Let’s be honest – I tend to get pretty introspective around the new year. Not in a dark way, but certainly many of my thoughts are dedicated to what I have done but many more of them are focused on what I have not accomplished, or sub-optimal results. It’s my nature to be more critical than not. I have spent a lot of energy the last year or so trying to celebrate the positives, and with my friends in the SIGUCCS tribe I have made a lot of progress, but I still have a long way to go. One thing the Tribe has helped me do, though, is to turn these critical moments and make them points for improvement or at least lessons learned rather than merely negatives with which to obsess. Considering I came to Menlo College with the fundamental goal to learn about being a CIO (and an institutional leader and manager, of course), let’s see how I’ve done.
The Best Advocate for You (and your school) is You
I like to work on relationships with our partners and even vendors. I like to cultivate connections with someone like our Value-Added Reseller (VAR) where they understand our needs and appreciate my expectations. I hope that vendors – actual manufacturers – will work with us on deals and pricing that show appreciation for our small institution and staff. I’ve also spent a lot of time building partnerships around campus, with other leaders, department heads, faculty and staff. In many ways I hope that these local relationships will yield strong voices of support. For example, I have tried to reach a point with a VAR where, when a project comes up, my priorities (do things the “right way,” and don’t presume that I want the easy way just because we’re small) are their priorities. I had begun to believe that vendors would go the extra mile for us on implementations and installations. I’d also started hoping that partners around campus would speak up for us when appropriate and helpful to all parties.
This was a stupid and naive approach.
At the end of the day, the only person (or group) that can effectively advocate for your vision, your priorities, and your needs is YOU (or your department). The only one that can always ask “wait, but what’s the right way to do that, not just the ‘small college’ way?” is going to be the person paying for those services. The only one that will even consistently notice that things have not been done that way is going to be you – outside groups will not be reliably pro-active to pursue the path that you prefer or even need. At the very least, one must be vigilant for any presumptions made and constantly verify that everyone is on the same page. You are the owner of your processes and solutions, plain and simple.
And regardless of how strong that relationship is with a partner on campus, even if all parties are seeking progress and there is no pettiness or personal gain issues at play, no one can truly take your place at the table. We all work hard to get to the table, and we need to be there when the questions come up.
This might seem pretty obvious, and in many ways I hope it is to most people. My point is a more nuanced one. We have faith in our efforts to form partnerships, and we pursue them so that we are working together more often than one for one another. We can and should still try to establish these relationships and invest the time needed to maintain them. But its naive to believe that you can let things just go on their own way without constantly checking on things. And remembering that at the end of the day – every day – you are the one that has to be the advocate for your institution’s or department’s needs.
Don’t Under-Manage your Projects. Ever.
You can never put too much effort into project management. Whether the project is small or big, oversight and management must be consistent and run from start to finish. Even informal projects need regular attention. More importantly, don’t get distracted. If you’re doing too many projects, then find a way to spread out the load. If you’re not a formal project manager and your “regular” work gets in the way, then keep yourself on target with the project first and manage your daily duties accordingly, or give that project to someone else.
This might seem easy for me to say – of course project management is important, and of course we all wish we can shift things around or give projects to others, but that’s just not realistic, right? The way I see it, it is my job, as a manger and leader, to help my team keep projects balanced, and to manage expectations of those around campus. Whether it’s our web applications developer, our social media & marketing manager, or our actual project manager, I am there to help things stay balanced. I am there to enable them to do their work, to be successful. I am there to run interference if one project has to bump another one off the list. That’s what I do, so that we can keep the project management capacity we need to keep things on track. Because, again, you can never have too much project management capacity. That means that there has to be someone constantly moving things around to keep capacity at a maximum.
And one other thing I learned – of all the folks on the team, I’m perhaps the one that has the hardest time shifting my attention away from my “regular” duties (like…supporting the team in their own project management needs). So I probably shouldn’t take on big projects. Definitely learned this in a rather rough way.
Take Your Professional Networks to the Next Level
I’m sure everyone puts a lot of energy into building professional networks. At conferences, through attendance at webinars, participating on mailing lists, or via some other means, we work hard to meet others and to establish at least some kind of meaningful bond that could bear fruit of some kind or another down the road. Whether it’s literally our LinkedIn network or merely and generically the network of people with whom we are linked, it is important that we put energy into development and maintenance.
However, if you can take it one step further – interaction at a human level – then things really change. This could be going out to dinner or for a drink with folks in your network – rather than just lunches (that occur during the business day anyway) – or, if people are remote, setting up a chat room for regular interaction. It could even still take place at a professional event, like a conference, but the interaction itself is more personal. Yes, I’m at the bar networking with others, but I’m there spending time on a human level with others as well. We aren’t just talking about the job, nor are we just making small talk. The difference can be very subtle – asking for professional advice is one thing. Being comfortable enough to bluntly complain about a situation in a candid way before asking for that advice is something deeper.
I’ve spent a lot of time networking at conferences the last several years, building my network. I’ve done just about every leadership and management program that EDUCAUSE offers, and I’ve become involved with SIGUCCS at an organizational level. After all this investment, it’s been just the last year or so that my interactions have gone to the more human level. Several of us meet online on a regular basis. Some of us are in an always-on chat room where we indeed do complain about things now and then, yet always also ask for advice. Some of us are even talking about going hiking or backpacking together at some point.
I can’t really quantify and can only vaguely qualify the impact of this difference. But it’s been meaningful, certainly, and people I considered peers became more than acquaintances and are now bona fide friends.