Welcome everyone, so we are so excited to have you with us this afternoon for the next installment of our Coffee Break Webinar series. Hopefully, you have a nice hot cup of coffee with you and are ready to earn a lot of great information in our short time together.
If you don’t know, I am Lana Rucks, Principal Consultant with The Rucks Group. The Rucks Group is a research and evaluation firm that gathers, analyzes, and interprets data to enable our clients to measure the impact of their work. We were formed in 2008 and over the last several years, we’ve worked primarily in higher education and workforce development grants on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Labor, Department of Education as well as projects funded by foundations.
Before we get into our conversation today let me create a little bit of context. You’ve probably heard of the phrase an “earthquake-proof building”. An earthquake-proof building is such that engineers intentionally designed it to be able to withstand the force or impact that comes with an earthquake. So, it’s built with adaptability, flexibility, and with what engineers call “resilience” to be able to withstand an earthquake and not be severely damage. We liken that to creating “change-quake-proof” projects and project teams. And in the same way thinking about how we can intentionally design projects and project teams so that they are change-quake proof and creating adaptability and flexibility, so they are resilient. So, I am absolutely thrilled to have Betsey McIntyre who is Director of the Tristate Energy and Advanced Manufacturing (TEAM) Consortium to talk about her experiences and knowledge in regard to creating change-quake-proof projects. We’ve had the privilege of working with Betsy for the last two years on evaluating portions of the TEAM Consortium work and really have enjoyed the conversation and feel like I’ve had master classes from her on leading change management initiatives. So let me turn over to Betsy to provide additional background on herself as well as information on Team Consortium.
Great, thanks, Lana! The Team Consortium is a public/private partnerships in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The overall goal of the partnership is to ensure that there is an adequate supply of properly skilled workers for those sectors as we move into an exciting time in economic development in the tristate region. The partnership itself is organized into working groups with each stakeholder group working on their own set of task and then the entire partnership coming together several times a year to align that work. The result has been creating very visible and understandable career pathways among the higher-ed institutions for the workforce. It’s been a very productive group and if there are any best practices or lessons we’ve learned that can be helpful to all of you, we’re happy to share.
Thank you for that context. In thinking about what our objectives are for today’s webinar, you may recall that when you registered for the Coffee Break Webinar, you were asked if you have any questions or if there was something you would like to cover during this webinar. We took those comments and questions and organized them around different themes. So, we’re going to focus on: How do you increase project resiliency; best practices around engaging with partners; and dealing with disruption.
We want to make sure that we are answering your questions, so if you have outstanding questions that weren’t originally posed or questions that emerge during today’s webinar, please use the question function to be able to ask those questions. As always, we have Alyce Hopes, our Outreach Coordinator who will help facilitate that portion of the webinar. With that, let’s go ahead and get started.
So, we know that many projects require broader changes than originally expected, but it seems that project teams really struggle with managing and implementing change management initiatives and principles. So, the question is
How can initiatives be made more resilient, such that the change that is sought is actually achieved and not hindered by emerging obstacles?
So Betsy, in talking with you, you’ve talked about these four different elements to resiliency: focusing on assets, using good data, tapping into quality people, and using good judgment – would you be able to talk more about each of these key components?
Sure. I’m going to assume that the change that is predictable and that you’ve been able to plan for is just going to be embedded into your projects and really focus on talking about the things you can do that manage those unexpected things that get thrown at you. One of the things that we found very helpful is that an awful lot of projects when you’re building them and planning for them, focus on a problem and addressing it, or helping participants and clients who experience a lot of challenges and problems. While it is important to know those and help to address and solve them, you really miss a huge opportunity to make yourself resilient if you don’t also pay attention to what the assets are in your clients, in your program, in your geography, and in the partners at your table – and actually, physically list them out and remember them and build them into your program. It helps your partners come from a much more positive place and it helps them to maintain their energy because it’s draining to think about all of the challenges you’re budding up against. One thing that can really help you do that is to make sure you’re using good data.
So, we are all working with other people’s money to a large degree – either government money or foundation money, and even if you are creating revenue streams of your own, every dollar is vitally important and so you want to make sure your investments are going to have the impact you want them to have. Making sure you get good data both on the beginning end where you’re trying to discern what exactly is the problem you want to solve and later too when you want to measure whether your program is achieving what you hoped for. This really helps build confidence and trust in your program and its ability to address what you need it to address. Having the right people at the table is key as well. I’m sure you make an effort to do that, but make a special effort to bring in specific expertise that may be lacking at your partnership table. At TEAM Consortium we have a broad spectrum of stakeholders and yet we still find it’s really helpful to reach out across the country and bring in speakers who bring specific expertise that can help us move forward. We don’t hesitate to do that. All those things – focusing on the positive to keep your momentum, bringing in good data, making sure you’re pulling in quality expertise, all of this means that ultimately the thousands of judgment calls that you need to make day-to-day to move your program forward, are going to be made on solid ground because you have good information with good people. The quality of those judgment calls and the results of them is going to make up the results of your program.
Lana: I think those are all good points and I enjoy how you framed them all. We are about to pause for a quick question break, but I’m going to ask a question quickly too.
In focusing on the assets, does that mean that you ignore what the challenges are? What should your perspective be on the challenges?
Well, you’re trying to address a problem. You’re trying to overcome challenges or help your clients do so, so obviously, it’s key that you pay attention to the problems as well. What I’ve found over a series of projects in my career is that the clients you’re serving interact when they feel like you understand that have value, that they have input, that they have something to look forward to, that they’re not just a bundle of problems to you. If you take the approach of, “oh, you’re living in poverty, we’re going to help get you out of it”, or “oh, you lack these skills, so we’re going to give you these skills”, without the context of “what is it that you want to do” and, “what is it that you think you’re good at?”, then again you miss an opportunity to really help that person get some agency of their own and feel heard and feel valued. So, the outcomes that you get are just across the board fatter when you’re including, in a very deliberate way, the good things you’re working with. You’re also going to have to engage with public systems usually, and the same thing works on that front. If you are working with those partners and letting them know that the services, they provide are really valuable and giving them good feedback too, it seems to really help the project produce better.
Lana: Great points! Let me pause there and see if there are questions from individuals listening today?
“Where do you go to get good data?”
That’s a great question, it’s a complicated one though. In our case, as I’ve said, we’re a workforce development program so there are very obvious and long-standing data sources for u – the Bureau of Labor Statistics out in D.C., and each of the three states we work in has its own data office and they do a great job of collecting and analyzing, and reporting out on that data. The challenge for us has been that connections that need to be made to serve people, happen right at ground level, right where they live and want to work. The data doesn’t always drill down that far, so we end up having to go and spend money on private data companies to come in a do further analysis on the data we’re given. It’s not ideal, it’s expensive and we’re working with the feds and the states to understand where that gap is for us so that they can start to get a little more local and a little more real-time with the data because with our people, and I’m sure this true no matter what your program is, it takes time to respond to that data – you may have to tweak your curriculum, or tweak your case management or whatever to address whatever the data is telling you. So, to try to cut that time down so that you can respond quickly (and obviously responding to real data is a piece of resiliency and being able to respond to change) is why it’s so important to get good data.
As far as where you go to get good data, whatever area a particular project is working in (healthcare, human service, etc.), I would recommend looking at the agencies within the state and within the federal government that speak directly to your program. They will have program-specific data to help you. In my experience, I’ve found that people who work in those departments tend to be hugely helpful. If you call and say, “I’m not getting x piece of data”, they can help you find what you need. So, I would go right to those public sources directly and ask if they can help you. Trade associations are also a really good source. Like if you’re in healthcare, there are big trade associations attached to healthcare, or manufacturing, or whatever it is. Go to the trade association websites as well, they will often have very current data on their site. But again, if you reach out to them, they could probably help. So, I would look at both the public and private sides and what’s available to you.
Good information and good resources to be able to really get that granular workforce-level data that’s needed. Let’s go on and talk about some of the challenges around partnership. So, the more ambitious an initiative is, the more entities it’s going to impact and the more people that are going to have to be involved. Because there are more people involved who may have different perspectives, the more likely that imitative could be to derail. So the question here is: “What have you learned about partnership management and change management to help keep projects on track?”
So again, some of the things that have emerged from our conversations tend to be around creating a consensus culture, involving stakeholders, and using neutral parties. I’ll turn it back over to you to be able to talk more about each one of these elements.
Sure! So, since your question was about what I have learned about partnership management, I’ll start there. I’ve learned that dealing with humans is very complicated! Just because something worked previously, does not necessarily mean it’s going to work now – it is complicated, however –
Lana: I was going to say, I recall you saying “Partnerships are like marriages. What works in one context, doesn’t necessarily work in another context.”
That’s very true! Not only does what works for one not necessarily be the answer for another, but also, there just isn’t a formula. You can’t say to any married couple “if you just do x y z, you’ll do great” because that’s not the case. Each case is individual and has its own issues and assets. So really you must look at this through the lens that it’s about relationships and relationships are complicated. But the fundamental building block of any set of relationships is trust. It goes back to what is going to help your partnership build a level of confidence and trust in what you’re doing so that you don’t have to worry about that piece of it and you can just focus on the work that you have to do together. I’m going to start at number three on this and say that one of the things that we’ve learned is that what really helps a lot is to use a third-party facilitator, in this case, that’s me, who is not a partner in the project itself. As TEAM director, I don’t do anything of the program work. I support the partners to do that program work and they trust me to be a neutral party in their conversations. So, in going back to number one, this really helps build confidence in creating a consensus culture. One of the things that build trust the fastest and the firmest among the group, especially if that group is very diverse in their views (which public-private partnerships always are), really helps to set the tone very early on that we’re going to do things as a consensus. This is not going to be TEAM coming in and saying “We’re going to do it this way. Today we’re going to take on this project”. We don’t do that. I’ve never mandated anything to our partners. We always start at the point of this is the data, this is information, these are the challenges, and these assets that we’re working with, what are you guys in the field, (from your stakeholder point-of-view), what do you feel we should prioritize and address right now? And out of those conversations have come the programming that we’ve done, the curriculum building, the neighborhood networks, the employer-responsive programming – all of it has come from a consensus. What it does in this instance, in terms of looking at the partnership itself, is it builds absolute confidence on your partners’ side that they’re heard and that they have a voice in it, and even if their own point-of-view didn’t prevail at the end of the day, at least they know that they are working in a group that is in agreement about what they should be working on together and maybe next time their view will prevail. Involving all the stakeholders is critically important, making sure every voice is heard, and that’s the facilitator’s job. So, every group is going to have very strong personalities that try to dominate the conversation and weaker personalities that just sit there until they are called on and this changes over time if it’s facilitated properly. You get a much more even feel because everybody starts to understand that the facilitator is going to make sure everybody’s voice is heard so you don’t get any one point-of-view dominating all the time.
And again, we’re about to pause for another Q & A session, but I’m going to ask a question really quickly. I’ve asked you this before, so I kind of know what you’re going to say, but I’m going to ask it anyway because it’s a really important point and I think your perspective is really unique on this. Very often for leaders who are “leading the initiative”, they can get tired. Their energy gets drained by trying to lead the group of individuals or this initiative, so what thoughts or comments would you have to individuals who are leaders who are starting to feel drained from having to catalyze a change initiative?
Well, I don’t recall how I responded to you in the past so you can correct me if you’d like, but my gut reaction to that is that it’s vitally important that a partnership stays in balance – it’s all about balance. So that means delegating things out. It’s fine to step up and take the lead on a piece of it and be accountable for that, but they should be supported in that as well. So, the whole structure of the partnership needs to be with the understanding that we’re going to make sure people aren’t getting overwhelmed. Coming back and finding common ground consistently can play a role in this. It can get very overwhelming very quickly if you’re not reminding yourself “this is our purpose here. Yes, there is this huge scope of challenges, but we’re focused on this right now”. When you do that, it makes it manageable for people. Does that reflect what I told you before?
Yes, that’s very consistent with what you’ve said before in this idea that if you’re delegating and if you’re really helping individuals become facilitative leaders, then the weight of the imitative isn’t completely on you because it’s much more diffused. That helps in terms of preserving some of your energy. So, let’s pause there for a minute, Alyce are there any questions from anyone?
“What’s it like when you first start a consensus culture? I imagine there are quite a few challenges with such a shift.”
If that has not been the case previously, then yes, I imagine there would be. So, there are actual concrete protocols and approaches that go along with a facilitative leadership model or a consensus-based model. One example I can give you that is very concrete and really not that hard to implement is putting in place predictable and fair meeting protocols. I know this sounds really nuts-and-bolts, but it’s really important that that time that you’re together remains productive. When you’re in person there’s even more risk of falling in a chamber of a social-type of atmosphere rather than a productive meeting. There are things you can do in terms of structuring your meeting agendas. Decide things like “next time we meet we are going to cover these three things”. Do that by consensus by asking, “Next time we meet we’re going to have an hour together – what three things do you want to address?” and then have your meeting agenda reflect those three things. This reinforces their trust that you’re hearing and addressing those things that they want. And then put time attached to those items so that the first item doesn’t end up dominating the entire agenda. SO, you get to the end of that 20 minutes of that the first item was going to take, and you take a temperature of the room, “well were at our limit for his point. Do you want to continue talking about it for five more minutes? That will eat into number 2, or do you want to just stop where we are and pick it up later?” and let them decide how the flow and balance of priorities are going to go. What it does is remind people and keep them on task in terms of “no were actually here to do these specific things”. You can have fun doing it and we do, but we have a goal, even for each individual meeting. That’s an example of an approach that reinforces consensus culture.
So the other item that I think we learned or had insights on is in regard to handling resubmission and I would say definitely resubmit. I think that’s a really important piece to be able to get some feedback and to resubmit your proposal. I do think there are a couple of things to keep in mind when you resubmit. One is regarding the reviewer’s feedback. I mentioned this idea earlier, but when looking at the feedback I conceptually think of it as being substantive or stylistic – this is just the gospel according to Lana. It’s kind of tricky because if you frame it in this way, it’s almost as though you’re saying that one’s important and one is not important, but that’s not really the take-home message. For my role on projects, partly what I am trying to glean from feedback is what needs to be done not for that particular project, but I’m also trying to understand what are the larger take-home messages I need to apply to other grants and other projects that we’re working on? So substantive issues to me are really at the meat. If I took the example, I provided before in regard to making sure you have the data matrix or making sure that you have the evaluation questions, outlining the operational approach – to me those are substantive issues. The stylistic issues, then, are how you put those together and what organization you associate with it. I’ve also had situation in which I receive feedback that x, y, and z wasn’t included, but I thought it was included – so I now make sure they have headers and I literally change the style so that it’s understood what’s been included in the evaluation plan. The other piece is that you want to make sure that if you are looking at the reviewer’s comments, that you’re also looking at the solicitation. This is particularly important if you have been working with some NSF grants. This year a number of solicitations have changed, one is with the S-STEM grant and the solicitation changed around the requirements which “track” that the generation of knowledge research activities was required. So, you want to also make sure that the reviewer’s feedback is still relevant for that what is required of the current solicitation. Let me pause here to see if there are other questions.
Q: Are there any interesting trends emerging that you’ve seen?
A: That’s a good question. One trend over the last year I’ve seen is the extent to which industry partners and partnerships have emerged as being important. A lot of the initial space we worked with was with the NSF ATE community and technician education and I think for years there was this understanding that industry partnerships and industry involvement were very critical to the work of ATE projects. I think in the last year, what was very interesting was to start seeing that within undergraduate and graduate-level education, an emerging emphasis on industry partnerships, particularly within graduate education around STEM, and the attempt to transform graduate education with the realization that more individuals may go into industry versus the academy.
Good, good. Well, we just have a couple of minutes here so let’s get to the final topic real quickly and is really about disruption and how to handle disruption. The final question is:
What are some insights that you can provide in terms of dealing with disruption?
Again, we’ve talked about some of these before – lay a solid foundation, maintain alignment, focus on end-user. Can you provide any additional context?
I think this builds on what we’ve been talking about already so far. So, laying that solid foundation means setting the tone right from the beginning that “this is going to be the way we work together” it’s going to be fair, everyone is going to have a point-of-view and remind each other of the common ground that we stand on and keep coming back to that. People feel very passionate about mission-driven work, so it can get emotional and start to drift. So, the facilitator’s job is to bring it back to that common ground and align that work. Each of those stakeholders needs to feel some productivity and some satisfaction that their piece of it is moving ahead. So again, the facilitator needs to make sure that the work that’s being done separately on various fronts, continues to be aligned. And don’t forget what your end mission goals and outcomes are. That’s where internal measurements from an evaluation standpoint become very useful because not only will it tell your partners that we really are moving forward, but it also lets your clients and funders that you can feel and see the momentum toward those goals. I did want to mention that at TEAM what we call a Spirit of Coopetition. We understand that people coming to the table with those strong personalities that I talked to you about, they have their own agenda and they know that they are in competition with some of the people sitting at the table, but we acknowledge that right up-front. Yes, some of you are in competition with each other, we will never ask you to betray any proprietary stuff, but we understand that we’re all going to thrive, and out participants and clients will thrive if we’re working together. So that understanding keeps things from getting too off track.
Very good, well we are unfortunately at time. If there are questions that are still out there, we will follow up by emailed to answer those questions. And if you do have additional questions that you want to directly give to Betsy, we are going to put her email in the chat function. Thank you, Betsy, for joining us today and sharing so much of your knowledge and insight, it’s very much appreciated. I did just want to quickly tell individuals to hold January 26th, 2022, for our next Coffee Break Webinar on Savvy Surveys. Again, thank you, everyone, for joining us today and we will follow up with additional questions. Bye!