Friday, March 22, 2013

common language

This past Monday I had the opportunity to visit with people at a sister Concordia in Mequon, Wisconsin (just north of Milwaukee).  Similar to Concordia University Texas, this school reinvented itself about 30 years ago by moving and taking on a whole new identity. It has been tremendously successful and has provided a model for our school to look at and emulate in some ways.  My biggest lesson learned from my visit there was the importance of having a COMMON LANGUAGE.  While much of what is written on this subject deals with vision and culture, I learned about the importance of common language between departments and individuals so that work can be accomplished efficiently and effectively.

I visited with President Pat Ferry, COO Al Prochnow, VP of Academics Bill Cario, and Dean of Business David Borst - all great people who are doing cool things in Lutheran higher education.  But what struck me most was that they all talked the same language, especially when it came to decision making.  They had tools and processes by which they made decisions together.  I often see people making decisions based on the following:

  • the loudest voice getting what they
  • whether or not it will fit into the budget
  • what seems to be the most pressing need at the time
  • gut feelings
  • flowery language
  • bullying
I was impressed that they had a way of accounting for all programs so that they could make decisions on their viability to the institution, both in a financial sense and "must have" sense.  I was impressed that they had a system for hiring faculty that was based on a numerical number that made sense for both learning and financial reasons.  I was impressed that even though people looked at the world through different lenses, they were able to get along and make decisions quickly and in a manner that supported the mission of the institution.  And I was impressed that they all kept coming back to the mission of the institution as they talked about their decision making processes.

So what does this mean for us as leaders?  How can we begin to develop a common language so that our institutions and organizations can make better decisions that impact our missions?  Here are a few thoughts:
  • when people come to an impasse in decisions making, step back and examine the process.  Take out the "personality factor" and focus on a common set of tools and a common language to use in the process.
  • it's really not as hard as it seems - find out what works for your institution and use that tool on a regular basis.
  • seek expertise - if an issue keeps coming up over and over again, go and find someone to help you develop a "common language" in solving that issue in the future
  • respect people for what they know - the chief academician and the the chief financial officer look at the world through different lenses (thank goodness).  Each need to respect the other and find a way to have common language so that decisions can be made effectively and efficiently.
  • let people do their jobs - give decision making to the people who have to live with those decisions.  If there are only a handful of people making decisions for the organization, decision making will become inefficient and ineffective.
  • someone has to be in charge - when individuals are not able to work together to make decisions, for whatever reasons may exist, then someone needs to step in and play coach.  The coach doesn't make the plays (decisions) but puts in place a system and a process by which the plays (decisions) can be successfully executed over and over again.
So where do you find common language - or lack of common language - in your organization?  Perhaps you can step in and help people develop common language...perhaps you can step in and ask good questions that will lead to common language...perhaps you can develop a process by which others can engage with you in common language...or perhaps you can gently ask people to read this blog and consider what it means for your institution or organization.  

1 comment:

gmoore said...

Perhaps that's one of the reasons that big companies (like Dell)evolve their own set of acronyms that seem to be unique to the organization. Dell even provides a 'glossary' of Dellisms on the internal website to help new folks.