Latest Ramblings

The Big Leadership Picture

September 30th, 2014 | Comments Off on The Big Leadership Picture

I recently wrote an article on work-life fit (and what I call the “myth” of work-life balance) as part of the Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab series. One of the comments on the Globe website struck me particularly. To paraphrase, the individual said he/she had worked for me a few years ago, that I walked the talk about which I had written, but that I had no idea what was going on in the levels of the organization “beneath” mine and I couldn’t possibly appreciate how far from the on the ground reality my aspirations sounded.

I have in fact been thinking of exactly that over the past number of months – although in slightly less stark terms. The question I’ve been ruminating on is how you push Putting People First throughout an organization. How do you move beyond capturing a slogan or a tagline to a real lived experience of every employee (and every student for that matter – although that’s a blog for another day)?

My thinking on this is evolving and I’m seeking advice from people more experienced and knowledgeable than I, but I am particularly fixated on the role of the manager. It is that first level supervisor of people in an organization that make the decisions, exercises the discretion, interprets the policies that have the greatest impact on the most number of employees throughout the organization. That group (and it is a large one – in the dozens at Ryerson) has the greatest impact on the experience, capacity for operational excellence, and emotional and even physical wellness of employees.

If I’m right about this then what do we need to be doing to deeply and effectively enhance the manager’s ability to build our People First culture?

Thoughts about what it means to be an enterprising university

September 22nd, 2014 | Comments Off on Thoughts about what it means to be an enterprising university

This is the last of a series of three blogs that focus on elements of Ryerson’s new Academic Plan.

Ryerson’s new five-year Academic Plan forges new territory by making explicit a set of values for the entire university. One of these is the value of being “enterprising.” This value may be one of the most unusual, and perhaps most controversial in a university context. The Academic Plan’s definition of “Enterprising” emphasizes action: “The university champions innovation and entrepreneurship, and empowers its students, faculty and staff to think creatively, take initiative and demonstrate resourcefulness.”

Ryerson is winning many accolades recognizing our contribution to entrepreneurship and innovation with the Ryerson Digital Media Zone being the most well-known, but far from the only example. Why has being enterprising caught fire at Ryerson in particular despite the fact that “innovation” is finding its way onto most university web sites? It’s because of the connection to the University’s Mission, to its DNA. At Ryerson the Senate policy requires that all programs have advisory committees, i.e. that they are connected. In an era of debate about the value of the university education, particularly liberal arts and social sciences, Ryerson’s mandate of societal need–connectedness rooted in Senate policy is especially well positioned to prove that value. Innovation is who we are not an affectation or an idea of the moment. Whether something is a zone or otherwise demonstrates its connection, the Ryerson University Act and our Senate ensure that meeting societal need is embedded in each new program. We were incubating new academic programs in the Chang School before “incubating” was a thing! Many well-known programs started in continuing education (e.g. Retail Management).

Being enterprising is connected to our goal of being Canada’s leading comprehensive innovation university. If the most obvious embodiment of this to some is the Digital Media Zone, it is equally Ryerson’s designation as Canada’s only Ashoka Changemaker Campus, the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Certificate in Aborigina​l Knowledges and Experience​s not to mention the Fashion Zone, Design Fabrication Zone and more. Soon after joining Ryerson, almost nine years ago (long before Zone education was in anyone’s vocabulary), I remember observing that one of the things I loved at Ryerson was that it was as entrepreneurial at the Ted Rogers School of Management as in the School of Disability Studies. I thought that was pretty striking at the time…and I still do.

Understanding labour market needs, listening to employers, policy-makers and institutions, predicting what the future holds for our students and listening to what our students tell us they need to learn (described in the Academic Plan as “trusting” students to learn) is what we do at Ryerson and distinguishes us from other universities.  We will continue our success by continuing Ryerson’s tradition of innovating in program and pedagogy.

We need to be equally innovative in our operations. We have good examples of administrative leadership. For example Financial Services has been a leader in developing paperless process and recently won an award for its leadership in e-procurement. Our food program is pushing the boundaries in local and sustainably sourced (and delicious!) institutional food.  Our student affairs area has been recognized for its innovative use of social media. For us to champion administrative innovation, we have to support creative thinking, take initiative and demonstrate resourcefulness.

To be enterprising in operations we need to do more to push the boundaries of being intrapreneurs.

  • What do Intrapreneurs do? They try new things. They learn from failure. They attempt to improve existing processes. They conserve resources.
  • Like their entrepreneur counterparts, intrapreneurs take initiative, aren’t afraid of taking risks, are innovative and creative, and are problem solvers. They don’t give up because the first attempt was a failure
  • They set up cross-functional teams and work on “pilots”. Why? Because pilot is a code word for “this may not work”: underpromise but overdeliver
  • Pilots are a good way to leverage existing resources to show things can work before making a budget request
  • An effective intrapreneur also keeps in mind the organization’s priorities. It is not about working on a favorite project but understanding how the project fits within the overall organization wide priorities and then pursuing it

Embracing the value of being enterprising from our new Academic Plan is as much about the nimbleness we will need to demonstrate to continue to build success in the future as it is to draw strength from our history and tradition of embracing change in teaching, learning and SRC.

Enterprising is who we are: past, present and future.

Linking our Work to the Academic Plan

September 8th, 2014 | Comments Off on Linking our Work to the Academic Plan

At last spring’s “MAC at the MAC” conference, held at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, I facilitated a discussion on how to integrate the, then draft, Academic Plan in our work across the university’s administration and operations. The goal of the talk was getting us all to think about how working in a university creates unique opportunities for thinking differently about our goals and how we do what we do. Here is an edited version of the opening talk.

The objective was to give our MAC colleagues an opportunity to use an interactive and technology-enabled forum to answer this call to action: to demonstrate our new Academic Plan values every day and to hold ourselves accountable to those values.

Academic Freedom

The first value in the draft framework of the Academic Plan is Academic Freedomdefined as, “The university embraces unequivocally freedom of thought and expression in support of teaching, learning and SRC activity within a culture of mutual respect.”

If it feels like academic freedom isn’t about non-academics, we have an important role in ensuring the integrity of academic freedom in the way we collaborate to run the university.

  • Our academic colleagues’ work is impacted by our action and support.  For example, how do the processes we administer enable scholarly, research and creative activity (SRC) or how does our computing capacity support big data research?
  • How do we ensure that the freedom of thought and expression in support of teaching, learning and SRC activity is conducted in an environment of mutual respect through, for example, the administration of policies that impact our people (eg in Human Resources and Discrimination and Harassment Prevention)?
  • How do we find ways to enable, remove barriers and simplify processes that allows our academic colleagues to truly exercise Academic Freedom (eg through procurement)?
  • How do we work with academics to mitigate risks that enable activities that support academic freedom? For example the contentious speaker series that may be “disruptive” is also an opportunity for debate and discussion or the international travel that will create an extraordinary learning opportunity for students in a war-torn zone of the world (eg through the support of the Integrated Risk Management department)?


Another value I explored is collegiality. The term is defined in the Academic Plan: “The university fosters a collegial environment and collegial institutions where students, faculty and staff work in collaborative ways to support the university’s shared mission.” This definition emphasizes one important part of the meaning of collegiality: that to be collegial requires collaboration, i.e. that we find means to foster mutual support. We consider this value foundational, so much so that collaboration was embedded in the Administration and Finance Vision, Mission and Values in 2010.

But there is another part of the meaning of collegiality that I hold to be equally important. That is the collegiality of governance of universities. That is the fact that universities are fundamentally, one might say axiomatically, governed by the collegium—the colleagues who make up the institution. That isn’t to say that universities, at the scope and scale in which we must operate, are not also bureaucracies in the classic sense, i.e. administered by experts, for example experts in law, finance, technology etc. And our Boards of Governors have critical accountability for the financial and administrative well-being of the institution. However, the mission of the university, as embodied primarily in the Academic Plan, is brought to life through collegiality and collegial governance. It is notable that the President, the Provost or the Board of Governors does not approve the Academic Plan. The Senate approves the Plan. We, as non-academic administrators, need to be respectful and supportive of this governance principle.

What do both these meanings of collegial mean for administrative and operational decision-making?

How do we work collegially to modify processes when possible or enhance understanding of the rationales underlying them?

How do we engage in dialogue that builds on collegial governance to evolve and strengthen our administration and operations?

Building on our Academic Plan, the “MAC at the MAC” conference was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue on bringing values-based leadership to everything we do in our work at Ryerson.

Some Key Excerpts from Ryerson’s Academic Plan for Administration and Finance Professionals

September 2nd, 2014 | Comments Off on Some Key Excerpts from Ryerson’s Academic Plan for Administration and Finance Professionals

Ryerson’s new Academic Plan elaborates four priorities and 29 supporting strategies. Interspersed throughout the plan is food for thought for administration and finance professionals and I encourage you all to read (and re-read) the plan to help shape your thinking as we launch our own five-year planning process.

This blog is intended as a working tool for Ryerson’s administration/finance professionals. I’ve drawn out some of the elements from the Academic Plan that I think are most applicable to the finance, infrastructure and people related work led by the admin/finance team.

I hope this will be helpful food for thought as admin/finance teams work on their strategic plans and as every individual thinks through what elements of the Plan most specifically impact the work you do.

1. The Values

All of the values need to infuse the work we will do collectively. Consider whether there are particular values that will be priorities in your areas of specialty. I’d encourage you not to just think of the “easy” ones. Consider how values that at first glance may not apply to you can enhance the way you do your work, and if applicable, lead your teams. How will you measure your effectiveness at applying the values? For example, how will you know that equity, diversity and inclusion is permeating all that you do?

2. Operational excellence

Operational excellence needs to be a key priority. We need to identify how we can all work smarter. A recent column in The Economist talks about decluttering the company. Do we need to declutter the university?

The Academic Plan challenges us to think as intrapreneurs: “Experimentation and collaboration among diverse teams will be encouraged to ensure that structures, systems, processes and services remain flexible, nimble and responsive as the needs of the university change. Potential enhancements and modernizations to the university’s IT assets, digital communication channels and enterprise platforms will be evaluated, taking into account Ryerson’s reputation for strong digital, design and technology capabilities. …”

The Academic Plan strategies provide some key directions:

Strategy 2. Assess administrative structures, processes and services to ensure ongoing effectiveness of university assets, support for academic programming and SRC activity, and enhanced space utilization.

Strategy 18. Streamline administrative structures, processes and resources to strengthen Ryerson’s research culture.

Strategy 22. Implement financially-sustainable mechanisms and initiatives to leverage and coordinate entrepreneurship and innovation-building activities across the university, and provide structures, frameworks and collaborative spaces to permit and support multidisciplinary participation.

3. Spaces that work and operations to support them

Space is probably Ryerson’s greatest deficit. With all the advantages of being a downtown urban university, our small footprint is a downside. We are already using many of our spaces extremely efficiently, especially our classrooms. But there are undoubtedly continued improvements to make building on shared space and improved planning. An example of this thinking is the design of our new building on Church Street where multiple academic departments are sharing key assets such as simulation suites and where terrific flexible spaces are being built where students from different departments will eat, meet and study.

According to the Academic Plan, “The university will also consider how existing space might be better used and shared. When future opportunities are presented to build or update facilities, consideration should be given to developing spaces that reflect the principles of the Master Plan, encourage collaboration and foster cross-disciplinary interactions to spark creativity and innovation.” (p. 14) … “[C]reate shared spaces where students will want to spend time with their peers” (p. 16)

Relevant strategies include:

Strategy 2. Assess administrative structures, processes and services to ensure ongoing effectiveness of university assets, support for academic programming and SRC activity, and enhanced space utilization.

Strategy 6. Offer services, supports, spaces and improved engagement opportunities that enable student success at all levels, encourage high retention, and facilitate the timely completion of students’ academic goals.

Strategy 13. Enhance the Library’s role as a provider of exceptional learning spaces, quality digital and physical collections, and innovative services for teaching, learning, research and collaboration.

4. People First

Our people are our greatest asset. The people who make up Ryerson and their genuine affection and institutional commitment, make the university what it is and allow us to change, experiment, innovate and evolve. Mutual understanding and a true commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion will allow us to maximize our commitment to Putting People First

Relevant strategies include:

Strategy 1. Attract and retain high-quality faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds.

Strategy 27. Cultivate relationships with Aboriginal communities and students to create an educational environment that embraces and supports Aboriginal perspectives and experiences, and builds community for Aboriginal people.

Strategy 28. Develop a university-wide community engagement and communications strategy that values equity, diversity and inclusion; leverages current engagement activity; and builds a more visible Ryerson presence in particular communities.

5. Research intensity is growing

Ryerson’s research intensity is growing and the research funding is ever more complex relying on greater partnership and with increasing restrictions and accountabilities. We need to continue to evolve to support our researchers and their changing needs.

As stated in the Academic Plan, “the research landscape is changing. With increased attention being paid to Canada’s ‘innovation gap,’ the focus on demonstrating the impact and relevance of university-based research is intensifying. External funding is shifting toward collaborative projects and moving away from traditional Tri-Council sources. As a result, the internal administrative structures needed to support SRC activity are changing…. Strengthening institutional supports for SRC activity and ingraining its importance in Ryerson’s culture at all levels is essential to the next stage of the university’s evolution. As such, the university will endeavour to streamline administrative structures, processes and resources” (p. 19-20)

Strategy 2. Assess administrative structures, processes and services to ensure ongoing effectiveness of university assets, support for academic programming and SRC activity, and enhanced space utilization.

Strategy 18. Streamline administrative structures, processes and resources to strengthen Ryerson’s research culture.

6. Technology has got to be a focus

If space is a huge challenge, the relentless pace of change and ubiquity of technology may be even tougher. The technology needs of research are massive with big data being only the most obvious example. Learning and teaching relies more and more on technology and we are currently in the process of choosing a new learning management system to replace Blackboard. Technology needs are also about how we engage and communicate with each other in ways we know about today and ways which we can’t even imagine in the future. As a comprehensive innovation focussed university, we need to make sure our technology including our systems  can keep pace with the innovation of our SRC, teaching, and student and employee engagement.

The Academic Plan challenges us to take a critical look at our technological capacity: “Potential enhancements and modernizations to the university’s IT assets, digital communication channels and enterprise platforms will be evaluated, taking into account Ryerson’s reputation for strong digital, design and technology capabilities” (p. 14).


Admin/finance professionals are going to be preparing their own 5-year plans over the course of this academic year.  More than 600 people strong our teams support Ryerson’s mission. We have an ambitious Academic Plan to draw from. It couldn’t be a more exciting time to plan for the future at Ryerson: it is truly our time to lead.

Why you need to care about the Academic Plan…even if you’re not an academic

August 18th, 2014 | Comments Off on Why you need to care about the Academic Plan…even if you’re not an academic

Here is my challenge to non-academic university administrators: how do you use the Academic Plan to frame your own 5-year strategic plan?

And a note to my academic colleagues: yes, we admin types are reading, parsing and thinking about the Academic Plan too!

Guided by Priorities

The Administration and Finance Management Group’s fall retreat will be on Ryerson’s new Academic Plan. For all of us, its four priorities will be the foundational guideposts for our administrative and operational responsibilities over the next five years:

Priority 1: Enable Greater Student Engagement and Success through Exceptional Experiences

Priority 2: Increase SRC Excellence, Intensity and Impact

Priority 3: Foster an Innovation Ecosystem

Priority 4: Expand Community Engagement and City Building

This fall’s meeting will be our second retreat related to the Academic Plan and to defining how we can support the university’s mission. Last spring we took half a day to examine the provincial, national and international context related to post-secondary education and then reviewed the then draft academic plan. Later in the spring the group of 50 or so non-academic directors and managers we call “AFMD” (Administration and Finance Managers and Directors) invited Provost Mohamed Lachemi to be its keynote speaker and lead in to an interactive workshop on innovation.

Planning that is Integrated

The objective of our fall 2014 retreat will be to give the Administration and Finance Management Group the time to collectively identify crosscutting values, goals and objectives which will underlie the strategic plans they will each be developing with their own teams—collectively a group in excess of 650 people. This is the first time Ryerson’s Administration and Finance areas have taken on this kind of cohesive and integrated planning related to an Academic Plan. This exercise will build well upon the Mission, Vision and Values we established in 2010.

This isn’t to say that administrative units individually haven’t created their own strat plans in past years. Many have and some are published on those departments’ web sites. We have also developed interdepartmental project teams to address particular challenges or operational needs. For example, right now we are building on work conducted by the Research and Innovation Office to identify opportunities for improved research administration with a team drawn from the Office of the VP Research and Innovation; Financial Services, Human Resources and CCS (VP Administration and Finance). However, in the past we have not together established Administration and Finance longer-term goals and objectives.

This integrated approach to strategic planning for 2014-2019 was contemplated not only by Provost Lachemi’s groundbreaking consultation (notably meeting with leaders in administrative areas multiple times before the plan was finalized), but also in the next steps identified in the Plan itself:

“All academic and administrative units will prepare or renew individual plans that support the university’s future direction set out in the academic plan. Units set goals and objectives for their respective areas and act on strategies contained in the academic plan that are relevant to them.” [Emphasis added]

Building on Strengths

As my team embarks on this process we are enthusiastic but realize we have a daunting task.

We are working within the context of enormous strengths. Ryerson’s reputation is soaring. We have more first choice undergraduate applicants for available spots than any other Ontario university. Our funded research has increased by 40% in the last two years and growing rapidly. We have terrific morale and benefit from students, faculty and staff who have enormous affection for and loyalty to Ryerson. We have in our DNA an academic commitment to societal need that means that we are connected in ways that inspire unique programs, teaching, scholarship, research and creative activity. We are located in a diverse, dynamic urban core. We have a growing commitment to a People First culture that enables the greatest success for our students, faculty and staff. We stand behind our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion with meaningful commitments. Our governance bodies act collegially in all senses of that word and our relationships with our unions are excellent.

We benefit from having a lean administration that permits us to be more nimble than many counterparts (believe it or not!). However, in many respects, we are the same “administration” as we were as a university of 10,000 students that we were not that long ago. Perhaps one way to think of it is that as a relatively young university (just past our 65th anniversary) we are in the administrative equivalent of adolescence: full of talent and potential, fully grown in some respects but not others, perhaps a bit gawky with limbs we can’t always properly control! (I am, after all, the mother of teenagers so this is a metaphor that I can relate to.)

Facing Up to the Challenges

At the same time as an administration we have grown and that means flow of communication isn’t as easy as it once was. We occupy buildings across campus so we no longer find ourselves able to build relationships and get work done in the Tim Horton’s line in the way we might have before. Activities that were the responsibility of one person or at least one unit now might touch multiple departments requiring consultation and collaboration and adding time and complexity.

Systems and processes that evolved when the university’s priorities were different (eg when research intensity was much less) need to meet current and future needs and aspirations. What were cutting edge and early adopter achievements a decade ago may not have the user experience we have come to expect today.

The fiscal, public policy and compliance environments have been in a period of tremendous change over the past decade so accountability measures and expectations (eg audit, risk, safety, procurement directives, granting council and other research funding models, information and privacy legislation and information security norms) have become increasingly onerous and public.

Of course technology and the place of technology in higher-ed have had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on our work and our lives. From big data, to the ubiquity of wireless devices and mobile computing, MOOCs to flipped classrooms, and the “paperless” process from e-hire to online catalogues for procurement: the needs of today and prognostications for tomorrow impact what we all do now (eg planning classroom size and AV/IT requirements for buildings that will open five years from now) and allow us to reimagine our futures. The Academic Plan rises to this challenge explicitly: “Potential enhancements and modernizations to the university’s IT assets, digital communication channels and enterprise platforms will be evaluated, taking into account Ryerson’s reputation for strong digital, design and technology capabilities” (p. 14).

And there is of course space – what some have called our greatest deficit. As a downtown urban campus we have to build space efficiently and thoughtfully. We must consider how and why we use, build and otherwise acquire spaces.  As the Academic Plan indicates: “The university will also consider how existing space might be better used and shared. When future opportunities are presented to build or update facilities, consideration should be given to developing spaces that reflect the principles of the Master Plan, encourage collaboration and foster cross-disciplinary interactions to spark creativity and innovation” (p. 14). Collaboration and partnership are key strengths whether with the private sector (eg Mattamy Athletic Centre with Loblaw), the broader public sector (eg research space with St Michael’s Hospital), or internally (eg hi-def simulation suites to be shared amongst multiple departments in our new building on Church Street). The kind of spaces we build have the potential to create enormous benefit to enhance student experience, as well as enhance the experience of those who work at the university.

Eyes on the Future

We need our administration and operations across the entire University, to achieve the same standards of innovation and excellence as the greatest aspirations of our teaching, scholarship, research and creative activity.

We need to think through what investments (human, technology, space, services) we need to make. We need to determine how to have seamlessness between administrative entities regardless of reporting structures. We need to make it easier to understand what you need to know and how to find that information whatever your role in the university. We may need to consider stopping doing some things in order to do other things better or to start new priorities. We need the leadership capacity to enable all of this important work.

And we need to achieve all of these plans in ways that are not only consistent with, but that enhance and celebrate the University’s mission and vision and breathe life into its values: excellence, the whole person, community and inclusion.

These are all the reasons why an Academic Plan is meaningful for non-academics.

Let the planning begin!

Implementing Your Great Ideas One Step at a Time

August 14th, 2014 | Comments Off on Implementing Your Great Ideas One Step at a Time

Ryerson students will know that two years ago we implemented Soapbox. Soapbox is an innovative technology that aggregates students ideas about how to make Ryerson even better than it is today (access it by logging into Over 11,000 Ryerson students use Soapbox. Ideas that get maximum votes get looked at by the “Idea Partners.” Over the past couple of years we’ve heard from students a lot about RAMSS (the student information system). Students have provided a wishlist of items for improvement but sitting at the top of that list has been waitlist functionality, ie if you are trying to enroll in a course that’s full why can’t you be automatically waitlisted? Good question! The Idea Partners jumped on the idea and we are thrilled to report that Ryerson’s Registrar (and Idea Partner) Charmaine Hack has started a pilot this fall for waitlisting for some selected courses in the Faculties of Science, Arts and TRSM. You can find more info here:

We are all looking forward to the results of the pilot. Congratulations to Charmaine for the initiative and thank you Ryerson students for using Soapbox to make Ryerson a better university.

Reflections on the Month of June

July 14th, 2014 | Comments Off on Reflections on the Month of June

Julia Hanigsberg

Photo by Clifton Li

On June 13, 2014, it was my great privilege to deliver the citation for the Honourable Roy McMurtry, upon whom Ryerson University conferred an honourary doctorate.

I took the occasion to share some highlights of the career of this legal and political luminary: Attorney General of Ontario in the Cabinet of Premier Bill Davis where he also served as Solicitor General; key protagonist in the patriation of the constitution and the development of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and principal participant responsible for the November 6, 1981, “Kitchen Accord,” a late-night agreement that broke the deadlock which had arisen in the patriation negotiations paving the way for nine provinces signing on to the constitution; Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; heading up the CFL; Chief Justice of Ontario’s Superior Court; and Chief Justice of Ontario.

While these highlights are exciting and speak to a man who has had great influence in law and politics I shared my opinion that they form an incomplete picture of the man. Roy McMurtry has throughout his entire life dedicated himself with all his considerable intellect, energy, warmth, compassion and wisdom to advancing the well-being of those who society could easily leave behind.

June is always an exceptionally busy, exciting and emotional time on campus. The early part of the month is spent readying and making beautiful our campus to welcome friends, family and new graduates for our dozen or so convocation ceremonies. 2014 was especially busy as World Pride was coming to Toronto and Ryerson and our close neighbours were playing host to many important events. WorldPride is an international celebration incorporating activism, education and the history and culture of global LGBT communities.

In celebrating the accomplishments of Roy McMurtry I closed with an example particularly apt for a sunny June afternoon with Pride celebrations approaching. Now, I expect, for the graduating class of 2014, it probably seems the most normal thing in the world that two men or two women can demonstrate their commitment to each other by being married.

Rewind the tape back to 2003, and that wasn’t the case. It was another June day when the Ontario Court of Appeal, over which Mr McMurtry presided, ruled that the legal definition of marriage was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ordered that the decision take effect immediately. The Globe and Mail described the profound impact of the decision this way:

“the legalization of same-sex unions was the most concrete sign of the country’s determination to be a socially liberal place, where differences can be celebrated and choice will be honoured.”

As a result of that ruling, The Globe and Mail named Mr McMurtry and his two fellow Court of Appeal judges who rendered this decision “Nation Builders of 2003.”

Despite Mr McMurtry’s great achievements there is still more to be done! I exhorted the grads of 2014 to take inspiration from the life’s work of Roy McMurtry and join him in commitment to building a civil, humane and just society.

Enabling Innovation in Times of Austerity

July 7th, 2014 | Comments Off on Enabling Innovation in Times of Austerity

Facing Reality

Ontario’s provincial government has targeted eliminating its $12.5B deficit in three years and we know some, if not all, of the implications of that target for Ryerson. What we can pretty safely assume is that there will be little new money and, as they have been for several years now, budget cuts will continue to be a reality.

Despite this, and perhaps because of it, we need to continue to drive an innovation agenda. We can’t possibly argue that doing the same things, the same way can possibly be the best choice going into the future.

Instead we need to look to innovation: we need to rethink how and what we do and reexamine the processes to find the way forward using all the means at our disposal.

Innovation Yesterday and Today

This isn’t new for us. We are innovators at Ryerson and have been for years.

  • When our enrollment growth was outstripping our space we took advantage of the Dundas Square redevelopment to enter into an agreement to use the movie theatres in 10 Dundas East during the hours when they aren’t profitable for commercial use and fitted them up with state of the art technology to meet student and faculty needs.
  • We take advantage of our location in the most active and dense part of our city to make ours a vertical campus eg by building our Ted Rogers School of Management above retail owned and operated by the private sector.
  • Student driven need for athletic and recreational space helped us to be creative in repurposing the historic Maple Leaf Gardens into a multi-use development.
  • We have achieved important sustainability targets and operational efficiencies by reducing reliance on paper in Financial Services long before peer universities.
  • Our student facing social media has been recognized for its leading practices.
  • Our incubator the Ryerson Digital Media Zone has been recognized as #1 in Canada and in the top 5 globally.

Innovation Tomorrow: Collaboration and Intrapreneurship

I’ve written about intrapreneurship and innovation before. Intrapreneurship is how employees within organizations take an entrepreneurial approach and apply it within an organization. Innovation is often defined but at its core is the concept of “using something new, or something known, but in a different way, different time or a different place.”

As we build upon our innovation culture the words of Ryerson Provost Mohamed Lachemi resonate with me. At a recent speech to members of the Administration and Finance Managers & Directors group a key takeaway was that “collaboration is at the heart of innovation.” Mohamed challenged us to build our innovation through the development of collaborative interdisciplinary teams.

Key Ingredients for Successful Innovation

1. Employ the strategies of intrapreneurship by making small moves small changes, testing the waters through pilots

2. Execute the innovative idea but be willing to accept failure as part of the path to learning

3. Develop and lead from an innovation mindset

  • Instead of thinking what services to cut, can we review the entire process or value chain to see if we can remove redundancies
  • Instead to thinking this is how we’ve always done it, can we look at what objective we want to achieve and then review the process to see if it should be done differently
  • Instead of being process focussed, can we be more outcome focussed – who are we serving, who is benefitting, are they really benefitting

4. Team work, especially cross-functional inclusive teamwork, builds better confidence in the new idea because diversity enhances innovation.

Our Time to Lead: Values and Ryerson’s New Academic Plan

June 20th, 2014 | Comments Off on Our Time to Lead: Values and Ryerson’s New Academic Plan

I recently was a speaker at Ryerson’s 2nd Annual Conference for its Management and Confidential Staff (#MACatMAC if you want to take a look at some of the twitter feed from the great event). The theme of my remarks was Value Based Leadership drawing on the values identified in the then draft, now approved, Academic Plan: “Our Time to Lead: Academic Plan 2014-2019.” The Academic Plan is the strategic plan for Ryerson for the next five years.

It is particularly exciting that our new Academic Plan articulates a set of Ryerson values. The values fall under three clusters: commitment to excellence; commitment to the whole person; and commitment to community and inclusion.

It follows that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the MAC group about value-based leadership. I wanted to emphasize that everyone is a leader regardless of job title or role in the organization. If you have a team that reports to you, you’re a leader. If to get your job done you have to leverage other people’s skills and knowledge, you’re a leader. If you are making change in the university you are a leader. You may express your leadership through volunteerism at work or in the broader community.

So if there is an opportunity for anyone and everyone to be a leader why are values important? Values inform the “how” of what you do and the “what.” Values tie your leadership to things that are meaningful. By looking at our Academic Plan values I asked the MAC group to consider how to directly connect their day to day work to the values that are attached to the mission of the university and our priorities over the next five years. The values also allow everyone who works at Ryerson to find their work reflected in the Academic Plan whether they are responsible for institutional planning, developing curriculum, teaching, preparing food, portering the halls, or maintaining the gardens.

How are you taking Ryerson’s values and making them part of what you do every day?

Can Space Make Change?

April 28th, 2014 | Comments Off on Can Space Make Change?

As a city-building university, Ryerson takes place making seriously. We express the importance through our Master Plan and through the buildings we build, most recently the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Ryerson Image Center and Image Arts Building, and the soon to be completed Student Learning Centre on Yonge Street.

But what about the spaces within our buildings. Can we promote sustainability, healthy living and even social inclusion by the way we design the interiors of our buildings? In a recent column in the Globe and Mail Leah Eichler neatly summarizes the research on how dangerous prolonged sitting is to our health. In the article she talks about a Danish designer who designs offices to encourage people to move around by putting printers and kitchen areas far from offices. This is sustainable design in the broadest sense with impact on environment and people.

In our own Financial Services department, individual printers have been replaced by a few central printers both discouraging unnecessary printing and reducing paper use and getting people on their feet when they do need to print. In our Capital Projects and Real Estate department there are few individual offices and standing desks were offered as an option when desks were replaced. As we are designing new buildings we are promoting healthy lifestyles through providing attractive stairs in addition to elevators. We are promoting diversity and inclusion by making sure there are gender neutral washrooms in new buildings and that we create them in existing buildings. Carleton University’s Discovery Centre includes treadmill desks for student use.

By considering intelligently designed open office space, fewer closed offices and interesting spaces for group and private work we can change how we collaborate just as the Toronto offices of Edelman Public Affairs demonstrate in their award-winning space. Ryerson’s new Student Learning Center design prioritizes open student learning and study spaces over carrels or fixed seating.

Can changing the mix of people you have on a floor, perhaps including different units with varied responsibilities break down silos? What about intermingling faculty offices with an incubator? Making changes including non-traditional spaces requires smart innovation, experimentation, intrapreneurship and (more than anything else) trust.

Designing spaces…another form of social innovation.