Driving CHANGE with Criteria-Based LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Fordham University's IT Department Has Improved Its Professionalism, Communication, and Leadership Depth

By Sclafani, Joseph A. | Talent Development, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Driving CHANGE with Criteria-Based LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Fordham University's IT Department Has Improved Its Professionalism, Communication, and Leadership Depth


Sclafani, Joseph A., Talent Development


In 2006, Fordham University's IT department was split into three distinct silos: infrastructure, software applications, and instructional computing. But that year, to support a multiyear enterprise resource planning project, it launched a reorganization initiative to meld these silos into a cohesive department. At that point, the chief information officer (CIO) invited me to join the effort as a consultant and coach to support the talent development aspect of the reorganization.

I worked with the IT department's leaders to periodically review the goals and specific aspects of the reorganization using a wide variety of tools--from interviews with senior leaders and off-site meetings to staff surveys and leadership assessments--and adjusted them in response to successes, shortfalls, and the evolving needs of both IT staff and university clients. We emphasized providing technical training in the new enterprise software system to employees at all levels and focused professional development on senior leaders of functional silos, aiming to drive change through a top-down approach.

By 2011, these efforts had yielded positive results, improving coordination between silos, supporting the progressive digitization of the university's key organizational functions, and improving the IT department's customer experience. However, they had failed to address several persistent issues among mid- and lower-level staff, specifically:

* Staff empowerment. Mid- and lower-level staff appeared reluctant to exercise initiative in addressing organizational needs, which constrained the department's flexibility and innovativeness in responding to customer needs.

* Trust. Some staff feared that others would take advantage of their shortcomings or mistakes, which made it difficult to develop a broader culture of accountability--a central goal of the department's original transformation program.

* Sustainability. The top-down approach to the department's transformation had constrained the development of proactive leadership at midmanagement levels that could contribute to the institutionalization of the desired collaborative work culture.

In response, the CIO decided to expand the IT department's professional development efforts. Later that year, we collaborated to launch the Fordham IT Laureate Program. Using a "middle-out" approach, the program develops small groups of middle managers to initiate small changes within their areas that can grow into organization-wide changes. By doing so, it also creates a promotion pool of experienced leaders capable of assuming higher responsibilities and helps fulfill the transformation that the 2006 progam initiated.

Design considerations

We developed the Laureate Program with the goal of sustaining a talent and cultural evolution beyond its initial implementation phase. Ultimately, we decided to incorporate four criteria to help accomplish this:

* Relevance. The program's components link to real workplace challenges.

* Experiential. Peer coaching is its principal learning method.

* Reflection. It facilitates both humble inquiry and self-awareness.

* Flexibility. It uses "modular" content that can be adjusted easily to shifting challenges.

From its start, the program incorporates the four criteria. The first three are rooted in well-known principles of how adults learn, namely the idea that dialogue with peers can surface different perspectives and that subsequent reflection on those experiences can address real-world problems. The fourth criterion --flexibility--flows from the other three: Fordham IT's ongoing transformation program will inevitably lead to the emergence of new challenges for its staff at all levels, and we knew the program would need an easily adaptable design to keep the content relevant and engaging. The figure on the adjacent page shows the relationship between these design criteria and each of the program's components. …

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