Latest Ramblings

Reflections on the Month of June

July 14th, 2014 | No Comments

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 | No Comments

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

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

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.

Work-Life Effectiveness Part III: A Personal Perspective

April 3rd, 2014 | 2 Comments

This is the last in a series of three blogs on work-life effectiveness. In parts I and II I talked about the context for work-life effectiveness and the role of human resources practices and employers. 

As an employee and team member I think I’ve experienced some of the range of what is possible. I’ve had jobs that were 60 hour average work weeks and others where I worked 9 to 5 on the dot.

For example, the first year after my maternity leave with my twins, I worked in a job with a fabulous boss who knew she wouldn’t see my face before 9 am or after 5 pm despite the fact that the job was in a high intensity department at a senior level.  But she trusted me to get things done–and I did (luckily those babies were great sleepers!).  The craziest job I ever had included being glued to my Blackberry 24/7. One Sunday I never got out of my pyjamas because I couldn’t get off my phone and computer long enough to change! The job itself was incredible and exciting and a wonderful learning experience, and unpredictable and ultimately, for me, it was time limited. I identified the point when I wasn’t willing to work at that pace anymore, and having learned a tremendous amount and having had real impact, I moved on to something else that gave me much more flexibility (having already put in place an effective succession plan).

As a leader, what do I do to encourage a culture of work-life effectiveness? I work to discipline when I look at email and when I use technology with my team. There’s no technology at mealtimes in my family. On weekends I will only email staff if it is truly time-sensitive –something that is pretty rare. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes need to work on weekends, but I prioritize, and when it comes to email, I schedule what I write so it doesn’t arrive in people’s in-boxes until Monday (Boomerang is a good tool for gmail users). The same goes for email to my peers and my boss. You can’t reduce your inbox if you clutter other peoples–inevitably there will be a reply!

For ourselves, and modeling for our teams, it’s critical that we each create our own definition of successful work-life effectiveness. That jigsaw puzzle isn’t the same for all of us and over the course of a career it will change for each of us. We need to have empathy for individual priorities and choices rather than judge. Whereas for me, family may come at the front of the line, for someone else that big priority might be high-performance sport. What was important as a mom of infants is different once those same kids are teenagers or away at university. Elder care obligations inevitably come “too soon”and as a surprise, no matter how old our parents are. Exciting jobs may show up at the least convenient times and shifting priorities can make what you want possible even if it at first doesn’t make sense. In my case I had a promotion during one pregnancy and committed to a new bigger job during a maternity leave!

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect life, but you can be thoughtful about what matters to you and what degree of imperfection you can live with.

I’ve set some key priorities:

Health: Staying healthy and fit is important to my overall mental and physical well-being so I carve out a chunk of time dark and early in the morning for a workout before my family is out of bed.

Loved ones: Friday night dinner is family dinner in my house with 10-12 people at my dining room table every week. I frequently turn down speaking or other invitations for Fridays and am not shy about telling organizers why.

On the other hand, there are things where I am prepared to  accept what’s less than ideal:

Housework/Cooking: My housework begins and ends on our main floor. I don’t even want you to guess what the rest of my house looks like.  And I’ll admit that we’ve gone through too many stretches where “making dinner” has meant dialing our favorite pizza or Indian restaurants.

Work travel: While I could travel more for my job, and I enjoy it, at this time in my life the logistics make much travel too challenging. I know the day will come where the demands on my time are different and I’ll be able to squeeze that travel in.

I’ve read that President Obama wears only grey and black suits to reduce the number of decisions he needs to make each day. We all take shortcuts where we can!

As individuals, as leaders of organizations, as managers of teams, we need to bring our whole selves to achieving work-life effectiveness. I try to model what I believe are good work-life fit examples, and I’m open with my team about the challenges I face and how I succeed (and sometimes fail) to manage them. And ultimately we will be successful if we walk our values and figure out how to put people first.

Work-Life Effectiveness Part II: The Role Human Resources Plays

March 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment

In Part I of this blog series I talked about the context for thinking about work-life effectiveness. In Part III I’ll share my own personal reflections.

While HR policies aren’t sufficient to build an organizational culture that supports work-life effectiveness, they are absolutely necessary.

Policy Needs Culture to Achieve Change

It is critical that organizations put in place those policies that give employees greater choice and freedom within their roles. These policies aren’t just for moms either. Elder care is coming at us like a demographic tsunami and it is one of the most understudied areas of public policy–governments haven’t figured it out–and relatively unexamined by employers.

Flexible work arrangements aren’t just about working from home. There are lots of other examples including flexible work schedules, reduced or compressed work weeks, flexibility around personal time off, self-funded sabbaticals, to name a few. All of these require that both employees and employers be patient and thoughtful. Things won’t always work out perfectly all the time. In some cases arrangements will have to be cancelled by employer or employee. Critically important though is adopting an employment culture that doesn’t see different work arrangements in terms of “keener” and “slacker”! A critical success factor is a culture of acceptance–something leaders need to model in their personal behaviour and respond to their own life needs.

By focusing on some of the basic management skills we know are important, but can lose track of in the mad dash, we can help employees be more effective and we can be more effective ourselves. For example, by measuring performance by clear objectives you can get away from valuing face time. Clear communication practices can help us to lead more effectively and even reduce the burden of the ubiquitous email. Some employers have experimented with prohibiting email evenings and weekends.

The Team Approach

The most effective approaches to cultural shift revolve around whole teams. For example, Dr. Leslie Perlow’s research with the Boston Consulting Group on “predictable” time off,  showed that when the team, rather than an individual, rallied around a work-life effectiveness goal, it was much more likely to be achieved. In that case the team committed to each member getting one evening off no matter how much work the team had or what the deliverable. While individuals were initially reluctant to take their time when their turn arrived, the team supported them and ultimately as a whole was empowered and all individuals benefitted.

Workplace flexibility, when supported culturally, is a benefit to the individual, the team AND the employer. Not only because happier employees are more productive more engaged employees, but also because we can achieve specific business goals and sometimes at reduced cost. For example, if you  have staff who work a 7 am to 3 pm shift and others who work a 10 am to 6 pm to manage child care and commuting, the result is a 7 am to 6 pm coverage without the expense of overtime.

The business case is there for making work and life more effective.

Good Food at Ryerson

March 26th, 2014 | Comments Off

One year ago, I first met Joshna Maharaj. Today she is Ryerson’s Executive Chef and Assistant Director of Food Services. Back then I knew of her as a local food advocate and someone who was working on hospital food reform. Joshna and I originally connected on Twitter and followed up with a meeting in my office. By the end of that first meeting, I knew I’d found the perfect “partner in crime” to create a revolution in food at Ryerson.

From that moment on, Ryerson’s journey to a university where food matters went from a small question (can we make food on campus less expensive and taste better?), to a great idea (can we embrace a politics of food that is not only about great taste and accessibility but also about local production and sustainable sourcing) to execution on a plan that is nurturing the Ryerson community every day.

Working closely with students, faculty, Rye’s HomeGrown, the Centre for Studies in Food Security, University Business Services, the phenomenal Food Services team, Ryerson’s OPSEU leadership and Chartwells (our food management company), Joshna has built Ryerson Eats: a healthy, sustainable food program across campus. Food that is delicious, healthy and sustainable? What a People First way to solve a problem. What a Ryerson way to create an opportunity. What a city-building change making approach to a university service.

The new Ryerson Eats is still in its early days and there is much more to come. But our successes to date are a reminder to me of an expression I first heard used by the late David Pecault: the strength of weak ties–how the connections we make with people can end up propelling us to make changes in our organizations and our world… in this case one cup of soup at a time.

What’s the Big Deal About Ryerson’s Diversity Self-ID?

March 24th, 2014 | Comments Off

What is it?

The Diversity Self-ID is a brief survey all Ryerson employees are being asked to take through the eHR portal (for detailed instructions go here).

Why is Ryerson asking these questions?

At Ryerson we take pride in the diversity of our community and we should. But in order to achieve our goals of inclusion and equity we need to look at who we are and ask ourselves serious questions about how reflective we are of our context (Toronto and the GTHA) and of our students. But without adequate data, we can’t undertake this self-reflection and determine where and what changes we need to make. The Diversity Self-ID will help us build the data we need. As our website says: “It is critical to Ryerson’s success to remove barriers and promote the inclusion of all Ryerson employees, including those from equity-seeking groups. We want to find out where we are in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion to help us determine the best path to where we want to be.”

Why now?

It is axiomatic that what gets measured matters. Collecting employee equity data isn’t new at Ryerson — we’ve been doing it for 20 years or more. However, in the past we have captured the data based on categories driven by rules set by the federal government. In addition, we weren’t sufficiently clear with employees about why we were collecting the data and why it mattered. Not surprisingly not all employees were motivated to answer the questionnaire they were provided when they joined the University.

Over the past several years at Ryerson we have expanded our values around equity, diversity and inclusion beyond what the rules tell us we must ask. For example, in the new Diversity Self-ID survey we have added LGBTQ* to the list of groups. We have also nuanced the definition of different equity categories.

Why should you care about diversity?

I believe that reflecting diversity of our students and community makes us a better university.  Diversity can contribute to increased participation in post-secondary education for groups that have not traditionally been able to access higher education and the opportunities it creates. Exposure to diverse role models help shape aspirations in young minds. Students who experience diverse perspectives are better able to understand new ideas and solve problems, and will be better prepared for the challenges they will face after graduation. These are the city-builders and global citizens of the future: people who will leave Ryerson empowered with the knowledge, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship to engage in social justice and making our world better, both locally and globally.

As the Ryerson Taskforce on Anti-racism told us in its 2010 report “As a downtown institution at the heart of one of the most diverse cities in the world, Ryerson must pursue its mandate to ‘advance applied knowledge and research to address social need’ with the realization that diversity and difference now define such a place of learning and knowledge production.”

Also, as an employer we care about diversity. A diverse workforce contributes to employee engagement. The more diverse and inclusive we are the better our  responsiveness to an increasingly diverse student body, our relations with our multicultural city, and our ability to cope with change, and expand creativity, innovation and intrapreneurship at the University.

Want to learn more?

Our Assistant Vice President/Vice Provost Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and our Assistant Vice President Human Resources have put together a terrific video:  Check out the video and the associated web site for everything you need to know about the Diversity Self-ID.

The Final Word

At Ryerson we Put People First. We can’t do that without your help! Stand up and be counted. Fill out the Diversity Self-ID survey so Ryerson can have the full picture.

Work-Life Effectiveness Part I: Some Context

March 19th, 2014 | 6 Comments

In this three-part blog series I’ll be taking a look at the issue of “Work-Life Effectiveness,” a topic I was delighted to recently be invited to speak about at a two-day conference on Women and Leadership in Technology. Part I will focus on research, part II on HR practices and some Ryerson experience, and in part III I’ll share my own personal priorities and reflections.

The Intensity of the Modern Workplace

There has been an enormous volume written on work-life complexity. Some recent research I found to ring particularly true comes from Linda Druxbury of Carleton University’s Sprott School of Management and Chris Higgins of the Richard Ivey School of Business. The two have been looking at workplace culture over the past 20 years. Their latest research focuses on work intensity–the “unremitting” quality and quantity of work many of us face or observe around us.

As Druxbury observes “We look at workload in two ways: Total time commitment, and the unremitting nature of work. As you rise in the organization, there are no breaks from work. You are not only expected to donate your work day to the organization but also your nights and weekends.”  According to their research more than one-third of those studied missed a day of work because they were emotionally or mentally fatigued and just couldn’t face going in. Arianna Huffington talks about her own struggle with this phenomenon of extreme burn-out. Sharing her story is important because many of our workplace cultures operate as if only wimps need sleep and time away from work!

The Technology Factor

What are some of the causes of this situation? According to Druxbury a major contributor is the proliferation of technology. How many of us can relate to the feeling that we are chasing our inbox and spending more time focused on what to do with email rather than thinking? According to Druxbury and Higgins the average person spends four hours on email each work day and two hours on off days. How do employees interpret the actions of a leader who checks her smartphone during a meeting? Or who sends out information for an 8 am Monday meeting Sunday at 11 pm? If that’s a description that sounds oddly familiar you might think you are projecting how busy and important you are. On the contrary, according to Druxbury, those leaders are seen “as someone who can’t get their act straight.”

The Too Lean Workplace and the Productivity Gap

Another contributor to the phenomenon is what Druxbury calls (somewhat unfortunately) “corporate anorexia”:

We have taken most of the fat out of the system. Most organizations I deal with are anorexic, and anorexia is lethal in the long term. So is not having enough staff to do the work or meet the expectations, or having too many expectations and number one priorities for the number of people you employ, both of which are huge predictors of work intensification.

We may have thought that technology would make our workplaces more efficient and reduce the number of people we need to carry out administration, but Druxbury’s research suggests what many in our workplaces have been telling us–we may have gone too far.

In their book Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober make the argument that smart bosses will tell their employees to “go home.” They rely on countless examples, from nuclear to trucking accidents, the healthcare professions and Fortune 500 companies to demonstrate that working exhausted doesn’t lead to good quality work.

Similarly, Harvard Business School ethnographer Leslie Perlow has identified in her book Finding Time that the employees who work the longest hours don’t necessarily contribute more to corporate productivity. Her conclusion is that no one benefits from this behaviour–least of all the corporation. Her research led to an interesting experiment at the Boston Consulting Group where she successfully was able to work with teams to implement “predictable” time off, defined as time off at a known time regardless of whether the team’s work was done. The results were impressive and BCG implemented the approach across its global practice.

The Challenge

How do these employment practices impact happiness at the individual and national level? I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of happiness at work, and the United Nations’ World Happiness Report makes the case that the world needs to include human well-being as a component of economic and social development.

Intuitively we know that quantity and quality of work don’t equate–and there’s research that backs up this intuition. As individuals and leaders what can we do to see the difference and manage teams to excellence rather than volume despite the fire hose quantity/quality of the work we all seem to be doing?

Reclaim the B

March 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments

I remember a conversation I once had with one of my teenaged daughters. She said something along the lines of, “I know I’m bossy and sometimes when I’m doing group work I’ve got to tone it down, but I just like things done right.” I feel you sister!

The latest shot across the bow from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In organization is the crie de coeur to ban the word “bossy.” She (rightly) bemoans its sexist use to describe girls and complains that boys with the same behaviour get to be called leaders. She’s enlisted an all star cast of supporters including Condoleezza Rice and Beyonce (among others). Not surprisingly, they put together a great PSA.

Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t stray away from controversy. Her book Lean In and its eponymous foundation garnered its fair share of criticism. I liked the book and much of it rang true for me, something I’ve blogged about before.

But I think the #banbossy movement is a serious misstep. First of all it is trivial. There are lots of big problems women and girls face in North America and around the world. If I were to have Sandberg’s capacity to pull together celebrity clout to influence solving a problem the dangers of “bossy” wouldn’t be on my top 1000 list. Secondly, it suggests girls and women are such tender flowers that being called bossy is enough to torpedo their nascent feminist selves. Being called bossy as a girl doesn’t seem to have held Sandberg back. In fact in the book, I got the feeling she was owning her bossiness.

Maybe it’s just because I AM bossy and it hasn’t held me back much, but I’m simply not fussed about bossy. In fact, I don’t mind being called bossy.

Or as I wish Beyonce had said, “I’m bossy AND I’m the boss.”


Photo by K.Romero


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