Archive for the 'management' Category

A Time for Reflection

As a Catholic liberal arts institution, my college has time set aside every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m for “Sacred Hour”. The Norbertine’s value contemplation, and in keeping with that, Sacred Hour is a time for prayer, meditation, reflection, relaxation…pretty much anything you want except for work. No meetings can be scheduled, non-essential offices close, and the campus all but shuts down for one hour per week. Well, sort of.

Turns out that getting people to shut off or shut down for one hour is hard. With all of the talk about creating “work-life balance”, you’d think that we’d be thrilled with an institutionally-mandated break in our day and our week. Where we’re getting paid to do nothing. And there’s no expectation that we’ll have to “make up” the time. But increasingly, we’re having to *remind* people to leave their desks. Cancel their meetings. Not hold office hours or exam make-ups during this time.

Now, I must admit — I’m one of those people who strongly encourages my team to take advantage of the gift of time that Sacred Hour affords us, but spends far too much of it at my desk quietly working. It’s not that I don’t value the time. And it’s not that I don’t think it’s important. I do. It’s just that I am someone who has a really difficult time shutting down. Heck, I have a difficult time even *slowing* down.

And yet, taking time for reflection is every bit as important to being effective in your job as doing the work itself. Maybe more so, in roles where thinking strategically — about the big picture and long term — is a critical component of the job. And maintaining healthy body and mind — through exercise, sleep, eating, meditation, and more — helps us focus more, stress less, think clearer, and just generally be more balanced in the job itself. Or at least it does for me.

Today is Wednesday, and once again I spent the hour between 10 and 11 at my desk. But this time, it was a little different. Today I spent my time thinking about and writing this blog post, a form of personal reflection. So this Sacred Hour, I struck a balance. And isn’t balance what life’s all about, after all?

First 2012 Action — Fire Yourself?

Over the holidays I had a chance to catch up on some reading (thanks not only to a week off of work, but sadly, to a terrible winter cold) on everything from important leadership skills, the changing role of the CIO, and effective metrics; to considerations for cloud computing, virtualization, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Expect more on many of these topics, soon. 🙂

Among my reading, one article that really stood out was “Fire yourself this Christmas” by Joel Dobbs. Dobbs takes the idea of year-end reflection to a new level — by firing yourself (and then hiring *you* as your replacement), you have the unique opportunity to see your organization as you once did…from a fresh perspective.

Every organization has an institutional “way”, a history of decisions and their rationale, and established relationships and politics. And it’s immensely helpful to know, understand, and be able to work within these. But there’s nothing quite like your first few months at a new institution, when you have an “outsider’s” perspective, and, as Dobbs suggests:

No ownership of previous failures, no credit for prior successes, no investment in prior decisions- just a mandate to set things right.

As we enter 2012—and soon, the 12-13 budget planning season—recapturing that “newly hired” perspective might just change how we establish priorities, focus our initiatives, and identify new opportunities for improvement and growth. Oh yeah — it might also serve to remind us about what we’ve done right thus far. Dobbs doesn’t focus on this as much, but I believe there’s value in recognizing your strengths, too.

So here’s to an early 2012 “firing”…and developing a fresh perspective for the rest of the New Year.

Mission Critical is *Not* the Same as Core

My favorite quote from the 2011 EDUCAUSE National Conference came from Marty Ringle of Reed College (as tweeted by @stevegoldenberg):

No student will come to our school b/c of our amazing administrative computing environment

True. And yet, we spend an awful lot of time (and money, and resources) focused on our IT infrastructures, enterprise systems, and other “back office” technologies. Why? Because without question, some/most/all of these systems are absolutely critical to running our institutions — without them we have no class schedules, or student records, or…well, you get the picture.

But here’s the thing: while these systems are clearly mission-critical to our operations, they are not *core* to our institutions. They are not technologies/services that we uniquely can provide. They do not differentiate our institutions from one another. And, perhaps most importantly, they do not (significantly) advance our primary mission of educating students. And yet, we *must* provide them.

Or must we??

My Elevator Pitch

When I was in sales and marketing, oh so many years ago, we spent hours and days, months even, perfecting the perfect 30-second “elevator” pitch. You know, the one that you use when someone asks you “so what do you do?” and you have a 30-second elevator ride to tell them? It usually goes something like…”I’m a [job title] for [company], the global leader in [some industry jargon]”.

In education it may be called something different, but we still have elevator pitches, generally speaking — some key points and messaging that’s important to get across when talking to a prospective student, faculty member, or donor.

What’s important about the elevator pitch is the description of who you work for, not really what you do for them. Usually. This past weekend, however, I realized that an elevator pitch might be in order for what I actually do, too.

You see, I went to a family event and saw distant relatives — the kind you only run into once every 5 to 10 years or so. The conversation that ensued went something like this:

Them: “It’s great to see you, how have you been? And what are you doing these days?”

Me: “I’m the CIO at Menlo College; been there about  a year and a half.”

Them: “Menlo is a great school, congratulations! So….what’s a CIO?”

Me: “Chief information officer.”

Them: [looking a little glassy-eyed] “Information officer? So you handle information requests for the college? Or PR? Or…?”

Me: “Um, no…actually I manage the college’s technology. Like servers, and network, and computers…things like that.”

Them: [even more glass-eyed, but feeling compelled to ask the obligatory follow-up question] “Wow, sounds exciting! So what are you working on these days?”

And here’s where I need that elevator pitch. The truth is we’re working on bringing up a learning management system, moving some of our servers to the cloud, and rolling out virtual desktops (VDI). Really exciting stuff! But nearly *everyone* I know gets more than a little glassy-eyed when we start talking cloud computing or VDI. It’s conceptual stuff, with no clear definitions — even within the profession.

So explaining it to a non-techie…fugetaboutit. Except, of course, I can’t. I won’t. I think this stuff is waaaay too cool to *not* explain. 🙂

More Time for My Job

So…a mea culpa. I know it’s been about a billion years — or at least a few months — since I’ve last posted. And I know because one of my colleagues and friends tells me at least once a week that I need to post again. (Thanks, David, for being such a faithful reader!) I haven’t posted because I don’t have anything to say, but more because I don’t have enough time to think through what I *do* want to say, and post it.

It seems I haven’t had enough time for a lot of things, lately. Being here at the EDUCAUSE national conference has reminded me of that. I’ve run into colleagues who have asked if I’m tweeting at this conference as voraciously as I have at others. I’m not, and haven’t tweeted at all in months (sigh). Others have noted my relative lack of silence on one listserv or another. I’ve had discussions about the speaking proposals I’ve submitted to conferences lately. Um, none? And learned what others are reading to develop their leadership skills and stay on top of the latest in technology and professional trends. Do I get any credit for the year’s worth of unread magazines on my desk and stack of leadership books on my nightstand that I’ve been meaning to get to? Probably not.

I come to EDUCAUSE because it’s the most relevant conference in my profession and an enjoyable part of my job. It’s fun to be here to talk to vendors, listen to presenters, and learn from colleagues at institutions across the country — and around the world– in ad-hoc conversations that crop up in the hallways, over drinks or dinner, and at conference events. But making time for these activities a couple of times per year at a conference is simply not enough. Being here has helped me remember that this is not a *part* of my job that I need to make more time for — it *is* my job.

Reading…tweeting…working on speaking proposals…attending conferences…talking to and collaborating with colleagues…looking at and thinking about future IT trends. Not just allocating *more* time to these activities but actually *focusing* on them…is…my…job. And yet doing this sometimes makes me feel more than a little bit guilty. But that’s a topic for another post.

‘Tis the Season for Budgets

A good friend and colleague pointed out this morning that it’s been nearly a month since my last post. This last month has just flown by, working on our ERP implementation and everyone’s favorite…the budget.

Less than a week ago I submitted the IT budget proposal for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and in doing so, felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I don’t know why — there will be some amount of review and revision, I would presume, and we won’t actually have an approved budget until, well, I’m not really sure when. But just thinking through (hopefully) every aspect of IT for next year, from the “base” costs to those associated with the projects we want to accomplish to support our strategic plan, was physically and mentally draining.

See, I actually started from a zero base budget and built the budget from the ground up. It really was needed, since I took over mid-budget year and needed to rationalize expenses in all categories. But our budgeting process *really* is not designed for “starting from scratch,” which made fitting my zero base budget into it somewhat challenging. Silly me, for thinking outside the box. 🙂

This is not an indictment of my current institution. Many (most? all?) institutions utilize an incremental budgeting process. Take what you did last year, adjust line items up or down, and resubmit. Our process asked for adjustments to be submitted in a separate document, with each line item detailed out and the added expense justified. The implication? Your needs don’t change much year-to-year, so adjust and go.

Maybe this works for some institutions or in some departments. I don’t really know. But it seems to me that it discourages truly innovative thinking about, and potential restructuring of, one’s area. In my area it’s a must — we have to dramatically rethink how we deliver services and support to meet the needs of the institution. But it’s dangerous to submit a zero based budget proposal into an incremental process. Budget dependencies and, quite frankly, value provided can get lost in this type of planning.

Of course, zero base budgeting has its own issues and pitfalls. It’s time consuming, for one, and there’s always more need than funds. So how does one decide who to fund, and for what?

Perhaps the best budgeting process is a combination of the two — every “x” years a department reviews itself, its mission, and its cost centers and budgets from the ground up, and then operates incrementally for the next period of time. This doesn’t resolve the potential problem of available funding, but would at least provide a mechanism for a dramatic re-budgeting into the existing process.

Or, you can do what I did, and shoehorn it in, anyway. 🙂


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