By Dolan Evanovich, Vice President for Strategic Enrollment Planning
This university’s genuine, daily determination to live up to its values truly hits home with me. I grew up in a blue-collar steel town and was raised by my parents to embrace some pretty basic, “old-fashioned” values from a young age: Work hard, be honest, look a person in the eyes when you shake their hand and always do what you say you’re going to do. Those early lessons stuck with me, served me well at each of the universities for which I’ve worked and remained relevant through my transition from basketball coach to enrollment services professional.
When I look at how the values my parents taught me complement the university’s values, the underlying foundation in both cases is openness and trust. While it seems like a simple, easy-to-follow concept, creating and maintaining openness and trust takes conscious effort, and it’s something I work on every day.
Here are three ways I do so.
Create opportunities for openness
As simple as it sounds, we have to be mindful about building openness. People have good intentions and don’t plan to withhold information; they generally are so busy they forget to share. To help me create that openness with my team, I host “Drinks with Dolan” every Thursday morning. I spend an hour over coffee with 8-10 people on my team so they can ask questions, tell me what is and isn’t working and share ideas. It’s an open, honest conversation, which is much easier in a smaller group.
At first, people were a bit nervous and felt like they were being called to the principal’s office. But as word got out from those who participated that I was open to ideas and feedback, people became excited to attend. Today, these sessions are a source of inspiration and energy, and we’ve implemented several great ideas as a result — for example, a new photo directory to connect people who work in different locations is in the works and we’ve introduced a forum to gather student feedback at all-staff meetings. These are not ideas that I would have thought of myself!
Be open to giving and receiving coaching and feedback
As a former college basketball coach, this comes pretty naturally to me. Coaching should occur every day, not just when there is a problem to confront. As others have said, you don’t have to be sick to get better. We each need the different viewpoints and improvements that coaching offers to become even more effective. That’s what the university’s Excellence to Eminence movement is about; we are a great institution, but we are working on becoming the nation’s preeminent institution. I constantly ask my team for coaching and am implementing programs that formalize the coaching and mentoring process for others.
Some people are uncomfortable offering coaching, but it isn’t something that has to be difficult or time consuming. When you offer coaching in a positive, constructive way, people are open to it — who doesn’t want to get better? Put yourself in the right frame of mind, and you can offer valuable coaching. When we have positive intentions, we can always help someone look at something in a new way.
With everything that bombards us these days — text messages, the Internet, e-mail, radio and television — we don’t always listen to what people are saying. Truly listening to someone lets them know that you are willing to focus on them and that what they have to say is important. That builds openness and trust.
It sounds simple, but think about it: If someone doesn’t pay attention when you come to them, are you likely to share information with them in the future? Do you trust that they have your best interests in mind?
This is even more important when you receive coaching: Look for what’s behind the coaching and take time to process it so you can see the benefit of the coaching. I take steps to ensure I’m listening to my staff, including small group meetings, and paying close attention to Pulse Survey results.
It’s important to act on what you learn when you listen. If you ask for feedback and then don’t act on it, others will be much less likely to share it in the future. My unit told me they struggled with inconsistent performance management processes and wanted to receive more coaching and growth opportunities. Based on that, we are implementing a consistent performance management process, and we have increased our coaching and mentoring activities.
I believe that my group will continue to share candid feedback because they know I listen.
As we head into challenging economic times, building and maintaining openness and trust will help us navigate the rough waters that lie ahead. Working together, sharing information and trusting that people are acting in the best interests of others will allow us to respond quickly to changing needs. We are all very fortunate to work at a values-driven place like Ohio State and I am personally grateful for the opportunity to get better every day.