It’s About The Culture
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Edwin R.
Massey, Ph.D., President
Christina T. Hart, Ph.D., Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness
Indian River State College, Ft. Pierce, Florida
have been written about the structure and function of community colleges. Most
colleges are student-centered organizations that strive to address the
workforce needs of local communities. Organizationally, community colleges have
traditionally operated as bureaucracies relying on leadership hierarchy in
their functioning (Birnbaum, 1988; Levin, 1998). The traditional community
college model has resulted in the creation of hundreds of outstanding community
colleges across the country.
For more than 40 years Indian River State College realized above average
performance as measured by conventional indicators. Aligned with the
traditional American community college model, the college experienced
significant success forming partnerships, addressing existing workforce needs,
and providing academic programs that transfer to upper-division institutions.
This model functioned well for many years, but with the onslaught of rapid-fire
changes in technology, globalization, external competition, enrollment growth
pressures, budget cuts, student demand for access, and changing demographics,
over time it became evident that a new way of doing business was warranted.
colleges are entrepreneurial by nature and perfectly positioned to be the "go
to” centers for creative and innovative ideas. When a void is detected within
the community that is not going to be filled by traditional forms of education,
they respond. Light and nimble they embrace and welcome requests driven by a
sense of opportunity rather than seeing the barriers in every situation. This
enters into many things – opportunities in curriculum, high technology skills,
employee enrichment and development, altering the mission if necessary,
embracing opportunities to be more proactive not only to meet the current
needs, but to build the community for the future. Our communities now see us
not only as responders but as centers of creative thinking and innovation.
River realized that although we were a "good” college we had to determine if we
were good in a way that would stand the test of time. Was being "good” leading
us down the path of complacency? How long can we expect "good” to last when
we’re constantly bombarded by the Internet and all forms of technology? It
became obvious that the traditional model, although it served us well, had to
be adjusted or changed or we were going to miss opportunities in the future. In
hindsight it became clear – that it is not possible for our college to remain
relevant without periodic transformation.
Moment of Decision
President’s Cabinet Retreat in December of 2000, the decision was made to
invest the time and energy necessary to revitalize our college to become a
creative, innovative, driving force within our community vs. a declining
casualty of the status quo. The changing world brought the realization that the
college could no longer resist change but needed to create a culture that would
embrace change to remain competitive. Going to the next level would involve
altering and re-inventing the institutional culture. Long term and difficult,
this would require a college-wide commitment.
Based on a
Great Colleges to Work For (GCTWF) survey of 42,000 employees of 277 colleges
nationwide by The Chronicle of Higher Education, IRSC placed on the "Honor
Roll” as one of the best colleges to work for in July 2010. With scores in the
top ten, among four-year colleges with over 10,000 students, IRSC received the
highest score of all the colleges of its size in all 15 categories. The IRSC
survey average was 86 percent, and the benchmark percent positive for
same-sized colleges was 78 percent. The IRSC survey return rate was 74 percent.
The other top ten institutions in the same category included University of
Notre Dame, University of Michigan, University of Mississippi, University of
Southern California, Georgia Institute of Technology and others.
of a college is what matters most. If left alone the value of an organization’s
culture is always depreciating. Change is inevitable but it’s much better to
change from a position of strength when you’re able to choose to change vs.
changing from a position of weakness when forced to change. Change that is not
anchored in cultural change will prove to be just another "project” and will
fail to provide sustainable, long-lasting change. Cultural change requires a
long-term commitment to altering internal working relationships, attitudes, and
approaches to leverage organizational potential. Many change processes are met
with strong resistance because what’s viewed as changing is not only everyday
actions associated with organizational climate, but also strongly entrenched
anchors of security found in the culture (Sopow, 2007). Perhaps the best
indicator of cultural change is the level of resistance – when the existing
culture gets riled up and fights back that’s a good sign (Pritchett, 2002).
cultural changes to be embraced college-wide the effort must begin at the top.
Administrators and mid-managers will only become engaged in the process and
drive the effort deep into the institution if the president is leading the
charge. The role of the leader is to help the administrators and mid-managers
understand that their actions are the template of the culture. When they understand
this reality and how their actions expand to the masses, then a healthy culture
can be realized. The president and upper administration are the change agents –
they are the coaches and the communicators – to help employees understand that
they are in charge of the culture rather than a victim of the culture. We’ve
always had people in the college that could produce more but they didn’t
because of the administration. Upper administration and mid-managers were the
most difficult to "get on board.” They seemed to anticipate that the loss of
authority would be greater than the gains received.
and intuition are powerful tools that cannot be ignored. Entrepreneurial
presidents are always looking for creative ways of doing things – listening to
that "still small voice” inside – always seeking and knowing that there is more
individual and organizational potential when leaders understand that a major
part of their job is to manage the culture. Colleges are surrounded with
opportunities to do things differently – through facility creation and
renovation, such as creating learning-style responsive facilities, using
technology and so on.
looking at several organizations that had "roadmaps” in the development of a
culture, we arrived at the decision that if our people design it and build it
they will own it – and the culture will truly be theirs. We developed our own
activities by analyzing results and listening carefully to employee feedback
along the way. "Leadership is critical to creating a climate on campus where
faculty and staff feel sufficiently secure to have ‘courageous conversations’
that allow them to question their ingrained practices and experiment with new
approaches” (Jenkins, 2008).
the culture of an institution takes a long time, and consistent actions - you
don’t succeed until you reach the masses. When you reach the masses you
essentially generate a momentum of innovation that unleashes the right to be
innovative and creative. If you loosen the reins the people will perform in
exceptional ways and institutional progress and performance gets better and
better – this reality demonstrates that it truly is counterintuitive to free
people up to give their best. Employees "get to be” innovative and creative.
The culture will become institutionalized through processes. Changes must be
institutionalized and change must be embraced as a regular daily activity and
not something to fear. Acceptance of change is layered within the college. The
acceptance was easier at the lower level than at the upper level.
organizational structure can be a major impediment for change. The past
traditional form of leadership led to a rigid structure that always won out
over creativity. Instead, we adopted a flat, open, integrated, administrative
structure that expects and encourages trans-disciplinary approaches; this has
led to advances in health science, public safety, energy and technologies
through the flexible structure that includes administrators, faculty and staff
working together to challenge the status quo. By shifting these conversations
to include the integration and blending of various disciplines, we released
creative and innovative ideas that allowed us to produce the workforce for
rapidly expanding emerging technologies.
The act of
accepting feedback is critical in driving change. A structured professional
process where anonymous feedback is offered and received in a constructive
manner has been the most provocative source of enlightenment for all involved.
Creating an open, honest, candid culture takes time. Mechanisms have to be
employed where the leadership learns the truth and that can be very painful.
Leaders cannot be sheltered from bad news and negative feedback. They must
receive feedback with the understanding that the employees who have a vested
interest in the college are providing feedback because they just want to make
the institution better.
fast paced world it’s not enough to be reactive – you have to be proactive and
expect to play a major role in the emerging workforce. Entrepreneurial
institutions have to be proactive and exercise intelligent entrepreneurship.
Research based, futuristic planning, must be wrapped around the goals of your
state and community. Colleges must be present at the table to effect community
change and help make it happen instead of coming in after the fact. To attract
new and emerging businesses will require taking risks in some situations,
buildings, programs and facilities. Sensing this reality and living in an area
that was experiencing aggressive economic development these outside forces
propelled us to prepare and to anticipate what could impact our institution in
the years ahead. As your community changes you never really know what you’re
going to be called on to do. Examples:
In 2005 the
digital media industry did not exist within the community when Indian River State
College built a 106,000 sq. ft., $30 million, state-of-the-art Kight Center for
Emerging Technologies. Today, five years later, a film studio is under
construction for Digital Domain Production Co. with additional film companies
expected to follow. In 1996 the high technology, high simulation Health Science
Center was created and 11 years later attracted a branch of the Florida State
University Medical School, which was constructed adjacent to the Center. In
2006 the design was drafted to create a Leeds Certified Energy Institute years
before energy industries moved into the area. Today the Center for Innovation
and Entrepreneurship is coming out of the ground, attracting new partners such
as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric Co. with other new
industries moving into the area.
invest in your people. At the same time we embarked on this cultural change we
also created a new program called the Employee Development Program (EDP).
Without EDP our cultural change efforts could not have moved forward. Offerings
are based on employee requests and respond to the needs of each and every
potential was always within the college – but had been masked. By evaluating
our approaches, structure, planning, thinking and how we communicate, we were
able to bring out what was already there…and that was a tremendous amount of
hidden potential. The culture and the workplace must be designed to release all
the institutional talents and hidden potential to free people to be creative in
their thinking, acting and doing. Releasing the potential of the people is
the expectations of the audience results in remarkable outcomes. To exceed
student, community, and state expectations – expectations in grant procurement,
curriculum development, college maintenance, administrative functioning, etc, –
is all driven by embedding high expectations in all things. The culture creates
a climate in which people want to do better and have higher expectations of
themselves, holding others accountable to the same standard.
the workforce require more of an interdisciplinary approach with the
curriculum, family and work schedules demanding more access to distance
learning opportunities. The need exists to not only address existing workforce
skill needs but to challenge students to explore emerging needs, due to the
increasing proficiency requirements of existing and emerging workers.
Previously we did not challenge students to explore emerging skills. The old
model was functioning in a predictable environment, but with a new generation
of students who exhibit a whole array of learning styles we had to become more
proactive in driving our community, introducing our students to new topics that
will be critical to learn for the future.
cultural change an "abundance” mentality replaces the once held "scarcity”
mentality, adding to the prevailing spirit of collaboration on campus. When you
focus on success and the possible outcomes that result, abundance becomes a
lifestyle. Abundance is about high expectations and pride and tends to be very
apparent and pervasive throughout the college.
validation, awards, winning facilities and programs, student successes and
unsolicited positive results such as being selected for the Great Colleges to
Work for Honor Roll all provide evidence that cultural change is worth the pain
and steadfast effort. The return on investment and tremendous outcomes
following the long journey and hard work make it all worthwhile.
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Birnbaum, R. (1988). The cybernetics of academic organization and leadership.
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Jenkins, D. (2008). Lessons: Lumina Foundation Report, winter edition. Lumina
Foundation for Education, p. 31.
Levin, J. S. (1998). Making sense of organizational change. In J. S. Levin
(Ed.), Organizational change in the community college: A ripple or a sea
change? (Summer 1998 ed., pp. 43-54). San Francisco:
Pritchett, P. (2002). The Employee Handbook for Shaping Corporate Culture.
Sopow, E. (2007). The impact of culture and climate on change. Strategic HR
Review; Volume 6 Issue 2, pp. 20-23.
Mary Field’s Health Science Center (Main campus - Ft. Pierce, Fl)