Vantage Partners’ podcast, Vantage Views, delivers monthly conversations on navigating tough problems featuring hard-won experience from across a variety of industries. In the second episode, Vantage Partners' Jonathan Hughes sits down with Dr. Jonathan Jefferson to discuss how lessons he learned as a academic leader during the pandemic can help business leaders navigate the change and transformation they face. Dr. Jefferson brings a unique perspective built from his diverse background in consulting, the business world, and higher education administration.
On lessons learned and managing people during uncertain times
"We have learned, and I think industry can learn from us, the tremendous ways that we can change ourselves”
"COVID has told us that people are people. We should not make people split themselves into different individuals; it's not healthy. It causes additional stress, stress to mental health and to physical health. And so, we have to meet people where they are." — Dr. Jefferson
Listen to the Vantage Views podcast — “Leading Through Change”
- What do you think other leaders can learn in the private sector in business from leadership in academia?
- What do you recommend in terms of integration versus separation of work and personal lives, in the aftermath of COVID and going forward?
- What advice do you have for leaders about how to optimize flexibility for individual circumstance while maintaining community and making sure that no one is disadvantaged?
Want to learn more about leading through change? Read these articles:
- Leading Transformation: The Soft Skills of Enabling (and Accelerating) Change
- The Keys to Successful Change
- Thriving in Constant Change: Mindset Shifts that Drive Adaptive Leadership
The Interviewer: Jonathan Hughes is a partner at Vantage Partners, where his practice focuses on business strategy and organizational transformation. He has worked with leading companies and state-owned enterprises across a range of industries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa, with particular focus on developing and implementing new strategies that leverage enhanced collaboration across internal organizational boundaries and with external business partners.
The Guest: Dr. Jonathan Jefferson is Chief Academic Officer and Provost at Lesley University. Dr. Jefferson possesses a unique blend of experience that spans more than 30 years, as a management consultant, corporate executive, business school faculty member and higher education administrator. Dr. Jefferson brings deep expertise in organizational behavior, operations management, mentoring, negotiation and conflict management, supply chain management, and business analytics.
About Vantage Views Podcast Series
Vantage Views delivers monthly conversations on applying soft skills to the hard problems faced by leaders everywhere, featuring hard-won experience from across a variety of industries. Grounded in our expertise in managing change, building alignment, collaborating, and influencing effectively, Vantage Views interviewers and our guests explore how to develop and apply critical skills to navigating complex business challenges.
Ethan Underhill: Change is a relentless constant – particularly these days. How can organizations and the leaders who run them move ahead with their initiatives and maximize their impact through such unpredictability?
In today’s episode of Vantage Views, Jonathan Hughes of Vantage Partners hosts Dr. Jonathan Jefferson of Lesley University for a conversation on how to navigate, and lead in, an environment characterized by transformation.
Jonathan Hughes: Let me spend just a minute introducing our guest of honor today, Dr. Jonathan Jefferson. For our listening audience, Dr. Jefferson is Chief Academic Officer and Provost at Lesley University and, in addition to his academic background, has been a consultant and has worked in industry and in the private sector. He has his Doctor of Management from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Colorado Technical University. Jonathan, thanks so much for spending bit of time chatting with me today. He brings a wealth of leadership background and experience, both in academia and in business and that's what we want to talk about today. Jonathan is some of your experiences, reflections, and insights about leadership, particularly over the last 18 months or so, given all the disruption and challenges associated with COVID and also just comparing lessons, reflections, practices from both academia and business.
What have you learned and what do you think other leaders can learn in the private sector in business from leadership and what that looks like in academia?
Jonathan Jefferson: I think the things that are similar, and we learned this a lot over the past fourteen, fifteen months is that adaptability agility and flexibility are not buzzwords. So many things have changed and have happened that we really have to remain on the forefront of being flexible to change.
Jonathan Jefferson: I think the one thing that we've learned in academia is that we've learned to turn on a dime. If you think about what happened to us, in March of 2020, at the very beginning of March, when we were just finding out the devastating impacts of what can happen during this pandemic, we went from in our case spring break to say, “Don't come back to school. We're going to give you an extra two weeks we're going to replan the remaining of the semester and it's all going to be virtual.” To maybe this is not going to last as long to it becoming this is going to last a lot longer than we think. So we’re going to go from being virtual to being a we went from being a remote to being virtual. You might say, “Well what's the difference?”
Well remote was, we just put everything online and we just said, we will communicate with you one way. Virtual meant that we were going to do a combination of a number of things: we were going to have a set time meetings, we're all going to be on zoom, you're going to do things individually, we're going to do things collectively, we're going to rejigger our schedule in ways in which we can make it work for faculty, students, and life. To now and we're moving towards a fall semester and fall of 2021 in which we're taking everything we've learned from being remote to being virtual to making that a combination of how do we now do face to face.
And so, how does that translate into industry is that we've allowed people to be flexible, students, that we will have students who will be both in the class and online simultaneously. We will have meetings that will take place in a high FLEX environment, which means that people are attending in it face to face, while other people will be on zoom online, and some people will be a synchronous completely. You won't be able to see them, but just hear them in the background.
We're looking at how you actually teach and learn in that environment, how do you operate an organization and a university in that environment and how do you remain flexible that you're going to change based upon what lever needs to be turned on at any given point in time.
So, we have learned, and I think the industry can learn from us, the tremendous way that we can change ourselves. That's probably surprising to a lot of people.
Jonathan Hughes: You know, over the years I've encountered a lot of business people and business leaders who are of a view that you know you come to work and that's a professional setting and you kind of separate out a lot of the personal dimension of life from business. And I think what COVID has really done in a lot of ways, has made is very possible to maintain a sharp separation between business and professional and personal.
What do you recommend in terms of integration versus separation of work and personal lives now, in the aftermath of COVID and going forward?
Jonathan Jefferson: I think COVID has told us that people are people. We should not make people split themselves into different individuals. It's not healthy, it causes additional stress and, in many ways, stress to mental health, to physical health. And so what we have to do here is, we have to meet people where they are. I like the idea of individualizing the experience for each person.
Let's look at it at the university level. I have to look at what's happening at the department level, what's happening at the school level, what's happening between schools, and what's happening at the university level. Our organizations is not that large, we're talking about 5000 students and about 700 employees, but again if you're looking at 700 individualized arrangements that you have to manage the problem becomes unwieldy very easily. So, we're establishing parameters, but we're letting people influence the way that we, the way that we implement remote working. Work, family relationships, facetime in the office and all these other components that are necessary and so that's what I mean by individualized.
Jonathan Hughes: That that's great I mean I as you were talking, I was thinking that there's still a lot of business practices in the organization goes back to kind of an industrial model. And we have traditionally and force people into structures and processes and an old paradigm, and what I hear you talking about is much more of a, if I can paraphrase a little bit, a much more human centric approach to let's start with the individual their personal situation their family situation and adjust and adapt business process and structures or organizational structures and academia around that that human centered aspect that. That feels like we're seeing the necessity and the opportunity to do that.
Jonathan Jefferson: Absolutely. And we can see, I mean we're trying to hire a number of people right now and it's being talked about up front, is this assignment flexible, does it matter where I live, how often do I have to be quote unquote on campus or in the office, what are your remote working relationships?
People are bringing up family work life balance, from the very beginning. In some cases, they won't even talk to you until they have answers to those questions and I don't blame them. I think it's an excellent time. You know in real estate, the same right now in real estate it's a seller's market, and I think that in employment, it is a candidate’s market. They're dictating the terms. We’re learning from the people we’re trying to hire exactly what they want.
COVID has taught us that we can do a lot of things in ways that we had not thought about before. I remember this one example. I had a situation where my checking account had gotten hacked at a particular bank and I was talking to the [customer service representative], and I said this doesn't sound like this person is in the office. I said, “Hey, may I ask you a personal question?” and I said, “Where's this call taking place?” He says, “Oh I’m outside in my garage.”
So, the customer service person for this bank, and again this is at the height of COVID, so people weren't in the office at all, was the bank had set this individual up in a place in his home (because it happened to be a male) And in his home and had to be in his garage because he had to split up time with other people in his household. You would have never guessed that the person was not in that environment.
And oh, by the way, access to the systems where they're able to answer all my questions, make the referrals, all of that was there now, many years ago, a bank would have said we would never allow that to happen.
And so, we have learned so many different ways of working.
Jonathan Hughes: You've been talking about the need to be flexible and attentive to individual needs and circumstance, and I know something that a lot of my clients are dealing with and challenged by, and I think a lot of leaders in various organizations are struggling with this.
What's the balance between that individualized flexibility, how do you balance that with the need or the benefits of having a strong sense of community? How are you striking that balance at Lesley, what advice do you have from leaders about how to optimize flexibility for individual circumstance, but maintaining community and making sure that no one is disadvantaged?
Jonathan Jefferson: As a leader, you need to talk to and communicate with your people I think that's very, very important. If we communicate with our people, we will stay connected to them. And so, they need to know that they have facetime with you, they have time or coaching leadership, mentoring, they have an opportunity for performance feedback and that that's on a consistent timeline or consistent basis. That's one thing.
The other thing is to bring people together. I literally have retreats on zoom. In which we come together as a community every so often, it's probably about a month, month and a half, in which we come together for a full day meeting so that we can talk about all the things that are important and so that people have an opportunity to work with each other and we can all communicate.
Are we, in the same room, or are we breathing the same space? No, we're losing that, but what I think the idea here is to keep the stickiness the cohesiveness of the team. And as a leader, we have to do more work to make sure that the team is connected, we have to continue to connect the dots for people.
We have to continue to facilitate bringing people together, who may not have those collisions because they're not any office who may not be thinking about the people that they should be talking to because they may not understand all the organizational inner workings because they are remote from the office. It's on leadership.
Think about professional service firms, think about like lawyers or consultants. As consultants, we naturally have work a distributed environments we're not always in the office together, and we continuously talk over telephone now zoom or whatever other mechanism that we're doing, we have to take those things into the old classical stale environment and show them how they can actually make those connections and how they can make people feel valued and not isolated and be a portion of the culture and the end the flow of the organization.
Jonathan Hughes: Good to see you good to talk to you thanks again for the time and the insight.
Ethan Underhill: That's our Vantage Views for July 2021. Vantage Views is produced by Vantage Partners, a consulting and training firm that empowers companies to innovate more quickly, execute with greater discipline, and collaborate more effectively, for sustained impact and growth.
We'll see you next month.