Latest Ramblings

Working our Values: Openness and Transparency

February 4th, 2014 | Comments Off on Working our Values: Openness and Transparency

At the beginning of each new year, one of the important things I do as Vice President, Administration and Finance, is to help develop Ryerson’s operating budget.

In this role, I serve as a member of the Macro Planning Group, chaired by the Provost and Vice President Academic, Mohamed Lachemi. The other members of the committee are the Deputy Provost & Vice Provost University Planning, Paul Stenton, and Janice Winton, the Chief Financial Officer. Guided by Ryerson’s academic plan strategic objectives, we review budget submissions from the university’s academic and administrative units. These submissions represent the financial requirements of all the important operations of the university; for example, how do we pay

  • to teach all the course sections we need to offer,
  • to build new labs,
  • to improve wireless services or upgrade other parts of the communications system,
  • to build space for an important new piece of research equipment,
  • to hire new faculty, and
  • to plant the gardens.

The submissions we consider also represent all the exciting new initiatives that speak to the aspirations and creativity of the entire university.

The hardest thing about sitting at the Macro Planning Group table is that there is so much more worth doing than the university can afford while maintaining a balanced budget – a sound and responsible requirement of the Ryerson Board of Governors.

Share your ideas and ask your questions

One of the goals of our budget process is to be open and transparent. And one of the features of this openness and transparency is the opportunity for the entire Ryerson community to participate in town halls to ask questions and make suggestions.

Held by the Provost and Deputy Provost, these are critical opportunities for you to have your say and to ensure you understand the impact of dollars and cents on what you care about at Ryerson.

Openness and transparency is a two-way street: play your part!

Can we be big and nimble?

January 13th, 2014 | Comments Off on Can we be big and nimble?

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?

I’m Sorry

January 6th, 2014 | Comments Off on I’m Sorry

I want to apologize to the Ryerson community for the quality of the paint work on the Gould and Victoria Streets pedestrian way. At Ryerson, we pride ourselves on innovation and entrepreneurship, creating an extraordinary student experience and an environment where we put People First. In the Administration & Finance team we hold as one of our key values execution: the ability to get things done. With the resurfacing of Gould and Victoria Streets we fell short on this commitment. I am extremely sorry and my Campus Facilities & Sustainability team is doing everything it can to make things right.

I want you to understand what happened, and what we are doing to rectify the situation.

First, we were inspired by the great work done in New York’s Times Square and wanted to make an exciting splash for the week of welcome when students returned to the University in September. We soon realized we couldn’t complete the design we wanted in time so we decided to do a phase 1 that would be bright and express our blue and gold pride. We did the work in a rush. We put speed ahead of quality of application. That was our first mistake.

Second, when it came time to execute the phase 2 we worked with our designer on a design that was dynamic and incorporated some needed wayfinding. Our testing of the adhesion of the new paint to the existing phase 1 paint was not sufficiently extensive. Testing failed to reveal that the new durable epoxy paint was going to peel off our phase 1 paint. Again, we were rushing because the weather was getting colder and we had a narrow range of temperature when the epoxy could be applied. I required my team complete the work before the temperature dropped. That was my mistake.

Thus, shortly after we completed our “final” effect, it was shortlived. The paint started to peel immediately. Efforts at repair were ineffective and didn’t live up to the quality we wanted and the community deserves. Understandably I heard from many of you how deeply disappointed you were. You are right to be disappointed. However, now with the cold weather there is simply nothing to do until spring.

We are working on a solution. We have assigned a new project manager to make sure quality control is achieved from start to finish including removal of the current product and new surface preparation to achieve a durable result. We will not be spending any additional university funds. We have confidence that our designer, painting contractor and team will stand by their commitment to achieve an excellent quality result.

Stay tuned to my Twitter account @hanigsberg or Soapbox for more updates. I understand people want frequent communications from us so we will do a better job at keeping you informed but don’t expect to see any new activity on site until this spring.

On behalf of myself and the Campus Facilities & Sustainability team, I appreciate your understanding as we get this fixed. I hope you accept my personal apology.

This Season of Festivals

December 19th, 2013 | Comments Off on This Season of Festivals

I’m a friendly sort, but I confess that I’m also one of those people who have Grinch-like tendencies this time of the year.

Weeks of Christmas music starting the second that Hallowe’en candy and decorations go on sale (if not before) is enough to make me grind my teeth. So, I must make a concerted effort to look beyond the frantic commercialization of late autumn in order to find greater meaning.

A vibrant holiday tapestry

Now, while Christmas dominates December in Canada, here in Toronto I am refreshingly reminded of the cultural and spiritual diversity with which we are so lucky to live. During this month there are so many other festivals of light that my friends and colleagues and loved ones enjoy: among the myriad is Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice. At Ryerson I’m glad we have lots of opportunities to learn about so many diverse cultures and faiths through exposure to these and other vibrant holidays.

Whatever your background, whatever your beliefs, I hope you will find in this light-filled season many moments of calm and happiness. Enjoy time with your friends and family, as well as on your own. Eat the treats, and don’t forget How the Grinch Stole Christmas always plays on TV in December.

Nurturing Intrapreneurship

December 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off on Nurturing Intrapreneurship

Ryerson is a University that has built a tremendous reputation on entrepreneurship and innovation. The most well-known example is our DMZ (Digital Media Zone). Ryerson has also been named Canada’s only Ashoka Changemaker Campus in recognition of our commitment to social innovation. The Provost is currently consulting on the next Academic Plan in which he is exploring the concept of “zone education” as a way of spreading these concepts across the curriculum.

But what do entrepreneurship and innovation mean for the team responsible for administration and finance across the University? At a recent breakfast for our Administration & Finance leaders I asked the group to consider what it would mean for us to all think of ourselves as intrapreneurs. Wikipedia defines intrapreneurship as “employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new without being asked to do so.”

What do intrapreneurs do? They try out 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 risk, are innovative and creative and they are problem-solvers. They don’t give up because the first solution they try doesn’t work. These are attributes that the business world has long valued and they are also attributes that can steer you toward career advancement and happiness.

This concept may have a new name but it isn’t a new idea. One of the best known examples is the “Skunk Works” group at Lockheed Martin. The group was brought together in 1943 to build the P-80 fighter jet. When we talk about “skunk works” style projects now (often in the context of technology) we typically mean a loosely organized and cross-functional team that works autonomously to solve a particular problem. More contemporary well-known corporate examples are Intel, HP, 3M and Google each of which encourages employees to undertake projects in an innovation-friendly atmosphere.

An article called “The Intrapreneur’s Playbook” in Fast Company magazine has some tips that resonate with me for our team.

  • Think of “pilot” as “code for ‘this may not work’.” In other words: under promise and over deliver and don’t let the chance of failure get in the way of trying out a new idea.
  • “[B]ootstrap as long as possible.” Why? “When people give you money, they expect results.” Leverage existing resources to show how you can solve a problem before you make the budget request.
  • To be an effective intrapreneur you need to balance innovation with the organization’s priorities. Innovation doesn’t mean going off willy nilly in your own direction.

You may already be exhibiting intrapreneurship without even knowing it. A couple of members of the HR team started “Ask an HR Expert,” a weekly lunch time drop-in for anyone who wants some informal career development advice. This is a great example of intrapreneurship and there are lots more out there. I’m eager to hear more examples. Comment on this blog, or tweet me @Hanigsberg with the hashtag #RUIntrapreneur

Are you ready to take the plunge into intrapreneurship in your work at Ryerson?

Working our Values: Collaboration

November 11th, 2013 | Comments Off on Working our Values: Collaboration

I can’t believe more than three years have passed since I became Ryerson’s Vice President, Administration and Finance. One of the first things I did back then with my (then) new team, was to develop a statement about our vision, mission and values. Among the values we identified was collaboration – and it is one I talk about (a lot).

Our view of collaboration

The importance of collaboration is often raised, but I find that many people don’t have a clear definition or shared understanding of just what it is. For our part, the Administration and Finance Management Group defined collaboration as the building of cross-functional teams from across the university.

Our definition arose out of a belief that in order to be truly collaborative you have to seek out others’ ideas before your own are fully formed. You need to make yourself vulnerable by admitting you don’t necessarily have all the answers to a particular problem and that you may not even be formulating the right question.

Collaboration isn’t about issuing a directive and then attempting to get everyone to endorse it. Such an approach might be “consultation,” but I’m not even sure about that!

Success through collaboration

Collaboration – genuine teamwork – creates solutions that are smarter, more realistic and likely to succeed. The drive to collaborate requires accepting that expertise doesn’t necessarily own solutions. In the final analysis, all of us working together are smarter and more effective than any one of us working alone. That, to me, is the genius of collaboration.

Happiness at Work

November 4th, 2013 | Comments Off on Happiness at Work

In a Globe and Mail column, citing a recent poll that indicated only 13% of those surveyed were engaged at work, Leah Eichler (@LeahEichler) asked the important questions why and what can employers do about it?

Putting People First

At Ryerson we have developed an approach we call People First (or #People1st when I tweet about it!). I’ve already written a couple of blogs on this topic. The phrase was initially adopted in our Master Plan to represent prioritizing people in development of our physical campus. People First is now well-established as the umbrella principle for decision-making about key elements of campus life for students, faculty and staff alike.

What are some examples?

  • As Jessa Chupik (@humanehr), Ryerson’s manager of recruitment, retention and employment equity said in Eichler’s column: “We tend to make broad generalizations about Gen Y, X … about what makes them happy in the workplace.  Instead, we should be asking employees for their opinions or input into how to improve the culture and happiness of an organization.” That’s precisely what our People First survey did and we are both probing the results and implementing changes that respond to them.
  • Currently focus groups are refining the survey data and “Conversations With” Assistant Vice President/Vice Provost Denise O’Neil Green (@diversity_blog) are enabling members of equity-seeking groups to share their experience of working at Ryerson.
  • Establishing an Employee Assistance Plan was a key People First initiative, as was our more recent reimagination of food at Ryerson (@RUEats) to better meet the needs of students and employees alike to support a more sustainable food system.
  • Our Ryerson Awards Night and new array of awards and recognition is another key achievement of People First.
  • Deploying the Soapbox app has allowed over 9,000 students to get their ideas for making Ryerson a better place in front of university decision-makers.
  • Our researchers portal helps to take some of the friction out of administration of research for faculty.
  • We measure student engagement through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and those scores are included in the University’s key performance measures (KPIs) that it reports on annually to the Board of Governors (see the last 5 years results here:

The Happiness Project…At Work?

Is it shallow to care so much about happiness? Taking action to improve one’s happiness can motivate important life changes and have positive impact on family and community (see best-selling author Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project). Our acute concern (obsession?) with work-life “balance” (one of my most hated phrases) may be utterly misguided: if each part of the equation makes you happy maybe you won’t be as concerned with the (in my view futile) teeter-totter of balance? In addition, there is widely reported evidence to suggest that happier employees positively impact the bottom line.

But beyond the numbers there is a value-based rationale for caring about employee happiness. I’d argue that we don’t make student engagement a strategic priority at Ryerson because we want to be the most applied to university in Ontario, but rather that we are the most applied to university (first choice applicants to available spaces) BECAUSE we put student engagement (happiness) first. Of the Ryerson Administration & Finance team’s 8 values 6 directly contribute to People First (user focus; collaboration; respect; integrity; equity, diversity and inclusion; communication). Why? Because we believe that caring about all Ryersonians (the #ramily!), at work, learning, and while engaging in research, scholarship and creative activity underpins who we are: an edgy, urban, engaged university where we challenge all community members to make their mark through innovation, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and social innovation.

The “Real” Bottom Line

Choose to work somewhere that is motivated by your happiness. Do your part to create happiness around you at work and at home. What will you do today to build up the happiness quotient for you and those around you?

Painting the Heart of a Campus

October 31st, 2013 | Comments Off on Painting the Heart of a Campus

For the past several weeks I’ve been talking about Gould Street with people who love the new look as well as people who are indifferent, amused or even (a minority) incensed. I’ve given interviews and in print to the campus media. I believe it’s important to talk about not only what we do, but why we do it. I’d like to thank my colleague Prof Kileen Tucker Scott of the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing for asking the probing questions that got me thinking about this blog post.

Making a Better Gould Street

For over a year I’ve been in discussions and consultations regarding how to improve the look of the Gould Street pedestrian zone. Ever since the RSU successfully led the campaign to close Gould Street there have been questions about what’s next.

I’ve discussed possible funding opportunities with our City councillor and explored how we might secure a donor with Adam Kahan. I’ve sought advice from our Public Realm Advisory Committee. Based on these discussions, last spring we issued an RFQ for design and implementation of an approach to achieving a more beautiful and high impact Gould St–an approach that would clearly announce that “you’re at Ryerson!” We awarded the job to Elias Design and that’s the approach you’ve seen implemented during the month of October. This is a highly durable epoxy surface. It will require minimal touch up in the spring but is designed to withstand winter weather, snow removal, cleaning etc. We had hoped to implement this solution before the semester start up in September but because the epoxy needs several days to dry between coats we had to defer to October when there is less traffic on the street.

However, two weeks before students were scheduled to return to campus and without any notice the City of Toronto performed “repairs” on Gould St. that left it an absolute mess. We immediately had complaints about the poor state of things (including through Soapbox). We decided that we needed to take some quick remedial action. Our terrific team of painters and carpenters did a fantastic job on no notice to achieve the blue and gold you saw in place for September. Not only did this conceal the ugly patchwork job of mismatched pavers used by the City, but it fostered a real sense of fun during and after Week of Welcome. It certainly got people talking!

The Price Tag

As for cost, we allocated close to $6M for maintenance, repairs and renewal for this year. We anticipate allocating another $4M. Most of this money went to creating new labs, enhancing accessibility of facilities, renewing aging infrastructure to support research and teaching, washroom renovations, new office and other spaces: The cost for the two phases of Gould St was approximately $25,000 for phase I and $170,000 for phase II representing approximately 3% of what was spent this year. The funding comes predominantly from the University’s operating budget.

The Real Bottom Line is Reputation and Pride

Why do we engage in campus beautification strategies? It is our belief that by defining our spaces as Ryerson, by making them more attractive and engaging we send a message of caring to our entire community. We build our sense of campus and place and create a strong sense of Ryerson pride. By making the campus look better we encourage everyone to treat it better. We also hope that these enhancements help attract funders. In fact I am very committed to finding a donor or donors who will help us continue on campus beautification projects and would love to explore public art and other ways to continue to make Ryerson’s public realm a contribution to our city-building. Consistent with the Ryerson Master Plan these kinds of projects enhance student engagement and reputation.

What do you see as the next steps for the Ryerson campus?

5 Tips on How to Spend Time Well

October 28th, 2013 | Comments Off on 5 Tips on How to Spend Time Well

One of my professional challenges is how to spend my time. Time is a precious resource as we all know. It is a cliché that we are all so busy! Every once in a while I feel like I hit a wall and have to do some re-evaluation—am I using my time in the smartest way?

Google “productivity” and you get 168,000 hits. I’m not the only one trying to figure out how to do more with less. Many of us are also committed to work-life integration: the quest to make our professional and personal worlds mesh to increase our well-being. For me this includes most days seeing my kids off to school and being home for dinner, making parent-teacher interviews, competitions and performances, most days getting a workout in before the workday begins, and having a chance to compare notes with my husband. All of which means there rarely feel like there are enough hours in the day.

So, here are some tips I’m testing out to make the most of my time:

  1. Put People First: meet with people who matter. For example, students who ask to meet with me always get priority and so will members of my team. In my work focusing on what students care about is critical to doing my job well.
  2. The 2 Minute Rule: this is a GTD tip. If you can get something done in 2 minutes, do it, don’t put it on a list or stick it in your calendar.
  3. Don’t let the urgent get in the way of the important: just because someone wants you to do something fast doesn’t mean that thing is a priority. Sometimes you need to say no to the other person’s priority to stay on track with yours.
  4. If it will help you learn it’s probably worth doing: keep enlarging your world. It is never a waste of time to meet new people or learn new things.
  5. Question the usefulness of “inbox zero”: this correlates to #3. Just because you’re being emailed about something doesn’t make it important. But remember #2, a quick email you dash off that completely resolves an issue is productive. (But beware the email that generates 10 more!)

I’ll report back on how this works for me. What tips really work for you?


October 21st, 2013 | Comments Off on Diversity


Ryerson’s General Counsel and Secretary of the Board of Governors, Julia Shin Doi, recently asked me an unexpected question: “Julia,” she said, “why are you so passionate about diversity?” Funnily enough, I was at a loss for words (and I told her so!).

Diversity at Ryerson

Truly, I haven’t over the years given a great deal of thought to why diversity does matter so much to me. Yet, the reality is that it’s a value that guides so much of my work; for example:

On a personal note

As I reflected on Julia’s question, it became clear to me that my commitment to diversity has been passed down to me through my family and is grounded in my Jewish heritage. In my family, our celebration of Jewishness was inherently about social justice and what it means to be a disempowered people who were the object of prejudice. My parents certainly never allowed any intolerance in act or speech.

I didn’t grow up in a strict religious household, and so our annual family seders at Passover focused not only on the traditional teachings of the exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt, but also on the civil rights movement and the legacy of African-American slavery in the United States. It was while I was a teenager visiting my grandparents that I read the biography of Harriet Tubman and learned about the Underground Railroad. And, just recently, during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, my father talked about having listened to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech with his grandmother and parents.

My family’s commitment to diversity is a legacy that makes me proud. I’m fortunate now – in my career and my volunteer roles – to be able to pay it forward in ways both great and small.