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Operational Strategies for Daily Leadership Focus

Do you feel overwhelmed by your calendar? Ever wonder “How will I ever get this all done?” Or “Am I focused on the right things today?” or more importantly, “Is our team all on the same page?”

As career development becomes a catalyst for activity on campuses across the country, our day-to-day operations increase and the demands on our time as leaders grow. As I thought about how to better manage my own days and keep our team moving in the same direction, I wondered what we could be doing to provide focus, enhance collaboration, and just be more efficient!

For guidance, I decided to go outside of higher education for ideas from other industries. As someone whose career has included roles in Federal and state government, a Big Four accounting firm, and non-profits, I believe we have a lot to learn from those outside of the ivory tower. So here are some of the ways we’ve been trying to improve our operations, taking cues from beyond the borders of campus.

Implement Stand Up Meetings

You know those meetings where each person reports on what they are doing or have done? By the end, there is either no time left or, because we are all human, the lists get longer and longer as each team member wants to be sure they are covering every project on their to-do list.

In the consulting world, they developed the stand-up meeting. These short meetings, typically just 15 minutes long, give team members a chance to communicate their immediate achievements and goals with teammates. This is our formula:

  • Greatest accomplishment from the previous day.

  • Biggest challenge for the current day.

  • Obstacles to achieving that task.

This focused time, done while everyone is standing to avoid staying too long, allows all team members to know what others are doing, and often to identify ways we can help each other. A true team understands that one person’s priorities are the team’s priorities. Sharing our daily activities helps make that happen. This also frees up staff meetings for strategic discussions and learning (see below).

A quick Google search will give you a bounty of tips for maximizing your version. Here are a few of ours: choose a timekeeper; decide who will go first (we say the last person to arrive, to encourage people to be on time); and determine the order (we went with clockwise).

Use Technology to Crowdsource Key Topics and Needs

Getting the entire team on the same page, often doesn’t require a page at all. Whether it be working on a project or simply setting a meeting agenda, multi-user collaboration software makes the entire process far more efficient and ensures everyone’s voice is heard.

For our team, we have found this software, in our case OneNote, particularly helpful in preparing for our team meetings. Preparing an agenda can take time. Asking everyone to weigh in. Including your own items. If done in isolation, an agenda can feel a little like a throwback to the command-and-control days in the workplace. And with mixed generations that won’t work well, especially if the manager is a Baby Boomer who will benefit from an intentional and more inclusive approach to managing an agenda for a mixed-generation team.

Options like SLACK or GROUP ME can also provide solutions to back-and-forth email that fill in-boxes and keep us away from the good work of serving students. Technology can facilitate collaboration that brings all team members into the conversation while also improving efficiency.

Practice the Silent Start

A September 2017 Inc. magazine article shares Jeff Bezos’ approach to making the most of our team’s time together. The CEO of Amazon calls it the Silent Start. He carves out 20-30 minutes of team meetings for everyone to read the materials to be discussed, internal memos in his example. This strategy allows everyone ample time to digest the information and assures all can participate in the discussion.

We’ve used the Silent Start in staff meetings for professional development purposes. If we find a great article that will benefit the team, we spend 10-15 minutes reading it during a staff meeting, giving team members a chance to really absorb the information. Only then do we begin the discussion. Only then do we think about how we can apply the learning to our context. Our conversations are richer, more fruitful, and more impactful because we are all engaged, able to discuss the content, and come together about how we can apply what we have learned.

Keep the Focus!

As career development teams continue to grow and the work we do becomes more complex, it will be important to think strategically about the many operational aspects of our days. And that just might mean looking outside of our own industry to find better ways to accomplish the work we are doing to prepare students for the future.

Dee Pierce moved into the role of Director of the Center for Vocation and Career in July 2016. After just one year, she has doubled the size of the team, aligning the coaching staff within academic departments, reimagining the approach to serving the students of Wheaton College, and using data that to show us where and how to adjust. Bringing her learning from tenures in Federal and state government, the non-profit sector, and a Big Four consulting firm, Dee’s breadth of experience enables her to bring a strategic perspective to the work of creating a center that recognizes the changing world in which our students will seek employment.

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