Too often we business types roll our eyes to the ceiling when we think about academia. Our images of university life immediately flash back to our own college days, but that image has little to do with the reality of university life today.
Today, college students are wicked bright, very hard working and highly focused on jobs, careers and the social impact of making a difference in the lives of others. As a group, current students and alums for the past eight or ten year are a massive category with huge numbers, but they also have far less spending power due to the very high cost of housing in general and the massive student debt that they carry.
From my perspective, (but then I'm mostly a business guy and still new to academia even after teaching for 20 years at MIT and 14 at Tufts) the reality is that any college or university is a complex business with the same pressing pressures and opportunities of meeting financial plans, creating consistently high customer satisfaction, and defining impactful differentiation in an increasingly competitive market. In fact, my general view is that "the business" of operating successful universities is far more complex than the average equally-sized private corporation making widgets or chemicals or software.
It's therefore not surprising for me to realize that the time management pressures on the part of deans, professors and senior administration needs to be at the same level of exactness and specificity as it is in corporate business life.
During the past year, what I've taken away from the deans as success factors in time management and have used to improve my own personal skills...which I previously thought were "pretty good"...are the following three better Ideas that I thought would be useful to pass along this morning:
1. Never schedule a meeting or a call without an agenda!
For a group meeting, this is standard operating procedure, and all of us have done this for years. Now, I find that even with every call, I either state two or three short bullets of a proposed agenda in the email or ask the person in that email "What do you want to accomplish in this 15 minute call?".
2. 15 and 30 minute meetings and calls work Perfectly!
I now schedule most of my calls for a stated 15 minutes...with an agenda. "Normal" meetings for 30, and complex meetings for 90 minutes. Other than senior management group strategy meetings, almost nothing gets scheduled for longer than 90 minutes and most often 30 minute meetings are not only "enough time", but are much tightly focused and much more meaningful.
I have a wicked commute home most nights and have found that the tactic of booking very specific 15 minutes calls works perfectly fine for both sides of the call...and also keeps me sane during the commute.
3. Follow-Up is critical!
For every business or student call and every meeting, I now send a follow-up email.
- For complex meetings of 90 minutes, there's a one pager of notes...even for board meetings.
- For 15 and 30 minutes F2F meetings, we take pictures of the whiteboard where we jointly developed and displayed ideas and follow up actions.
- For 15 and 30 minute calls, I ask the other person to send me a note bulleting "the next steps". My "Lessons from the Deans" has reinforced that without follow-up in any complex business, there's really no sense in having that call or scheduling any meeting.