) Come to find out, those tomatoes really took to that compost, and before too long she was showing me her hearty tomato plants growing cattywampus out of that compost pile.

Her subsequent plotting (no pun intended) resulted in great ideas. First, she realized there was too much shade in the back yard, so she thought she might put a raised bed in their sunnier front yard for tomatoes and other sun-loving plants. (See “Raised Beds for Vegetable Production.”) Second, the situation with the compost pile led her to believe that the soil in her raised beds in the back yard may need a boost. (Check “Yard and Garden: Soil pH and Testing.”)

She went on to tell me about a conversation she’d had with a friend about strategies for preparing garden soil in the fall for spring planting. She shared that he had informed her about this really great collection of knowledge built into a website and even a hotline! I said, “You mean ISU Extension and Outreach, right?” Yes, she replied, although she felt a little sheepish about not having connected me with ISU Extension and Outreach. (It’s not like I’m a vice president or anything. I just work for one.)

I was absolutely delighted to talk with her about her ambitious gardening, which led into another discussion about how she and my son are experimenting with preparing their weeknight meals on the weekends, to stay in line with their budget and keep their hectic lifestyle more manageable. I wonder if there is anything on the ISU Extension and Outreach website about that? (Try this tip from Spend Smart. Eat Smart.)

Extension and Outreach is for problem solvers.

See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Leading Indicators

I wonder how the Eared Grebes are doing. You might remember that during a storm nearly five years ago, thousands of them crash landed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Utah, mistaking the rain-slicked pavement for a lake. As I wrote in my blog at the time, the impact left some birds dead, some injured, and some terribly confused. They needed some time to recover. (See “No More Crash Landing.”)

Back then ISU Extension and Outreach had been recovering from the aftermath of earlier leadership decisions, seemingly random processes, and unclear principles. That’s why we came together for a leadership summit, where we agreed upon the fundamental principles that would guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities across our programs. Our work over the past five years has made us a stronger organization, enabling us to better focus on what we all want – a strong Iowa.

As we’ve focused on our goal – providing education and building partnerships – we’ve discovered a few things about ourselves and our organization. We understand that our relationships – among our staff and faculty and with our clients and partners – make what we do worthwhile. We’ve become more comfortable using our values and purpose to guide our work. And we’re beginning to accept the continually changing, dynamic nature of ISU Extension and Outreach. That’s how we increase our capacity to be effective, to evolve, to develop opportunities, and to fully express the vision and mission first articulated by our extension pioneers. We are a learning organization, with shared values and a collective history of making a difference for Iowans.

There are a few leading indicators that help us see where we are headed:

  • The proposed university strategic plan includes ISU Extension and Outreach.
  •  ISU Extension and Outreach contracts and grants are up – an increase of $2.7M or almost 19 percent.
  • As appropriated funds remain level, we redirected resources to leverage four new Presidential High Impact Hires (faculty) and by streamlining processes grew “Program” vs. operations funds to 73 percent of all appropriated funds.
  • Our Engaged Scholarship Funding Program has launched with two projects and eight counties participating in the program. Projects begin July 1.
  • Our Data Indicators Portal has launched.
  • We completed the county wireless project to maintain technology in all 100 offices.
  • Our faculty and staff are leading the applied research, demonstrations, and education on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Monarch and pollinator habitat revival, managing herbicide resistance, managing farm financial stress, and other issues facing Iowa.
  • We’re rebuilding strong linkages between ISU research farms and extension districts.
  • Extension expenditures in 2015 totaled $90.2M, of which counties invested 38 percent and ISU (federal, state, and other resources) 62 percent.
  • The Rising Stars program continues to expand and grow within the state, starting with six interns during the summer of 2014 and now has grown to eight.
  • Extension and Outreach in the state of Iowa currently employs 1,200 people: 450 county paid and 750 ISU paid (all sources of funds).

Now back to the Eared Grebes. Wildlife officials relocated many of the survivors to a nearby lake so they could recover and continue their migration. We have focused on our structure and priorities and continue to serve the university and the people of Iowa. Thank you for all you do to keep building a Strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

It’s Still about People

As our nation has been commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday and numerous events this month, 41 people from across all of ISU Extension and Outreach gathered together to begin developing a diversity and inclusion strategic plan to guide our work in building a strong Iowa. On behalf of our whole system, I expressed my appreciation to these colleagues for their willingness to take on this challenge and provide this much needed leadership.

Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but there’s a reason we do what we do in ISU Extension and Outreach. We want a strong Iowa. That’s why we partner with the people of Iowa and harness the resources of our university. We want all communities and farmers to thrive. We want all families and children to be healthy. And eventually we want to turn the world over to everyone in the next generation better than we found it. We want to best serve Iowans, no matter their location or need.

Our legacy in Iowa is forward-thinking people – people ahead of their time, people determined to make life better for others, people who want to make a difference. Within ISU Extension and Outreach, we also are committed to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and safe. So we must constantly review, evaluate, and improve our practices and our processes. And we must remove any barriers that may get in the way.

We’ve asked our diversity and inclusion strategic planning team to focus on the next three years. They are thinking about how we can embody diversity and inclusion in our programs, practices, and people. They also are considering how to help faculty and staff see that their individual actions contribute to our collective effort. Although the team is leading the strategic planning effort, we all need to thoughtfully address these issues.

Extension and Outreach is a 99-county campus. We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how diverse cultures can work in partnership to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Our work isn’t just about creating access to education, our work is about people. See you there.

– Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Strong Iowa

EOADV15-37C-messageplatform400wAccording to Simon Sinek, organizations and the people within them know what they do, and many know how they do it, but very few know why they do what they do. Why does Extension and Outreach exist? What’s our purpose? Why do we get out of bed in the morning?

Simon Sinek’s model for inspirational leadership starts with what he calls a golden circle, and “Why?” is in the middle of that circle. A leadership expert, Sinek says it’s all about purpose. According to Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.” Sinek’s work is based in neurobiology and it explains a lot about how we approach our work and what inspires us to take action.

So what do we believe in ISU Extension and Outreach? What’s in our golden circle?

  • WHY? We want a strong Iowa.
  • HOW? We are everywhere for Iowans. We serve as a 99-county campus, connecting the needs of Iowans with Iowa State University research and resources.
  • WHAT? We provide education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

When we start with why – a strong Iowa – our purpose is clear. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress. See Simon Sinek’s TED talk.

Where We Are and Looking Ahead

Four years ago when I interviewed for the vice president position, I challenged the participants in my open forum to think about ISU Extension and Outreach five years in the future and imagine failure. Why? Because it’s a way for an organization to prevent its own death. The participants in my forum provided six consistent reasons ISU Extension and Outreach might fail. (See my blog post,  Pre-mortem for Organizations.)

As you know, I got the job and now I am beginning Year 5. So I’d like to take another look at those reasons for potential failure.

  • In 2011 my forum participants – these were ISU Extension and Outreach faculty and staff, mind you – said the first reason we would fail would be poor communication both internally and externally.
  • Second, they said our inability to change would do us in – our unwillingness to let go of familiar programs as well as irrelevant programs.
  • The third reason was isolation from constituents and critical partners, as well as field, campus, and upper administration.
  • Fourth, we were suffering from an unclear vision and mission – we weren’t in sync with the values of Iowa, constituents, and the university.
  • Number 5 was poor leadership – leaders who don’t motivate others, solve problems holistically, or build public support for the public good.
  • The final reason was insufficient resources, since the participants were concerned about continuing decreases in funding.

I think we have made gains in some of these areas, and in some we still struggle, but we are trying to figure out how to more fully address them. So what do you think? I challenge you to respond – and please be honest. Over the next three weeks, add your comments to my blog. Then I’ll summarize your comments, add my own, and get back to you with an update on where we are now. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Pick Up the Can

When you’re a kid, kicking the can down the road means just that: When you’re out walking, you stop and kick the can that’s lying in the road in front of you. Then you continue walking until you reach the can and you kick it again. It’s a way to while away some time when walking down a country road.

When we’re talking about leadership, kicking the can down the road is delaying a decision in hopes that the problem or issue will go away or somebody else will make the decision later. We avoid really dealing with the issue and finding the longer-term solution, because it’s often messy, difficult, or expensive. It’s a habit that, once started, can be awfully hard to break and yet, in the long run, it does little to serve the organization. While “kicking the can down the road” might allow us to solve the immediate problem or at least alleviate it, we are creating a new problem that likely will be inherited by those who follow in our footsteps, because our organization will get to the can again. And by then, the situation may be worse.

Our extension councils and Iowa State picked up the can when we renegotiated the Memorandum of Understanding and had the tough discussions about how we wanted to work together to be a stronger organization. Our program areas have been picking up the can as they consider how to focus and prioritize programs and determine outcomes.  I like to envision the person who will occupy my seat when I’m gone, and I consider what issues I should deal with to make it easier for him or her to fully live our mission.  All of us need to be willing to take on the issues and address them so that future leaders can move on to other opportunities and challenges, and not just react to the ones we delayed. Let’s keep thinking about how to pick up the can. See you there.

— Cathann

Uncharted Territory

If you’ve ever watched Star Trek in any of its television or movie versions, then you know the captain and crew had one key mission: to boldly go where no one had gone before. That also holds true for Extension and Outreach. We are bound by our charter to explore what’s out there – to engage and discover – without knowing if we have the research, ideas, answers, or resources to fully address a particular need or issue. This has always been the case with Extension and Outreach. But now, for some reason, we think there should be a blueprint for the future, and if we just crunched the data, got the grant, or hired the right team, everything would go smoothly. However, we can’t control the experience of Extension and Outreach any more than we can control the experience of democracy. It’s full of interruptions, distractions, red herrings, serendipity, and glorious messiness.

The essence of Extension and Outreach is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s effective with a lot of participation from our clients and partners, and sometimes not as much as we had hoped. Trying to tie up the loose ends or clinging to what worked well in the past would surely kill Extension and Outreach, because those types of approaches reject the basic experience of extension work, which exists in the ongoing interaction of data, ideas, and people.

What I would offer is to embrace the experience. Thinking we can find the one solution for the future or that we can maintain exactly as we were in the past is futile. Just as our early educational pioneers did more than 100 years ago, we must step into the uncharted territory and accept the tension of creating as we go, co-creating with others, even those whose voices make us uncomfortable or rankle us. If we accept the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of Extension and Outreach, we increase our capacity to be effective, to evolve, to develop opportunities, and to fully express the vision and mission first articulated by our pioneers.  Go boldly. See you there.

— Cathann

The Secret Sauce

Kelsy Reynaga is a junior at Iowa State, recently selected to be a national Project YES! (Youth Extension Service) Intern, a program I helped start at the Department of Defense. While I’m proud of being there at its beginning, I’m even prouder that the talented educators I turned it over to have created an educational experience that greatly benefits the interns, the military families, and extension. Kelsy wrote me recently about starting this new internship and had a number of tough questions she wanted to ask, most without easy answers. Since Kelsy will likely expect some wisdom when we meet, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on her questions.

What drives me? As I begin my fourth year as vice president for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University, I find our work of creating access to education to be incredibly meaningful. I feel an obligation to extension’s early educational pioneers to rise to their level and create educational opportunities and solutions for the future. I am regularly delighted by the dedication, creativity, and talent of the people I get to work with, and I want to leave things better than I found them.

Is this the path I envisioned for my future? Um. No. I’m not good enough at predicting the future, or understanding what opportunities might come up. Instead, I’ve learned to be ready and open and willing to leap.

So, is it possible to accomplish everything you want to do? Not alone. Not in a direct line. Not in the way you thought it would happen. Not as quickly as you might hope. Accomplishing things really depends on understanding the fundamental conditions that support accomplishment.  At the most basic level, there are only a few things one needs for accomplishment to thrive: Vision. Resources. An action plan. But the real secret sauce to getting things done is nurturing talented colleagues, making it easier for them to do their work, and recognizing and rewarding their efforts. In other words, our ability to strengthen Extension and Outreach lies in improving the conditions that shape our organizational culture.

As I thought about what to say to Kelsy, I realized I don’t really think so much about “accomplishing stuff” anymore — instead, I think about trying to create the conditions for good things to happen. See you there.

— Cathann