(CI)On-boarding: 180-Day Check-In

At 180 days in at the University of Tulsa I feel as if I’ve reached that point where I’m referring to my toddler in months instead of years, “why thank you yes, she’s 38 months old now” – so this will be my final milestone post, unless I feel so inclined at some annual career marker.

So many lessons learned…

180 days in, how do I feel about the decision, the move to join TU, personally?

It was the right decision. It was a difficult decision to move my family as my kids are still young and their best friends tend to be their cousins who surrounded us in Northwest Arkansas. However, as the primary breadwinner for our family, my inside desire to make a difference is important. Not just the idea of it, but the empowerment to do so. The University of Tulsa is a destination institution for me. On paper, it checks all the boxes that are of personal importance: caliber, respected, rooted, academics, liberal arts, size, drive, look, feel. Off paper, the points of concern are areas where I hope I can make a difference. This university is the university I want for my children. And I want to provide better options for my children than I had. The minute I stepped onto campus, it felt right. That hasn’t changed.

How do I feel about the decision, the move to join TU, professionally?

It’s a beautiful canvas for me. I’m happy every day I drive to work. Let me preface with I LOVE THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH. From a work perspective, for the most part, there are no surprises. I’ve peeled this onion before, it feels familiar. How I’m responding is more measured and that’s likely just plain ol’ experience. What’s new seems to be how I can tangibly sense the campus itself deepening my own skillset: patience, response to a different level of pace, targeted communication and, oddly and mostly, and allowing me to practice an all-body level of response. There’s a lot going on right now. My listening, my empathy, my control. Truly intense self-management and contemplation on my next words, actions and even thoughts. I’m growing in areas I thought were full-grown. The technology, the strategy, the vision; I’m realizing those are the easier leadership expectations. The connecting with the campus, as I always thought, is of utmost importance. Thankfully, it’s also my favorite part. This dedication TU seems to passively have in deepening my own skillset, this strengthens my resolve to invest in TU. Exponentially. I am thankful for them, and I want them to be thankful for me. So I will continue to roll up my sleeves.

The connecting with the campus, as I always thought, is of utmost importance.

What would I do differently even 6 months in?

I feel like I’ve been vigilant in looking before I/we leap in nearly every effort. This is a great question for me to ask the team. What could we, should we have considered handling differently over the past few months. Most of the areas I’m drumming up – timing of the Jon Landis visit, the web migration, the loss of one of our best, and more – all have these why’s attached that were considered before allowing them to play out as they did. But I’d love to hear about missed blindspots.

Staffing has been interesting. I feel less frenzied to fix everything and more inclined to see if time, modeling and investment adds clarity and improvement without reactionary, finite, top-down decisions.

I’ve experienced in my past unsustainable decisions, latest article -read vision, shallow regurgitated strategy statements. My time at TU isn’t to establish ME. I’m established. My efforts at TU deserve more than shallow, self-serving and unsustainable. Because I plan to outlast and ride the waves awhile. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you work with me or see decisions happening or sense impending doom – I am virtually ego-less on this improvement path – tell me. I want to hear it.

What worries me?

  • Change and turnover is uncomfortable. And it’s happening. I’m hopeful we are positively communicating and appropriately transparent enough to keep any collateral damage down to a minimum-to-zero. I don’t want our strongest to leave during this time of right-structuring within IT. The people are my number one worry.
  • I worry that my voice will get tiresome outside of IT. I’ve shared my opinion when asked and that’s a double-edged sword – when asked I *do* share and I have to guess it’s not always going to be the opinion that is expected.
  • I worry I am invited to more and more tables the Vice President of IT wouldn’t normally be invited to in such a traditional environment. I hope colleagues see my participation as intended and find value in it once they get past any initial confusion. This is how it’s supposed to be. Integrative, collaborative, communicative executive leadership.

How much do those thoughts worry me?

Not enough to modify my response at this time. Also possibly not as much as they plausibly should. I have confidence that I’ve seen this movie before and I’m driven to be an active participant in ensuring the university and all it touches resolves to a shining success. That fuels me.

How is the university responding to me as a leader? To our team as a whole?

I believe positively. Those that will fight for ‘business the way we’ve always done business’ are likely annoyed with my questions and requests, however those that know we need to do things differently for 2020 and beyond are ready for the challenge. And it’s such a patient population. I am thankful for their grace.

Any recurring topics specifically to me/IT?

Primarily standard ones, which I’m happy to share and put in writing. My most asked questions and shared views:

  • Do you foresee any big system changes?

    Well the blanket answer is always yes. For improved solutions, better pricing, higher quality, we will be routinely vetting options within a year or so of all large contract ends. Within IT however it’s our job to make any and all implementations and migrations easier for the campus. And we’ll do that. Short-term massive system changes? Away from the likes of Blackboard, Colleague and similar? Knowing the timing of contracts coming up for renegotiation, not if we can help it. Unless upcoming negotiations don’t meet TU requirements, no changes this cycle. Also know, I believe system and solution changes are campus conversations. Conversations I will lead or start and hand-off to the more appropriate campus committees, etc. While higher ed committees are typically advisory in nature, I am open to and value that discussion and counsel.

  • “Sometimes I feel like our department isn’t important enough.”

    This was sent to me on a Friday in reference to a help desk ticket that had been submitted on a Monday. The ticket had been met with no response. If there’s one thing I feel strongly about, it’s customer service. And I know I get bashed for using the word ‘customer’ in higher education. But it’s the best word I can find that everyone understands and can relate to. When I joined TU, I recognized pretty quickly – and was told first-hand – that, within IT, customer service and timely response had not previously been a priority. I also documented an alarming history of lack of training, interaction and sometimes even management of staff within IT. This is basic stuff. As a new hire, it’s important for me to not react with fire and brimstone. To give folks a hand up not an immediate wave goodbye. So we’ve spent six months shifting, defining, teaching, discussing. We’ve reallocated and combined positions to allow to help fill critical gaps, one being a high-level leadership position focused almost solely on prioritizing and delivering excellent customer service. Spring 2020 is the semester of growth in this area. We will do better. And we’re so honored to be able to serve in this capacity.Here are my internal thoughts on this, to our team. Not my first communication and not my last. It’s critical for us:

    Does that sounds harsh? I hope not. I need it to be clear. No wiggle room for not understanding expectations. Expectations that haven’t been a thing before. I say these words as well. I’d guesstimate 80% of our team is there. They get it. The rest? As of today? I’d say the other 20% want to be there too. They just have fear and uncertainty. I’m dedicated to not only the department’s success but individual’s success as well. You show me you care and we’ll get you there.

    [As an aside, for those hyper-critical of ‘customer service’ as a descriptor, what are better options? Options that translate simply and effectively for entry-level staff through tenured faculty alike?]

  • Communication is terrible!

    Noted and agreed. We will continue to initiate a variety of opportunities for discussion, dialogue, feedback and collegial conversation. This has started and will continue. If you want more, let me know. If you want less, let me know.

  • What are your thoughts on…?

    In all honesty, if it’s not IT-related, I’m not using my work hours to go there. And I’m asking my team to focus on the hard work that’s before us. Our infrastructure, network, services, applications – they need fixing. Our job as a department is a service and support function. Yes, I’m involved in some heavy, strategic conversations at this time. But at all times, my primary focus is building and delivering a technology environment that supports teaching and learning. We’re not talking bells, whistles and innovation right now. We’re talking foundational basics. And it needs repair and update. We are redefining fun for ourselves to keep the next few years internally engaging. What’s fun? A smile from a faculty member as a result of helping them do their work. A ‘thank you’ from a student senator for exceeding expectations on a real student population need. A shared experience where a faculty member says ‘I have hope’ in reference to our department and the focus of my leadership. These are our success metrics until we get some surveys out to start building a true campus benchmark on IT performance. Until them, you can assume, my thoughts are on our tasks at hand. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

What are next steps?

Well, our IT leadership team is in place. Now is the time to ensure clarity surrounding my expectations of them and their teams, develop a more structured communication plan and presence, ensure that we implement/change nothing without accompanying communication and online reference, use the next many upgrade months to seek out areas of improvement that currently exist, map out and prioritize my non-IT participation presence, tighten up 2021 budget request and beyond.

It’s also clear that service expectations need to be defined. We’ve used the past few years to find willing and talented people outside of IT to serve as a crutch for us in meeting campus needs. At TU, some colleagues have no expectations for IT response while others have been conditioned to expect 24/7 response for non-critical issues and questions. We need to recalibrate response expectations to ensure we’re meeting our campus where we are while also being a team that embodies work/life balance in a 24/7/365 industry. The campus is important to me – and that includes IT team members. Yes supporting technology is stressful. But let’s keep those stress levels manageable and not fabricate crisis or impede family time just for the sake of it.

Primary next step goal? Mostly? BE PRESENT. And I vow to remain present. Also LISTEN. For well beyond the next 180 days. Thank you TU!

Key work takeaways: LISTEN. BE PRESENT. THANKFUL.

And with this installment completed, we will now return to our normal programming. That said, I am always open to feedback, advice, criticism (I see you my friends). Share it now if you’d like.