Class notes - week one, Fall 2017

I kicked off my return to campus by attending the student welcome reception hosted by the Dean of the Humphrey School.

Table of contents

The message was one of encouragement to challenge yourself and others. We were encouraged to engage others with perspectives different from ours and address our differences through respectful dialogues. We were encouraged to seek out conversations with fellow students who came from other countries, to explore and better understand the perspectives they bring. We were reminded that as students at a public affairs school during challenging political times, we’re not here to avoid the issues of the world but to study and face them as scholars. The kickoff event really hit home for me that while I’m here to study nonprofit management, the environment where I’m doing that is much richer and the opportunity at hand to take part in that is special.

At the kickoff event I initially sat at a table with a group of students who were considerably younger than I am, enrolled in the full time Masters of Public Affairs or Masters of Public Policy programs. Most of them had entered the program immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree. One had spent a few years in the Peace Corps in between. We had a nice discussion though I was trying to neither act like I was above their awkwardness and young people problems, nor like I’m still as hip as they are. I did get to toss a little advice out to the table in regards to good places to look for jobs in the nonprofit sector, and hopefully that was helpful. I realized later that my email address is likely older than at least a few of them.

Before leaving the event I mingled with another table briefly which had some people closer to my age and a little older. A couple of them were professors, and a couple were in the mid-career MPA program. Cassandra, an African American woman originally from Chicago told me a little about her struggles coming from a poor neighborhood to working through adversity in her career before entering the program. I began to see how the mid-career MPA folks were a distinct breed at the Humphrey School, and Dr. Stone’s advice that I would fit that program well made a bit more sense.

When I made it down to the first evening of class I noticed that someone I knew from past involvement in a nonprofit networking group was also in the Strategic Planning class, as well as at least two people who were also in the Intro to Finance and Analysis class from the summer. There were lots of new faces too, 25 people in class in total, including numerous others seeking the nonprofit management certificate (which makes a lot of sense, given that this is a required class for that program).

I had made a decision prior to coming to class that I would try taking notes on screen using my Surface Pro and stylus. I read somewhere recently that taking notes by hand leads to better recollection than typing. A few lessons I learned pretty quickly about using the Surface Pro in this fashion were to throw a micro fiber cloth in my bag to wipe fingerprint smudges off the screen, adjust the Surface Pen to a narrower ink tip than is the default, and change the view in OneNote to display rule lines on screen to better mimic paper. I also learned that in OneNote (and subsequently in Drawboard PDF) that if you turn the Surface Pen over the bottom of it works as an eraser. Neat!

I made a note to myself to restock the business cards in my wallet. Am glad that I remembered to have them there in the first place, but ran out by the end of that first day.

Also made a note to purchase a second Surface charger. I didn’t bring it, both to save the bulk in the bag and to make it easy to leave in one spot at home so it’s always available there, and I ran into battery life issues both of the first two nights of class. The market for off brand laptop chargers can be a minefield, but they’re hideously expensive when bought from the manufacturer, so I took a chance with this well-reviewed Surface Pro charger by Aaweal and so far it’s worked great and seems very well built.

On the first night of class I rode my bike to campus, but drove on the second night. Finding street parking wasn’t happening for me so I parked in the ramp. On the bright side, there was a free charging station to top up my Nissan Leaf’s battery. On the downside it cost $9 to park, and I was worried about how that can add up twice a week through the semester. Seems like great motivation to bike more.

This is probably a lot more in the way of observations than I’ll write for subsequent weeks, there was just a lot to observe with college being a new and exciting thing again. The meat of what I’ll focus on later are a distillation of my notes from class (below), and I’ll likely have more in the future than what came out of week one in that regard.

Notes from Strategic Planning

  • “Competence is its own motivation”
  • This course is about expanding skill base to make the world better
  • Very best strategic thinkers make a concerted effort to reflect
  • Focus not just on the product but the process
  • Facilitation is a strategic planning tool
  • Strategic planning is not a substitute for leadership. There is no substitute for leadership.
  • Strategic planning is often by design deliberately disruptive
  • In practice, strategic planning rarely starts at step 1, and there are more ways to fail than to succeed.
  • Big takeaway from class = need to think strategically about strategic planning. Need to have a good reason for doing it and design it to not go off the rails.
  • Focus on what you control
  • If you’re stuck in a situation, attack the barriers
  • Build on strengths, capitalize on opportunities, minimize threats
  • Re-thinking a situation can flip a threat to an advantage
  • Changing the odds depends on understanding the systems

Notes from Strategic Human Resources Management

  • During class introductions I noticed that of the 12 students in class, 4 are from outside the United States. I’m really looking forward to hearing the perspectives they bring through the semester.
  • Critical thinking skills are a priority, they transfer to the business world.
  • “I hate rules” – anecdote of trading off-the-books overtime for off-the-books time off later. Sometimes leaders bend rules to create a positive culture. The basic test is fairness.
  • The head of an organization models the culture that org takes on.
  • When you change CEOs, you change leadership approaches.
  • Strategic Human Resources goes back to 1985. Core concept = HR should be more transformational than transactional
  • Risk - you don’t want to unknowingly risk too much. But on the other hand, need some risk to innovate. Some orgs are so risk averse it’s stifling
  • HR should take the lead in knowledge and change management
  • A lot of SHR is about seeing HR function as being an internal consultant for people and an advocate for employees in the organization
  • Empowerment means you’re also accepting responsibility.
Written on September 25, 2017