The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

The Meaning of Transformation at the 2012 Annual Conference and Beyond

Merriam Webster Dictionary online provides a pretty standard definition for the word transformation: an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed. Most of us would have probably conjured up a similar definition if asked by a colleague or peer for a layman’s understanding. What I find more interesting is one of Merriam Webster’s alternative definitions: genetic modification of a bacterium by incorporation of free DNA from another bacterial cell. Now, some might say this is a far stretch from the world of higher education human resources—what does evolution of bacteria have to do with us–we humble practitioners. From my time spent in the “HR Transformation: What Can It Mean on Your Campus” workshop this morning, I think the latter definition is ever pertinent to the theme of this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference “Revolutionary Action: Engage. Lead. Transform.” While it may not be a stretch to believe that some of our fellow faculty and staff may see us on the human resources side as bacteria (ever felt like an administrator or department head looked at you like scum under a microscope?), what I was so captivated by was the notion of transformation occurring at the genetic level. So, to make the connection, transformation HAS to happen deep within and must include the incorporation new “DNA” (so, think ideas, priorities, approaches, personnel, decisions…).

My favorite comment from this morning, the one that really resonated with this young professional looking at this profession we’re in from a wide-eyed perspective, is that transformation is not simply what we do; it is what we are about.

Other musings from the workshop that could spur revolutionary action as we look at engaging, leading, and transforming:
• Sometimes you have to through something that needs changing up in the air and let those at stake “catch it” and find the solution. Be there to help and guide those who self-govern. This is part of being a change agent; change agents are crucial roles to transformation.
• Transformation–any process involving change–will sometimes require the answer to be “no.” Don’t start the conversation or automatically answer with “no.” Start with “maybe,” do the research especially regarding folks academic side of house, and go from there.
• More often than not the “no” isn’t in the end result–it’s in the approach. Work with folks to get to the desired end result. Give people, and help them formulate options.
• Remember to focus on building mission-based partnerships: the college of arts & sciences is not the same as the medical school. They have different shoes to fill. Go to them, see what they need and how you can help them specifically.
• When you meet with departments about data-driven decisions, check your data with an administrator in that department prior to your meeting with top admins. If your data is wrong when you try to justify decisions on that data, your seat is gone and credibility–which is key to establish and uphold–gone as well.

So, how do you intend to engage, lead, and transform over the next few days while at the conference in order to spur revolutionary action at your institution?