Working with your Board

I recently saw an interesting lunchtime keynote at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando.   Kenneth Daly of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) spoke on such things as what is important to your board and how to help your board.  NACD is an interesting organization that certainly has some valuable material and  even though the focus may be on corporate America I saw a lot of value for Public Sector Higher Ed.

The top three items that concern boards (I believe this was form a survey) were:

  1. Strategic Planning and Oversight
  2. Corporate Performance
  3. Risk Oversight

There was some discussion around the relationship/overlap between 1 and 3, but I do think these are the relevant points.   I ponder how we measure Corporate Performance in Higher Education.  More so whether we have the proper metrics in place, rather than what success is.

The piece I found most interesting in his talk was around the question:  “How can I help the board?”.  Remember that this talk was given to a roomful of CIO’s and VP of Technology.   Probably most are private sector, but there was a big public sector presence.   The following  are also my interpretation of what was said – there were no slides.

  1. Really understand their challenges – these aren’t your challenges, they are the board specific challenges.
  2. Meet with the committee chairs about what they want and need.  Include the CFO in that discussion.   If you do a better job supporting them they do a better job.
  3. Oversight of risk is a team sport.   It is not just for the board audit committee.
  4.  Assist in agenda setting.    50-60% of the agenda should be about having a dialogue.    (I really like the part on dialogue here).
  5. Help them understand how to identify and find the anomalies.
  6. Remember that there is asymmetric information.   We have the details and they need to identify where the risks are too high and identify what to do.
  7. Do something about IT.  Sometimes the board struggles to ask the right questions.   Make sure IT has an impact on strategy.

Daly also mentioned that NACD has been working with Gartner on 6-7 modules to educate directors and these should be available in the 2nd Q of 2013.   I look forward to reviewing these as I suspect it will be helpful for the C level executives as well.

MBA students pitching solutions for IT

Last week the ITS management team got to hear presentation from the MBA840 class.  Earlier in the term they had been divided into teams and given two questions to consider.  One around enhancing the student experience and one on nurturing a culture of assessment in ITS.

Topic One

How can Queen’s  “enhance the student experience using technology”? This topic encourages teams to think about how graduate and undergraduate students are interacting with universities today and how they may interact differently in the future.  The challenge is to describe one or two ideas or innovations that Queen’s University should consider implementing that would make it easier for prospective students, current students, and alumni to know about and interact with Queen’s

Topic 2

Given the push for more accountability in public sector institutions and Queen’s move to an activity based budget model (, we need to nurture a culture of assessment in IT Services. Your project would require you to propose a small number of measurable indicators (3-5) that will best represent the performance of IT Services in its mission for the University

These were very different questions, the first being open to creativity and exploration, while the second, although requiring some creativity had a more particle outcome.   The students were challenged to clearly identify their ideas and how they could be implemented.   I saw the presentations as a pitch to ITS and we were looking for doable ideas.

Needless to say we were not disappointed with the breadth of ideas that came out.   On the student experience side there was a lot of discussion on SSO and creating a “portal-type” experience.   I think we were a bit surprised about this.  The issues haven’t changed much from those we first heard almost 10 years ago.  What was different was the understanding of SSO and the influence of “apps”.    The students really want a simple point of entry to everything they do.   They find the current disjointed approach frustrating.  Whether it is disjointed apps, with various authentication schemes, or simply disjointed ownership and support.

The problem here seems so easy to define and the solution so simple to undertake, but we still struggle with challenges, particularly those of disjointed ownership of applications.

Other interesting ideas included distributing tablets, with the university negotiating licences for e-books.   The distribution of tablets is a case of déjà vu.   We went through this with laptops and too many times the technology was put in place looking for a solution.  I really like the negotiating e-book licences, which has the potential to be a game changer.

Another group delivered  a pitch around something called “classroom connect” .   It is an attempt to integrate the back channel into a classroom discussion.  It works very similar to something like Adobe Connect, except the piece were comments come up is vetted through synchronous peer review and only appears on the professors screen if it has been determined to be ‘worthwhile’ by a students peers.

Creating community was also discussed.  One group talked about linking with existing communities, but connecting the dots between potential students, current students and alumni.  I really see potential in creating this and the business students are probably the ones who would see the most value and be the best place to pilot something.  It likely all comes down to identity and how we provision and retain peoples identity so that they can generate their own trusted communities around Queen’s.

This post doesn’t do justice to all of the ideas.  I haven’t even touched on the analytics, but will leave that for another day.  This was very helpful for ITS and I hope the students got something out of it as well.

Cultural Reviews

The following post is an opportunity for me to think out loud about a process that our ITS organization is going through.

A couple of weeks ago we held two sessions with staff in ITS to give them the results of a Cultural Review.   Meghan Kirwin, of the Kirwin Group conducted a series of one on one, and focus group meetings with staff in ITS.   The interviews were designed to cover various key areas related to cultural within ITS.  It did not ask broader questions about Queen’s and distributed IT.  That is being left to a ITS Peer Review, currently under way.

It began late last year when we established a small working group, of staff and managers, to look at Talent Management within the organization.  The groups mandate somewhat broadened, and they decided to undertake this cultural review.  In my mind, I view this as an exercise to test the strength of our foundation.  Where is the organization at; what are the big issues for staff; what things do we need to resolve before we start building a new culture in ITS and moving the organization forward.

The results of the Review were extensive and not everything is discussed here.    As is the case with many of these things, consistent themes quickly surfaced.   If we were to summarize into two high level themes, in terms of opportunities for change/improvement, they would be around Career Development and Leadership.

In terms of organizational strengths, ITS is built on Talented People and organized into Strong Working Teams.   People are considered technically strong, believe in the higher education mission, and work collaboratively in a friendly and respectful environment.  Flexibility in terms of work hours and work/life balance, also surfaced.  I think this is common within Higher Ed., and is an important factor in terms of total rewards for people.  This is not always the easiest thing to describe during the recruitment process, but is critical in influencing retention.

Training also surfaced as a strength, although it doesn’t seem to be consistently delivered across the organization.  Possibly surprising, was the fact that organizational communication was identified as a strength.   This is not normally the case, but if accurately observed, sets us up with a strong foundational piece.   That being said, comments coming from staff also indicated a lack of time and/or desire to access the information for some individuals.   This is certainly, something worth exploring.

In terms of Organizational Opportunities, the staff identified significant resource constraints.   Firefighting feels like the norm, leading to less flexibility and little time for innovation or focus on strategic ideas.  A key observation by staff was that key strategic roles were missing.   This is something that can be addressed and we need to explore this further.  A key recommendation was the development of an HR planning process that focuses on the needs of the whole organization.

Performance Development was also identified as an opportunity.  Currently, the staff feel that the process is inconsistent across the organization and performance gaps are not managed effectively.  Career Development and Compensation were also identified.     Employees felt a sense of inequality, and that there were not appropriate incentives to grow.   Much of this can tie back to establishing a strong talent development process, looking at career paths, succession planning and aligning with our performance development process.   In terms of compensation more work needs to be done on aligning what employees value in the work place to total compensation, and being sure that we monitor this going forward.

There was a great deal of discussion around leadership in the organization.  Structure was identified as a weakness and clarity around roles needed to be better identified and communicated.  There was a general feeling that we needed to define a philosophy around leadership and set clear expectations for the team.  One of the first things we are going to look at is 360’s for the management team, followed by 360’s for the coordinators.   This should be a good growth opportunity for the team and the organization.

When it came to my role, as CIO , and leading through change there was a lot of cynicism.  The review heard on a number of occasions “been there, done that, why is this different?” .  Personally, this is challenging, and requires patience, but I can’t say it was unexpected.   We need to stay the course, act on the recommendations, build trust and hope that people see the change.

This is simply a summary of some of the points that came out in the review.    Next steps are for the Culture Working Group (CWG) to take the feedback and recommendations and put a plan in place to address them.  The CWG is also looking on creating a summarized version of the results that can be posted on the web.  There is some low-hanging fruit, but developing a culture of engagement where people really like coming to work is going to take time.   I look forward to the next steps.