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Organizational Health

org_healthConsider organizations as organisms consisting of living beings whose level of effectiveness and productivity rely on the health of those beings that are part of them. That organizations, specifically higher education, are referred to as “institutions” project the idea that they are machines, consisting of process and structures, and forgetting the idea that higher education is made up of human beings working together. The reality is that for “institutions” to be effective and efficient, the members of its workforce must be individually healthy so the organization in itself can be healthy as a whole.

One of the topics often discussed in the world of student affairs is the concept of work/life balance. The issue revolves around the idea that because staff are overworked, emotional, mental, and physical stresses take their tolls and these lead to individual and organizational problems. Oftentimes, the discussion is framed as workers right vs management issue. But, if framed in the way I had suggested above, this should not be the case. For the organization to effectively function as a whole, it needs to take into account the health of its individual workers and it should strive to create an environment where the staff are engaged meaning they both feel like they’re contributing to the organization and they personally feel satisfied in doing so. As a leader of an organization, I don’t claim to know the answers on how to create this environment but I do seek ways towards this effort. What I do know is that the demands and pressures from mandates, customer expectations, taking care of the staff, and keeping the organization running are often too much for the level of staffing we currently have. I scoff at the idea of administrative bloat, especially when it comes to the idea that there are way too many technical and administrative staff at universities. However, consider the ending of the Perkins Loan program and the new Prior-Prior Year change in the financial aid application process. The are just two changes in the financial aid system which requires universities to immediately respond to accommodate them. In an ideal world, there would be sufficient time and staffing to meet these demands but unfortunately, that is not the case. These changes require staff to work above and beyond the regular working hours including evenings and sometimes weekends. By no means are these complaints but rather a statement of the reality of the pressures experienced by staff which potentially do impact their health.

The challenge and responsibility in keeping the organization healthy must be shared by both the management and the staff themselves. For management, efforts must be made to provide an environment where staff feel like they’re thriving and not merely surviving or even worse. Different folks have different motivations and it’s up to the management to determine how each employee feels valued. For some, they like a job that allows them to make enough money and they don’t have to work beyond 8-5 to enjoy their lives away from work and with their families. Some are motivated by intellectual challenges and the sense of accomplishments. There are also who see their work as beyond work – they’re driven by their passions to make a significant difference in this world. Then there are those who are motivated by all of the reasons mentioned. The challenge and responsibility then is for management to meet those motivations to the best of their ability while meeting the demands required of the organization.

The staff themselves need to be responsible for their health as well. They need to be their biggest advocate when it comes to making sure their needs are met. This means communicating with their supervisors about their boundaries and recognizing their own limits. Sometimes, staff may feel the need to be heroes/martyrs sacrificing themselves for the sake of the organization. In the long run, this is not the most effective way to contribute to the organization. For one, heroes who do take on more responsibilities than they should, sometimes prevent others in the organization from growing. Also, they become the only individuals who the organization must rely on. While this may be a good feeling to have, the reality is that heroes may not be able to enjoy their lives outside work because they are always on demand, even during their vacations. As for martyrs who feel the need to suffer to show their value to the organization, it really is not sustainable as working long hours and spending emotional energy can just lead to burnouts. They are also just hurting themselves by setting expectations that are not sensible. For example, a person who constantly works 70+ hours a week may just set themselves up for scrutiny when they start to lessen their work to a manageable 40 or so hours a week as their productivity level will decrease in the process.

Staff must also take care of their physical and mental health. These include taking on activities to promote wellness such as exercising, hobbies, and interests that take their minds of work.

Organizational health is a shared responsibility between management and staff. For organizations to be effective, they must view themselves more than institutions consisting of tasks and processes but rather, a living organism consisting of human beings who have emotional, mental, and physical needs.

How are you promoting a healthy organization?

The Importance of Being Heard

not-being-heard-by-friendsI have read employees leave organizations because of their managers. I think one of the most frustrating situations that lead to employees looking for other jobs is because they don’t feel heard by their managers who they expect to guide and protect them. As managers, sometimes we are too focused on getting the tasks done that we fail to notice the cues (subtle or overt) our employees share to let us know of their concerns. And when we do notice their concerns, we fail to realize that they may not be looking for answers from us but just to say “I hear you.” Acknowledgement is a very powerful action yet as managers, we don’t do enough of this. I’m guilty of that at times and it’s a shortcoming of mine I’ve come to realize and one that I’m now conscious of in my relationships at work. Have you ever observed yourself or others doing this in your workplace?

  • An employee brings up a concern to their manager and they are told they are being too sensitive.
  • An employee is in the middle of stating their concerns to their manager and they are cut off by the person they are talking with.
  • An employee is proposing an idea to their manager and their ideas are immediately met with “yes, but…” instead of “yes, and ….”

Personally, I’ve been that employee whose ideas have not always been acknowledged and I’ve also been told I’m guilty of being the not-so-receptive manager. Because of the pressure of having to complete tasks, we forget the human elements of our work which includes building the positive relationships with those we work with and showing they matter and they are valued. Part of this relationship building could start by taking the time to acknowledge others.

Image courtesy of ExtremeHealthRadio.

IT Organizational Management & Leadership


IMG_2201I have learned a lot in my role as the acting Executive Director for my IT organization, a role I’ve held for the last 7 months. While I’ve held management positions for more than a decade, I have learned more in this position when it comes to organizational change dynamics as well as leadership/management because of the significant scope/depth of the responsibilities and the challenges of the position.

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that to be an effective organizational leader you need to be an effective manager and to be an effective manager, you need to be an effective leader. In short, leadership and management go hand in hand when it comes to delivering results. I’ve seen quotes on the web that goes something like this “culture eats strategy for breakfast/lunch” or some variation of that as if one is more important than the other. I get the sentiment that an organization can implement strategies and processes all day long but it won’t work without a culture that supports these strategies. One thing I’ve come to learn though is that ultimately, what people want from their leaders/managers are results. As reminded to me by a few staff after our initial department retreat soon after I took on this position, I can talk all I want but the only way I can prove my merit and effectiveness is by following through and delivering on what I/we had intended to accomplish. I was speaking with a colleague of mine who said “Joe, you’re doing a great job setting the culture of collaboration and transparency, but we do need you to provide clearer strategy towards the things you want us to accomplish as a department.”  That conversation reminded me that as a leader, I need to influence and shape the culture of the organization and at the same time to provide a sense of direction, clear direction, for folks to follow especially when going to a place that is unfamiliar to them.

A mentor of mine once said “manage constraints and lead towards possibilities” and I also read somewhere that “you manage things and you lead people”.  I’ve led enough projects to understand that scope, time, and cost are variables that need to be managed when delivering projects. These are all constraints that need to be managed. But I’ve seen too often when project managers treat people as merely project resources and sometimes like factory robots just expected to follow orders. Any effective project manager would recognize the need to treat people as more than units of resources but rather human beings whose motivations and personal satisfactions cannot be ignored. Treat people as robots and they will give you the bare minimum, treat them with respect and as human beings and you’ll get more productivity out of them. That’s from personal experience any way.

The credibility of an organization’s leader are based on the consistency between their actions and their words and their ability to deliver results. To be able to deliver results require that they have the skills to manage constraints and leadership competencies to get the maximum effort out of people towards the achievement of intended goals.

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Feedback: The Motivation Behind Them Matters

There are a couple of mentors I have come to trust in my career. That I trust them is based on the many interactions when they’ve shown me that when they provide me feedback, they come from a right place.  What I mean by “a right place” is that the feedback are genuine and they are to help me become a better professional and as a person. My mentors are honest with me and they can offer their observations about myself I may not want to hear, but nevertheless I readily accept them.  What I’ve come to realize is that the intent (perceived or real) behind the feedback from others do matter in terms of how well they are accepted. If one is to be effective in providing feedback to others, we must earn the trust of those we are seeking to provide feedback to.

While feedback about my performance/behaviors sometimes do hurt, I still seek them as I think in my role as a leader, it’s important for me to understand how I am perceived by those I lead and I serve. Just recently, as a part of a departmental survey about my department’s organizational health, I included a couple of questions about my areas of strengths and improvements. I presented the result at our department meeting and I thanked my staff for providing me helpful recommendations on how I can be better.

I’ve received feedback in the past when I’ve had to question the motivations behind them. There have been times when I find out the “friendly criticisms” were based on professional jealousy and less than noble intentions on those providing them. It’s unfortunate that I became skeptical about the feedback I receive from these individuals who broke my trust. I’m still open to them and I do consider them, but not to the extent I do with my trusted mentors.

Trust is a key component that must be considered as part of an effective professional relationship. The effectiveness of the messages we provide to others and the actions we take not only depend on the manner we express them, but also on how others perceive our level of trustworthiness.





Cohort-Based IT Leadership/Management Program for Higher Ed

This post contains some of the ideas I will be proposing to our HR department as an officially endorsed training program to address two issues I see present on our campus IT community. These two issues are 1) lack of a cohesive community among the different IT units (and leadership), and 2) needed training on IT leadership and management knowledge and skills. As it is, our campus has a decentralized IT environment and there are minimal opportunities for planning and communication among the IT leadership themselves as well as between the IT leaders and the campus business leaders. As for community building, there aren’t too many opportunities for IT folks to get to know each other as there are only two campus-wide IT events: once-a-year holiday party and a summer beach party. With regards to training, it’s very common for technically adept staff to be placed into management positions without management and leadership training. It is not really a surprise when these staff struggle in their new roles. Even with previous management experience, the campus bureaucracy can be daunting and confusing for those new to the campus.

The idea behind  a cohort-based program is to promote community building among the participants, a selected group of campus IT managers with varying degrees of experience and levels of positions.  The community-building process happens as they complete a set of  training curriculum on areas related to IT leadership/management. In addition, a mentorship component could also be part of the program that pairs up more experienced with new IT managers and/or IT managers with senior campus executives.

Personally, I’ve experienced the benefits of a cohort-based and mentorship program through my participation in our Division of Student Affairs’ Management Development Group (for mid-level SA managers), a campus-wide program called GauchoU, and through a new professionals program within the Division of Student Affairs called Foundations.

I envision the curriculum to be a mix of formal training and monthly discussions on IT leadership/management topics.  A schedule could be something like this:

* Two day institute that could include the following topics:

  • Introduction to campus organizational structure and politics
  • Budgeting
  • Introduction to HR processes (hiring, on-boarding, performance-evaluations, etc)
  • Policies (Security, PCI, FERPA, HIPAA, etc)

* Monthly sessions (discussions/training) that could include, but not limited to the following:

  • IT Project Management
  • Employee Engagement
  • Technology Trends (security, cloud, infrastructure, etc)
  • Career Development
  • Leadership/Communication Styles
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Change Management

Beyond community building and leadership/management training is the benefit of cheaper cost of training for the campus. By bringing trainers and having the training done on campus to a pool of participants the campus can save a significant amount of money spent on travel and accommodations.

Would you have a campus-wide IT leadership/management training program on your campus? Anything you’d add to the curriculum?


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