Can we be big and nimble?

by julia.hanigsberg | January 13th, 2014

One of my favorite Sunday reads is New York Times business columnist Adam Bryant (@NYTCornerOffice) whose column “Corner Office” interviews a different CEO each week. Bryant’s latest book Quick and Nimble is on my 2014 reading list. In it he asks leading CEOs how to create a culture of innovation.

In post-secondary education administration we should be asking ourselves the same question. While in Ontario (and in different forms across much of North America and the EU) we are answering government’s call to explain our unique value within the university system (or “differentiation” in higher ed jargon), at Ryerson we are thinking about how our administration needs to be equally differentiated. We are a large university by all traditional measures of size. However, over the past eight years, I’ve observed at Ryerson a leanness and almost underdog cockiness that comes, I’m guessing, from our polytechnic roots and our groundedness in a mission that links our academic mission, teaching, research and creative activity, to societal need.

So as a large university, and without a doubt a mature comprehensive university, how do we make sure we don’t lose that swagger that serves us well. How do we ensure our administration is nimble and flexible to meet our needs today and doesn’t get ossified so it fails to meet our needs tomorrow?

  1. We have to keep asking the question: How can we do better? We do this by tools such as Soapbox which enables our students to give us constant feedback and crowdsource ideas on how to be better in ways big and small.
  2. We need to be open and transparent about what we do. By making our university community of students, faculty and staff aware of how we do things, how we are funded and where the money goes, we better enable the best ideas to come from all quarters.
  3. We need to pilot new approaches to old problems and implement solutions that work and take the feedback we get from those that don’t pan out the way we’d hoped.
  4. We need to ensure we maintain the kind of culture where new ideas flourish, where asking questions is valued, and where mutual respect permeates everything we do.

What else can we do to be a university administration as nimble and exceptional as we know we can be?

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