Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Andy Curto of the Springfield Tech Community College acting as facilitor during a Great Ideas meeting.

In my July 12 posting, I outlined the way an idea system captures the creativity of a broad segment of the organization – those at the front lines who do most of the work. In this note, I want to focus on how idea systems affect employee morale.

In a college or university, there are really three groups of employees – staff, faculty and managers. The staff are those who work in the non-teaching offices including security, admissions, business office, registration, counseling, library, financial aid, information technology, marketing, human relations, grants and development, and facilities. Because of the central role of teaching and research, it is the faculty that receives the greatest recognition. Staff members thus may feel overlooked despite the importance of their roles.

Our idea system roll-out, however, focused on staff functions because they are repetitive and susceptible to refinement and, in part, because teaching and research tend to be individual pursuits. Employees involved with our idea system appreciate the interest in their work and, even more, they appreciate that their ideas were valued and implemented. Employees thus become engaged and empowered, taking ownership for their work and receiving respect for their contributions. College efficiency and effectiveness is raised along with employee morale, creating a feedback loop that leads to additional positive change.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I have just made a modest gift to Princeton University with mixed emotions.  I was a scholarship student there in the 1960’s and received a great education.  So I felt I should give something back.  However, Princeton has the largest endowment per student of any institution – a whopping $1.9 million with a total endowment of about $16 Billion.  To get a sense of the size of these numbers, if the University earned 5% on its investments, it would garner $95,000 per student per year, almost twice the cost of attendance at this elite institution.
Nassau Hall the iconic and oldest building at Princeton University.  Source: Wikipedia

Princeton University and Springfield Technical Community College illustrate the poles of higher education in America.  Princeton is wealthy and it educates the wealthy (with some exceptions) and STCC is poor and educates those without power and privilege.  As different as the missions of the two institutions, are the resources.  A year at STCC costs about $4500 in tuition and fees; at Princeton it’s more like $45,000.  Yet both schools teach basic college courses: English, Spanish, psychology, mathematics, history, science.  In fact, I would argue that STCC provides a superior product because our students often enter with a weak academic background and must increase their skills markedly in order to graduate.  Princeton freshman, by contrast, start with excellent academic preparation.  Is it surprising that they do well in college?

Moreover, almost all of our students work full or part-time to support themselves through college.  Princeton students have the luxury of attending college full-time supported by their parents.  As I scholarship student at Princeton, I did work but only for ten hours per week.  And I was able to live on campus and take my meals there. 

So, for those who have graduated from prestigious private colleges, support your alma mater but consider giving to the public college or university in your area.  It will be good for your soul and good for our communities.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Prof. Alan Robinson of the Isenberg Shcool of Management, UMass/Amherst

Over the past year, our college has introduced an idea system – called Great Ideas @ STCC – that has the potential to transform our organization.  

Our experience has confirmed the principle that our consultant, Alan Robinson, has emphasized that 80% of the possible improvements in our organization are dependent on front line employees because most of the work of the organization is done by them.  They carry out the individual transactions of the college for example: registering students, assisting with financial aid, serving students in the library, accepting payment for classes.  Those college employees above the front lines who are usually part of “management” deal with rolled up data – total enrollment, costs of utilities, payroll and the like.   They do not witness the transactions between students who are the customer and the employees serving them.  These managers are not aware, therefore, of the myriad opportunities for improvement in the functioning of the organization. 

Long time front line employees often know of changes within their scope of work that would save resources and improve service to students.  They have not had a means of expressing and implementing those ideas.   That is the beauty of an idea system.  It harnesses the creativity of a large number of employees, those closest to the action.

The critical lesson learned is that we managers think we can make the organization more efficient by decisions based on aggregate data.  While that is important, that misses the majority of possibilities for improvement, those at the front line of the organization.