Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lead From Where You Are

Lead From Where You Are
Melody Bianchetto Remarks
Exceptional Assistant Network Conference
August 11, 2014

I'm thrilled to be here today to talk about leadership.  I've long admired the Exceptional Assistance Network, and I'm honored to be here speaking to you.  I wanted to start by telling you about a vision for how we can change how we do business at UVA through three current projects...then we can talk about how you can help lead this change.

I hope that you have heard of organizational excellence....UVa's formal program to "To enhance organizational capacity across academic and administrative service areas, and thereby advance excellence in our core missions of education, research and scholarship and facilitate the realization of strategic priorities."  To me, this is much more than a committee and a set of specific projects.

It is a mindset, an ongoing expectation that we continuously look for opportunities to improve how we all work collaboratively to allow the University's emphasis to be on students and research, rather than on cost transfers, labor distribution adjustments, and coordinating meeting calendars.  It is a journey we can all go on to leave behind complacency, complicated processes, and unneeded steps… a journey where we do the necessary support work – buying, supporting, planning, scheduling, organizing, reconciling, facilitating – in the most effective way possible.  Participating in this program, by being here today, you are showing that you have a commitment towards this excellence.

Associated with this goal of organizational excellence is the new University Financial Model (UFM).  In UFM, it will be more transparent how and where revenues are generated (students, research grants, gifts and endowments, sales and services) and what the cost of doing business is.  For example, a school will pay for both the cost of its own internal business office… plus the central business office.

And we in the central support offices and the academic support units will need to be the best at our business.  Ultimately, we will need the third project, the Managerial Reporting Project, to help us transform, modernize, and improve how we do business, so that we can deliver more resources to our core mission.

No matter where we sit in the organization -- associate vice president, financial analyst, receptionist, grant administrator, administrative assistant, financial aid counselor, business manager, landscaper, HR specialist, IT support -- each of us should be able to see how what we do ultimately helps a student learn, a researcher discover, a medical professional serve patients... Some days, I know, it can be difficult to see this.  How can you help UVA achieve its core mission?  How can you lead from where you sit?

I firmly believe that leadership characteristics are the same regardless of your position on the organization chart.  I thought I'd describe a six of the traits I strive towards regularly, that I look for when hiring a new team member, and find most important in people I want to work with.  These are qualities that I ask each of you to commit yourself to… To come with us on a journey to improve how we do our work every day.

I. Find solutions.  It is not enough to be good at identifying issues (although that is certainly better than putting your head in the sand to ignore issues):

1.      When you are bringing an issue to your manager (a calendar issue, purchasing issue, organizational conflict), always bring at least two potential solutions and one recommendation.  As your manager accepts your recommendations, you will gain confidence in how to act decisively perhaps with minimal review needed, because you will learn what are the right and wrong approaches.

2.      Think creatively even if the idea seems far-fetched.  Realize you may have 5 ideas that you never bring up because they are infeasible; 4 that you do bring up but your manager rejects due to cost, lacking technology, or another reason; but then 1 idea just hits it out of the park. Think of outside experiences - a church group, a little league organization, a prior job, a magazine article or book you have read ... for different ideas of how to solve a problem

3.      Be willing to lobby for an idea, but realize when it is time to move on.

4.      Help yourself by looking for an answer rather than expecting others to give you the answer, but recognize when there is an expert who can help you and save time!

II.     Think strategically
1.      Always remember why we are here.  Take a walk on the Lawn or through Newcomb to interact with students.  Subscribe to the Cavalier Daily to see what students are thinking and read UVa Today to see examples of research and outreach our faculty and staff are doing.  Regularly take time to understand how what you do moves the University towards its primary mission of educating, researching, and serving... For example…

a)      Consider how one of your day to day tasks help move forward a university initiative more quickly?  How about:
·        Complete a lab purchase quickly and using a university supplier to facilitate research and save money,
·        make an air travel arrangement that reduces travel down time,
·        charge an expense to a correct PTAEO the first time to eliminate the need for a future cost transfer,
·        attend EAN events, fiscal administrator, or HR user meetings to stay informed and talk to colleagues with similar issues
·        schedule a meeting to make an important decision quickly
·        plan an awesome event that raises funds to support U priorities
·        manage compliance or security issues so that we can maintain financial strength, decentralized authority from the state, federal funding

b.    Always look to maximize the time that can be spent teaching and researching.  Every single support role at UVa is really like a road paver that will help education, research and service move more smoothly without hitting potholes and other barriers to success.

III.    Be proactive/take initiative
1.      If you see someone who looks lost, ask if they need help. If you see an upcoming calendar conflict, look to resolve. If it looks like someone important is left out of a call, ask if you should connect them. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up. If you see someone make a good suggestion, stay late, or solve an issue, thank them.

2.      Before someone has to ask you to look ahead to do something, look ahead to see what events are upcoming. Refer to last year’s calendar to consider what may be around the corner. Anticipate what the next move or request may be and already be thinking if how to approach.

3.      Be committed to improving each task -- even if just a little -- each time you work on it.

IV.   Be a collaborative and supportive team member
1.      Show up, participate, and add constructive ideas to a discussionDo not dismiss an idea without a recommended alternative

2.      Express concerns to the group, not outside the group.  Ask about concerns and work to find solutions, but once the group decides on a direction, a prioritization, an approach, you will support the group's recommendation and work to make its implementation as successful as possible.

3.      Absolutely, do not point fingers later. What happened is less important than moving forward.

4.      Recognize efforts of others and always give credit to the team

V.               Be a good colleague
1.      Understand that helping one person out today will always bring benefits to you later. Karma is absolutely true!  Answering an email quickly and professionally today will bring about a helpful and quick response from a colleague later.

2.      Write thank you and congratulations notes regularly... and remind your manager of people that she or he might thank regularly.

3.      Have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself.

4.      Don't take things personally when someone is brusque or unresponsive or even rude. You have no idea if they are feeling guilty for yelling at their 14 year old before work, or if their parent is sick, or even if they just sleep badly the night before after those spicy tacos for dinner. Know that it is not all about you and that one day you too will be grumpy and a little leeway will go a long way.

VI.             Have Integrity
1.      Act with the highest principles of honesty and trust

2.      Do as you say (actions speak louder than words)

3.      Follow through with what you commit to (your words are reliable)

Again – thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today.  I’m happy to take any questions about the initiatives we have going on today, my career path, my thoughts on leadership.