One-Page Strategic Plan!

My organization has a one-page strategic plan, and it’s pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

Go us!

Seriously, I’ve been a skeptic of the net value of a strategic plan given the amount of time put into writing it and the likelihood of it being used. With this one, though? Consider me on board!

Yay Co-Teaching!

Despite three teachers calling in sick or out of town this week for today’s evening classes, I had full class coverage!  One coworker subbed, I subbed, and one class was covered by the co-teacher who wasn’t sick.  Perfect!

Army Air Corps Pilots by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr
Army Air Corps Pilots by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr

Setting up co-teachers is really, really nice for those sudden winter illnesses that happen.  Instead of having two hours to scramble for a sub, you just let the co-teacher know they’ll be flying solo that evening.  And in the event that they both come down with something, you can at least chalk it up to a decision made by fate and not your own poor planning.

Even though a solid handful of my teachers prefer teaching alone, I’m still working on them to either teach alternate weeks or have a “stunt double” who could come in for them, preferably even on short notice.

I’m just so pleased that we had enough teachers.  Even though it’s possible to combine levels if need be, it’s disruptive for the students.  Also, since it’s one answer to last-minute situations that arise, it’s rare to have enough time to write a fantastic multilevel lesson somehow relevant to both classes’ curricula.

So I think I should find a spare couple of hours to write a multi-level lesson or two to have on hand just in case.  And I think that I should keep at building up this co-teacher thing – I feel great about the quality it enabled us to give our students this evening.

Investing Time in the Process

Sometimes we still think like the small program we were just a few years ago.

Our program has seen exponential growth in the past few years.  We have accomplished amazing things.  Our trajectory is to double again in two years, which is both daunting and exciting.  One way to smooth this is to focus on processes: you need them, you need to be able to share / replicate them easily, and they need to be as streamlined as possible.  In other words, you should take the time to write them down.

I think we could have been much more efficient even just in these past couple of months by simply writing down everything we taught a temp how to do, or even having our temps keep up the lists.  It would have taken slightly longer to do the first time, but would have left us with an easy-to-replicate process.  Simple time-investment.  Instead, with every new temp and new employee, we’ve had to reinvent the wheel, racking our brains to figure out what to teach them when and how.  It’s a waste of time.  It happens because we go into it in a one-time mentality when it’s really a piece of a pattern that will repeat.

I’m really not a person who’s all about standardizing and formalizing, but when you have a big program, it’s the only effective way to do it.

How do you go about transitioning your thinking from small-scale to large-scale?  What are best practices for understanding what should be a process and creating and using said process?

Beyond Story-Telling: What’s Next?

Photo by David Webber
Photo by David Webber

I was just talking to my mom on the phone, and she told me about a big book donation project her library did for an alum stationed in Afghanistan.

I think it’s a powerful story – the request, the way the community came together to make it happen, the challenges that never seemed to become full-out problems, and the way she facilitated the whole thing.

She said the college was excited about the potential for publicity, and that she was doing a big write-up of the story so that PR could send it to the regional newspaper.  She also said she might present this project at an upcoming library conference.

What was really exciting to me was the feeling that this was a big success for the community; my mom agrees that there’s a sense of “Great!  We rock!  What’s next?”  I’m interested in how they could use social media to keep up the momentum.

I see a huge opportunity for the college to reach out to its community of neighbors and alumni.  I see a way for the library to assert its continued relevance in a changing world.  I see a successful project whose nuts and bolts should be shared, and a story about a large county-run community college going above and beyond what many would expect.  This doesn’t have to be a one-time occurrence.  It could be a direction.

I have so many ideas for where they could go with this, but I think my ideas are a lot less relevant than those of people affiliated with the college.  I wonder what would happen if the college worked wikily (Beth elaborates) with its faculty, staff, students, and alumni to look for a place where needs, interests, and resources met.

No, seriously.  They’re planning to send out an email to the whole college with thank-yous and some donations stats.  Why not enclose a link to an extremely simple wiki called “What’s Our Next Project?”

(Really, Mom, why not?)

General questions:

  • If they had time to share their story in only one additional way, what would you suggest
  • How did you tell your story?
  • How do you keep the momentum going, turning one great instance into many?
  • How do you bridge a large preexisting community from newspapers and emails to Web 2.0?

Addressing Communication Escalation

At work we’ve noticed some… communication escalation.  By this I mean:

  • One person will call 3-5 of the staff running our program and leave them all the same voicemail, which does not mention that she was calling several of us.
  • One person will both email me a question and leave me a voicemail about it within five minutes.
  • Someone who leaves a voicemail at 8AM (I don’t get in until 9) expresses frustration that she couldn’t get through to anybody when she calls again at noon and I “finally” answer.

It’s a typical case of people not seeing the big picture.  They’re thinking about their isolated concern, not about what they’re doing to the office and our ability to address everyone’s concerns.  Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to a two-minute voicemail, look up some answers, call the person back, talk for ten minutes, then bring other questions to another colleague, only to find that that colleague had just talked to the person in question an hour ago about the same thing.  Yes, that has happened.  It’s a pity I couldn’t have used that time to call back 5 other people who also needed answers.

I honestly don’t blame people for getting worked up and feeling that they need to bombard us in order to receive an answer.  I do want to offer them some guidelines for not slowing down everything for everyone else though.

I’m not the only one in the office who’s noticed that this problem has been increasingly insistent, and we’re discussing some policies that might help us reign it in within our department.  Measure’s we’re considering:

  1. Sending out an automatic reply to every email stating our reply policy (i.e. staff set aside x amount of time to reply to emails per day.  Non-urgent emails will be answered, but not immediately.)
  2. Leaving a new voicemail greeting everyday outlining our meeting schedule for the day and when callers can expect a reply.
  3. Indicating on our voicemails and emails that staff check both regularly, so a message in one of those systems will be sufficient.

Has anyone else noticed this happening?  What do you think causes it?  How have you addressed it, or how do you wish you could address it?  Can social media help?

Top Three Supervisor Practices

I’ve been thinking a lot about program sustainability lately.  A big part of that is program management.  I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I shared the Top Three things I really appreciate about my supervisor.  

1) She listens.  And she doesn’t just smile and nod – she asks questions and takes notes.

2) She doesn’t blame.  I don’t have to waste energy figuring out how to defend myself if I don’t do something perfectly.  I can spend that energy figuring out how to fix whatever went awry.  It’s one less thing to be stressed about and allows me to do my best work.

3) She asks for help when she needs it, and she helps us when we need it.  This sets a collaborative tone in our office culture.  We don’t just say we’re a team; we are a team.

To my supervisor, on the off chance she reads this: thank you.  

To everyone else:  Can you say the same about your supervisors in your life?  Can the people you supervise say the same about you?  Would you want them to?  What are the top three things you most appreciate in a supervisor?