Own It. Solve It. Do It.

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

Key Influencers

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

Make It Rain

Although we received some rain (and snow!) in the past few weeks, we will need more as we head into the growing season. I recently happened upon a conversation in a café in Independence about needing “rainmakers.” On my way back home, I began thinking about the power of belief in getting things done. Rainmakers aren’t just those who create rain; the term also refers to people known for achieving excellent results in a profession.

Adept faculty and staff, council members, and volunteers are crucial for success in ISU Extension and Outreach. Washington State University Extension, which also is moving toward a university-wide extension system, has focused on this concept of being a rainmaker. At Washington State, a rainmaker is someone who through his or her skills and abilities can bring people and resources together to meet the challenges facing extension now and in the future. Rainmakers are continual learners. They have an area of expertise, but also must be entrepreneurial and capable of working in multidisciplinary teams. They must be competent in establishing partnerships, able to empower constituents, and adept in developing relevant educational programs. Subject matter specialization is desirable, but “big picture” thinking is required.

Washington State even has published an extension rainmaker job description (http://ext.wsu.edu/careers/Rainmaker.pdf). Potential rainmakers must have appropriate academic degrees, but most of the job description lists the skills, abilities, and attitudes that rainmaking requires. However, rainmaking can be learned. These attributes can be gained through professional development.

ISU Extension and Outreach encourages and supports professional development and growth in faculty, staff, council members, and volunteers, because we seek to be a dynamic organization — and to become the university that best serves its state. As you plan for your professional development, think about what skills you can build upon so you can make a difference for Iowans. Let’s make it rain. See you there.

— Cathann

Superstars … Or the Whole Team?

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

Miracle … or Good Planning?

Remember the movie Bruce Almighty? The guy gets everything he wants, and as it turned out … he was wrong about what he thought he wanted. He was thinking about what he wanted in that moment. You remember the story — funny, simple plot, lots of heart. It ends with a line that’s easy to remember — “Be the Miracle.”

As we live day by day, we likely get caught up in what we think we need to take care of today or next week or by the end of the fiscal year, and it is good to take care of those things. But we can’t forget about planning for the future. Sometimes forgoing “instant gratification” to focus on what is really important just might be a good sign that we’re on the right track. We can’t base our decisions on who provided us with the strongest argument for their cause or what might be the most palatable to our constituents. We need to gather good information. But then, we have to make decisions based on what we truly believe will be best for the future of ISU Extension and Outreach and for the citizens of Iowa.

Instead of funding proposals for various Extension and Outreach efforts as they randomly come across my desk, I will be calling for proposals for the Vice President’s Extension and Outreach Initiatives. This funding opportunity is designed to encourage projects and programs that will strengthen our overall portfolio and incorporate the top actions from the summit. It’s a planned approach, not ad hoc.

We’re going to be seeking proposals from five key focus areas:

  1.  Pre-collegiate outreach (programs intended for K-12 audiences)
  2.  Innovative programming to engage citizens in 14 extension districts based on population, number of youth, and growth rate* (Polk, Linn, Scott, Black Hawk, Johnson, Woodbury, Dubuque, West Pottawattamie, Story, Dallas, Clinton, Warren, Muscatine, Cerro Gordo)
  3. Healthy environments, economies, or people
  4. Professional development
  5. Global food security

These initiatives should carry out sustainable improvements in Extension and Outreach that will enhance the quality and accessibility of our research-based education, make implementation more efficient, build productive collaborations and economies of scale, and support programmatic success along the needs assessment, program development and design, implementation, and impact evaluation chain.

Extension and Outreach is complex and multi-faceted, so these initiatives should support the ideas of individuals and teams across our system—including extension faculty, program specialists, and staff across all program areas; county staff; regional directors; and members of the Iowa Association of County Extension Councils. Initiatives should address larger-scale projects that Extension and Outreach units or staff would otherwise not be able to accomplish on their own.

At the end of each funded project, the team will submit a report on the project’s accomplishments, impact, and sustainability. We’ll make these reports available across our system so others may learn about the approach taken and consider adapting it to meet their own needs.

More details and the proposal template will be available soon. Proposals are due March 2. No additional funding requests will be reviewed this fiscal year.

We need to make decisions. We must take action. These initiatives will help us move forward in 2012, as we continue to seek sensible, streamlined ways to deliver Iowa State research to the citizens of Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

*State Data Center of Iowa, www.iowadatacenter.org

No More Crash Landing

Sometimes leaders, and their followers, get confused.

In December 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that thousands of Eared Grebes had crash-landed in Cedar City, Utah. During a storm the migrating birds seemed to have mistaken a rain-slicked Walmart parking lot for a lake. As reported in the Tribune, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources estimated that nearly 5,000 birds landed at Walmart. Grebes aren’t built for ground landings, but are designed for the water.  The impact left some birds dead, some injured, and some terribly confused.

Maybe no one in ISU Extension and Outreach has ever crashed into a Walmart parking lot, but chances are, we’ve all been confused a time or two. It’s not hard to get mixed up when leadership decisions seem unclear, processes appear random, or basic principles are uncertain.

However, our leadership summit in November marked the start of our new way of doing business in ISU Extension and Outreach.

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

We agreed that these fundamental principles would guide our decisions, structure, behavior, and priorities across our programs. That’s why we will be making strategic changes to streamline ISU Extension and Outreach Administration into four functional units to better support our overall mission:

County Services and Outreach. This unit will support county-based efforts and extension councils, build partnerships, and coordinate program implementation across the state and at the local level. This unit also will better align us with our ISU academic counterparts; ISU provides student services and is student centered, while Extension and Outreach provides county services and is citizen centered.

Program Leadership. Headed by our program directors, this unit will guide our efforts in educational program development.

Operations. This unit will focus on human resources, finance, and business activities; setting up practices, procedures, and processes that are clear and establish how to access resources or assistance.

Organizational Advancement. This unit will keep us on track with our mission, developing our people; communicating our efforts to partners, stakeholders, and others; coordinating fundraising and philanthropy; and advancing Iowa State and Extension and Outreach.

The Administrative Response to our leadership summit will include more information about the roles and responsibilities of these units and other actions we will be taking to clarify processes and decisions. This structure, along with our business plan and strategic plan, will move us forward on our path to becoming a relevant, vibrant organization, with a common mission and common principles. No more confusion, and no more crashes. See you there.

— Cathann

One Week After …

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.

Subscribe to “See You There”

Enter your email address: