What it takes to be the best

This month, I have had the opportunity to present updates about the College at professional development activities for exempt and non-exempt employees. My core message can be summed up in a series of questions and answers, beginning with, “What kind of college does PCC want to be?” I pose that the answer must be “the premier community college in the United States.”

What will it take to be the best? Answer: An unshakeable focus on student success, community engagement and diversity – in short, a commitment to being a student-centered learning organization.

So, what are the key components of a student -centered learning organization? Borrowing from organizational thought leader Peter Senge, I believe there are five elements the College needs to incorporate into its institutional DNA:

  1. Systems thinking: an understanding of how parts fit into a whole and an appreciation that every employee is integral to the success of PCC students. When the electricity went out at West Campus during the monsoons last summer, our Facilities crews worked to restore power quickly, allowing instructors and students to get on with teaching and learning with minimal interruption. In their own way that day, Facilities contributed substantially to the success of PCC students.
  2. Personal mastery: an acknowledgement that employees are ultimately responsible for their own success. Employees should look for opportunities to improve knowledge that will help them be more effective at their jobs.
  3. Shared vision: Having a common set of ideals – an institutional “north star” employees can look toward in determining how well we are fulfilling our mission. The PCC Futures Conference and strategic planning process, which brought together more than 200 employees and community members to map out strategic directions for the College over the next three to five years, is an example of the College striving toward a shared vision. That college-wide process informed strategic planning at campuses and work units, where employees had the opportunity to offer their insights.
  4. Team learning: A work unit is only as good as its weakest link, and it’s the responsibility of the work unit to foster, in a civil and positive manner, a culture in which everyone pulls his or her weight.
  5. Mental models: Having a mindset or culture that focuses on the positive is important. I’ve heard it said that at PCC students have a “right to fail.” A positive framing of that issue is that students should have a right to succeed. College must do all it can to help students achieve success.

To make these elements a reality, we need an organizational structure consistent with our values and purpose. That has been the driving force behind recent and upcoming structural reorganizations. Executive Vice Chancellor for Institutional Effectiveness Dr. Zelema Harris astutely recognized the importance the College must place on advancement. That emphasis is reflected in the recent reorganization of the College’s “forward-facing” areas, including Marketing, Enrollment Management, Public Information, the PCC Foundation and Web Services, under a new position, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement. Engaging the community — at the local, state, national and global level — is critical if we are to be the best. Similarly, we are working toward hiring a Vice Chancellor in charge of workforce initiatives in order to give leaders in business and industry a single point of contact when they wish to engage with the College.

Everyone at PCC is a leader. All employees have an opportunity to influence others, be they students or their fellow employees, through teaching, challenging, communicating and helping. I am confident that PCC can set the standard for community colleges across the nation. This won’t happen overnight. Our current situation took years to develop, and digging our way out will take time. But in three to five years, I am convinced we will succeed, if we work together and focus on our students and the community. That’s what it takes to be the best.

One thought on “What it takes to be the best

  1. etrester

    Hi Lee, Congratulations on the thoughtful planning embedded in your recent “What it takes to be the best.” Peter Senge is indeed a worthy organizational thought leader. In his,The Fifth Discipline, he stresses the importance of cultivating a learning organization. Lee, since your recent post, I’ve been wondering whether you might find a report from South Africa to contain supportive insight. In “Transforming an institutional culture: An appreciative inquiry” – http://www.SAJHE 24(5)2010 pp 1001-1020 – the author, R. Niemann writes: “Because an understanding of the ideal situation has to inform the transformation strategies, an appreciative inquiry was conducted among all the staff members of the new Faculty of Education at the University of the Free State. … for cultivating a strong and equitable culture.”
    Hoping this might be of some support. Respectfully, Gene Trester

    Reply

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