Kevin: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today on our webcast “Creating and Enabling Leadership Teams to Confidently Drive Organizational Change.” This webcast brings together the combined expertise of On the Goga and Synario and years of experience working with higher education teams.
Before we get started, a few house keeping items: Our webcast is expected to take about 45 minutes today. We encourage your questions and comments throughout the webcast – you can submit them through the Q&A feature in webex.
I’m Kevin Kuhar from Synario at PFM. Synario is a financial modeling platform utilized by over 75 higher education institutions to make better strategic decisions. We work with CFOs, Treasurers, and finance teams to build and maintain bespoke financial models that are used to analyze the institutions financial future. These models are used to communicate financial plans to Governing Boards, Presidents Cabinets and Senior leaders, accreditation bodies and rating agencies.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Hello everyone, I am very excited to be here today. My name is Dr. Aly Goldstein, and I am the Director of Development at On The Goga. On The Goga is an organizational well-being company that works with our clients to build happier healthier teams. We do this through customized wellbeing programs that integrate seamlessly into a virtual environment through remote workshops, consulting and policy support, virtual learning tools, and coaching.
Personally, I am trained as a practitioner in clinical and organizational psychology. As the director of development at OTG I oversee all new product and content development, including working closely with our members to build their programs by identifying their needs and customizing our suite of services. Another piece of this is providing coaching and development to executive teams.
A lot of what we’re working with our clients to do right now is position themselves as an executive team to make the best possible decisions in a very uncertain environment. When Synario reached out to us to partner on this webinar, it was a no-brainer for us because our services and products partner so well together. Leading up to this workshop, Kevin and I talked about that you need the right tools to make the right decisions, but you can also have all the right tools but you need the right team to make them work in the long run. So let’s briefly talk about our goals for this workshop today.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Today we are going to talk about how On The Goga’s team development framework directly aligns with Synario’s financial modeling software, and when used together, these two tools provide dynamic, actionable insight to support credible and informed decisions. From a leadership perspective, I’m going to be focusing on what it takes for leadership teams to be successful right now. One of the trickiest aspects of successful team decision making is ensuring goal alignment and consensus on how to achieve those goals, so we’ll talk about that among other things. As Kevin already mentioned, I welcome questions from you about what is going on with your teams right now, I love to answer any questions directly.
Kevin: As you’ll see today, there are a lot of parallels with developing teams and developing effective long-range financial plans using financial models. Whether you are in the finance office or work elsewhere, you will walk away today with some insights into how financial models can facilitate your strategic planning and how doing so with a simple process can make the process more efficient and increase confidence in your institutions financial future.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: So Kevin we have talked a lot about this, let’s start by talking about the problems our clients are facing right now and how we are seeing a lot of the same problems through two different lenses.
Problems Faced By Today's Leaders
Dr. Aly Goldstein: The whole world is in a strange place right now, but Higher Ed is facing a very specific set of challenges. We can summarize these challenges of uncertainty, scarcity, and division in a phrase we like to call at On The Goga, analysis paralysis. Here’s how these 3 factors are really playing out for our clients right now. First up, we have uncertainty. There are so many factors at play here, and there is no way for us to have a single right answer that we are looking for.
Not only is this challenging from a practical perspective, but cognitive science also shows over and over what great lengths we’ll go to avoid uncertainty or ambiguity. Interestingly enough, while the multitude of factors is part of what makes this situation so challenging right now, it is also coupled with a feeling of scarcity. There are simultaneous too many things to do, but not enough time, not enough money, and not enough information to make some of the decisions that need to be made. These factors together can create the very common experience of division within leadership teams and across organizations. This does not always mean that you disagree on what you want to do, although it can mean that, but often it means that there is disagreement in exactly how to move forward. Kevin, how are you seeing this play out with your clients?
Kevin: Higher ed is having difficulty creating projections that they are confident in: The news about the impact of COVID is changing on a daily basis and plans to effectively adjust and educate students are changing just as quickly. Managing this uncertainty comes at a costs and many institutions, especially smaller privates, are trying to do more with less resources – often contemplating making cuts or digging into endowments to bridge the gap. At the same time, institutions are complex businesses with many different constituent groups– for example, the enrollment management office, the housing department, and facilities group may each have their own, conflicting plans to move forward. In short - How can institutions get key stakeholders to support plans that provide agility to remain competitive – and are achievable based on financial realities?
Dr. Aly Goldstein: But we’re not going to leave you hanging in this problem today, what we’ll be talking about is the path forward and how to not only get the right information but the right people in the room to make the best decisions based on that information.
The Solution - Combining Modeling and Leadership
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Luckily, there are many different ways to promote adaptability of your organizations, and one of the key ways to do this is through building a strong collaborative team that can drive clarity, efficiency, and transparency. These are they key elements to what promotes productive conversations and innovative decision making. So from uncertainty, we can move towards clarity. Our brains need to tolerate some uncertainty, but to help make the best possible decisions it is important to make sure that our teams can identify only the most important and pertinent information needed to make your decision, you send a signal to your brain that you have all the information you need, and all the information you are capable of getting, which allows you to move forward more comfortably with the decision making process.
By equipping leadership teams with tools like Synario, we can start to focus on things that move the needle and not get bogged down with the nitty gritty details that are not as relevant to strategic decision making. This moves our teams towards efficiency. Similarly, these times have elicited strong emotional reactions in so many of us and our colleagues, which can make us feel divided on issues or distanced from strong working relationships. When we can tolerate emotions and not let them derail our behaviors or thoughts, and we have the right information and people, we can create transparency and consensus. Kevin we have talked about these things and I know that these solutions are relevant to your clients, what else would you add from a modeling perspective?
Kevin: Dealing with Covid, you could imagine hundreds of different virus impacts and another hundred responses your institution could choose.
- Clarity – you make to make sure you are looking at the different alternative futures that exist. Have you performed a complete analysis?
- Efficiency – you need to have a tool that gets you answers quickly. This allows you to explore more options and move the conversations forward more quickly. Modeling questions should be answered in a matter of seconds or minutes – and certainly not days or weeks.
- Transparency – Key stakeholders need to understand and trust your model. Assumptions should be clear and calculations easy to understand. To combat the division problem we discussed earlier, you may want to present impacts to “parts” that are important. If meeting with Dean of Arts and Sciences, they may want to see impacts to their school under different scenarios, but also understand the impact to the entire institution. This helps create a collaborative environment where we are all working together to create a better institution.
As time goes on, new information becomes available and new questions are asked. The right tool, like Synario, can help you quickly answer questions without wasting days on the analysis. Using Synario you could answer many questions you need to determine
the best path forward – this helps move the conversation forward.
Kevin: As you can see, there is a lot of cohesion between the work that we help our clients to do and what On The Goga helps their clients to do, so much so that today we will use a framework for decision making that will enable us to speak to the importance of getting the right people and the right tools in the room when making strategic decisions.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Absolutely, this framework is one we use a lot with our clients and fits so nicely with how Synario facilitates decision making as well. What we are going to do over the next several slides is going into detail of each step of this process sin terms of how it applies to building and supporting leadership teams as well as from a financial modeling perspective.
Kevin: After all, the entire purpose of creating financial models is to confidently make decisions. The model acts as a framework to help make decisions, so our process parallels this decision making process. Throughout the process we build models with the end result being a better decision.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: The first step to this process is gather.
The Process - Gather Stage
Dr. Aly Goldstein: From a leadership perspective, the gather phase is all about gathering the right people or main stakeholders involved in and affected by the decisions into the room. This entire multi-step process is going to require leadership flexibility, depending on the phase. In this first phase, gather, the leadership style you will need is the network orchestrator or being a facilitator. [insert additional notes]. This means leveraging your authority and understanding of your personnel to create teams and systems that leverage your human capital. You are essentially a “network orchestrator” – orchestrating a strong combination of the various expertise and perspective in your institution. Diversity of perspective, skill, and background generates innovative contributions, and therefore solutions. Lacking such diverse ideas stunts cooperation and creates barriers to successful problem solving and achieving goals.
I really like this quote from the American Council on education:
“leaders who awaken networks—both within institutions and across them—will create deeper insight into the inner workings of institutional finances, how they flow, and how they are related to outcomes” – ACE, 2016
Especially for those who might not be as comfortable in a facilitator role, here are some helpful questions to guide a facilitation leadership style for team development: Ask yourself
- What teams have I developed in the past? What worked and what did not work? Use that information moving forward.
- What perspectives do I need on this team and why? Who are the key stakeholders and those most impacted by the decisions being made on this team.
- Who from each identified perspective or group is the best choice to have on my team? Not only from a content and expertise point of view, but what other value will that person bring? Do they have strong collaborative skills, or dynamic communication skills or strategic relationships throughout the institution?
- Who might you be missing from your team? Don’t be afraid to work with new people – it can actually be helpful for effective collaboration (20-40% team members previous relationship reduces groupthink).
So Kevin, that’s what we’re talking about from a leadership team perspective in the gather phase, what does this look like from a modeling perspective, what are we gathering?
Kevin: The first thing we do is develop an initial model. We’re going to gather some historical information and create some projection logic. I call it “initial” because its going to evolve and change as new questions need to be answered. This is usually a small group from the finance office that can develop this model in just a few weeks. Next, this team should showcase the model to key stakeholders which helps brainstorm the types of questions they’ll get and determine where to focus.
Its important that this group has good visibility and representation into the groups that are making strategic decisions. This way, they can work on creating new scenarios to help answer questions as they come up.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: The next phase of this process after we have gathered what we need is identify.
The Process - Identify Stage
Dr. Aly Goldstein: So at this point you brought together a diverse team of technical skill and perspective through putting a facilitator hat on. Now you are ready to move into executing specific goals, we use that task-oriented leadership style. The first task you have to do is identifying strengths and gaps in your team. As previously mentioned, effective groups have necessary expertise, but also informal roles defined by specific soft skills.
These informal roles will allow you to identify which of these roles can be filled by people currently on your team, or if there are any important gaps. These roles must be filled in order to create a team that supports new ideas and change, and very importantly promotes open and honest communication. Only with these two team characteristics will the diverse perspectives effectively produce innovative ideas and successful decision making.
I’m going to go through four really important informal roles you will want to have in your leadership team. Feel free to ask questions about these roles. Maybe its unclear who should take what role, or you feel that you don’t have these roles or need additional help identifying these skills in your people.
- Task person – is there someone with the skill of keeping the team on task and on track towards achieving the goals.
- Emotional monitor – who can be successful with establishing and then maintaining the interpersonal relationships of the team.
- Idea facilitator – who can elicit and synthesize the differing perspectives of group members and weave different information and different options or contributions effectively together to reach consensus? I think of these people as
the reframers or the extender. Some people without this skill either feel challenged when people have differing ideas, or have difficulty creatively understanding the value of someone’s idea if it is not something that had been previously
- the idea facilitator can re-phrase and even extend on individual contributions to increase the likelihood that everyone on the team understands the value.
- The critic – In order to support new ideas and have open communication, someone needs to have the skill of respectfully and productively challenging some new ideas. This is imperative for avoiding “group think” which happens when people are overly agreeable with contributions, and does not lead to diverse solutions or ideas. However, the key here is that the critic uses curiosity and thoughtful analysis when challenging new ideas.
Kevin: We find there always need to be a “champion” that raises the priority of the model. Usually this is a CFO who acts as the lead, but it could also be someone else with the main modelers being others from the finance office.
Once you’ve met with a few stakeholders you may start to get questions that require some expertise. As an example, you may want to meet with your advancement leaders to discuss assumptions around gifts.
Is there a critic in the group that questions everything? Perhaps you want to meet with them individually before your next presentation to walk them through your analysis in detail. This could help you understand their concerns. Perhaps adjusting a few assumptions or creating a new scenario is all is takes to get their support, but perhaps you’ll learn something deeper.
As you have these conversation and identifying gaps, you are building a more credible model and working to align key stakeholders. This will ultimately help you make decisions more quickly and more effectively.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: When you are clear about the roles people will play and clear on the relevant data for your modeling, you will be able to move onto the next step: Clarify.
The Process - Clarify Stage
Dr. Aly Goldstein: In terms of team building, we now have gathered the right people into the room, identified strengths and gaps, and informal roles. The clarify stage is about communicating and clarifying these roles within the team. This again is going to require a new leadership style, which is a relationship oriented leadership style. The important elements of a relationship-orientated style are: communicating the goals, expectations, and outcomes, and helping the team understand who will play what part in the relationship on the team.
Talk openly with the team, whether through initial introductions or as a re-set and check-in for already formed teams: talked about why this specific group of people were brought together, name out the strengths each individual brings and how they will make a valuable contribution to the team both in terms of technical expertise as well as informal role expertise. This is not only a way of making roles more explicit and clear, but also to strengthen the relationships as people learn more about their team members, which is essential for building trust and communication expectations. Strong relationships are the ingredient that creates transparency and open and honest communication, the ingredient from strategic and innovative decision making, but also is important for any team to be able to navigate tensions, misunderstandings or other forms of conflict that are common in teams.
Kevin: When meeting and presenting, your audience needs to be reminded of the importance of this exercise.
Remind folks of why your model exists – to make better decisions. What is your process? Who was involved in it? What are the types of situations that you think this will help? How do you intend to use this model going forward for this group – maybe you will plan to present a 5 year plan at each quarterly finance committee meeting and present to the Governing Board annually before approval of budget or before capital project approval.
What are the key metrics each stakeholder will want to look at? From here, back up your results by clearly organizing assumptions. Make the information easily digestible for both finance and non-finance oriented folks. Many of our clients create interactive slide decks for different stakeholder to help them focus on what they care about.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Clear roles enable accountability structures, prevents miscommunication, decreases the likelihood of running on inaccurate assumptions, allows members to capitalize on expertise and coordinate shared tasks more effectively. So let’s move on to the next phase, which is Project.
The Process - Project Stage
Dr. Aly Goldstein: So the project stage is probably what we’ve all been waiting for here, this is where you are actually facilitating these important conversations and extracting meaning from financial and performance information. The part of team work that involves the meetings, brainstorming, collaboration, and transparency.
In terms of leadership style, this is going to be a dynamic mixture of different styles. Both the ones we have already discussed today, but also your own leadership strengths that have gotten you to the position you are in today. Applying these different styles flexibly depending on the context or situation is so important for leadership and team success.
Sometimes teams can hit a block, or get into a communication or dynamic funk and it is hard to get out of it into a solid and comfortable work groove. Right, when people want to be in a room together and are enjoying the work together, it is guaranteed that people will be more engaged, which means actively listening, churning through ideas, forming new understanding, which will create new ideas to offer to the group. This is where we often provide support to our members – helping the team and team leads to facilitate these conversations, playing to the team’s strengths, in order to form group cohesion.
Maintaining flexibility and group cohesion, not to be confused with group think, means that the team will be transparent and collaborative in brainstorming and generating ideas or interpreting the data, while also being resilient to tensions, frustrations, and barriers. The main message I want to emphasize here is that the key path towards innovative ideas and strategic decisions is piecing together many different perspectives and models of information together to form new innovative ideas and plans. These ideas are so applicable to the project stage of Synario, right Kevin?
Kevin: Absolutely, your projection model becomes the framework to facilitate brainstorming and support better decisions. Once you’ve established the channels and roles, you can familiarize the team with the types of questions they can ask during a meeting. You can provide them answers right away. If someone asks “What happens if we increase endowment draw to offset additional expenses due to covid?” you should be able to provide that right away. This educates folks on impacts of potential decisions and also helps for more questions to be considered.
Oftentimes, when this information happens in the group, you start to uncover cascading impacts. What happens to your endowment balance in 10-years if you increase the draw next year? Would a salary increase need to be delayed to offset the additional draw from endowment? Are you willing to cut the new program you were considering ? As these tradeoffs become clear, the priorities become clear and you realize the levers that you can adjust become smaller.
Providing quick answers to new “what-if” questions moves the conversation forward and helps stakeholders understand relationships for when we develop agile plans next.
Develop Agile Plans
Kevin: After you have your initial projections and started to perform some sensitivities on key variables, how do we bring it all together? We want to develop agile plans to perform under a variety of different alternatives. The first step would be to identify the key scenarios you want to create. Focus on the critical extremes, where will impacts be the biggest? One of our clients is fortunate and has 60% of their operating revenue come from the endowment, another client has barely any. As you might imagine the former focuses most of their time on endowment modeling, the latter focuses on different iterations of their large capital plan. In recent months, many institutions are focusing on the length of impact of COVID as that will likely have the biggest impact on their business.
Once you have the major scenarios identified, then you need to determine what levers you can adjust. What initiatives would you prioritize, what variables can you change? Do you stay within your threshold?
Here’s where the agile part comes in….what if something unexpected happens i.e. endowment returns are worst case. Are you still within the threshold? Do you need to make additional adjustment?
Discuss Thresholds and Markers
Kevin: Your agile plans allow you to move forward with confidence, but they are based on assumptions. Make sure you perform sensitives to understand key threats to your plan. Does the plan hold if enrollment dips 10%? Maybe. 25%? Probably not. Understand what would cause you to need to re-adjust.
Thinking about markers and thresholds is really important in todays environment, When a variable turns out to impact your results drastically, you’ve already started thinking about how to correct the problem – if you are really good, you may have already started socialize the response making the change easier for other stakeholders to stomach.
The best way to get in front of these uncertainties is to institutionalize your modeling process. Make it part of your annual and quarterly process to update and re-examine. Each time you update, you will become more efficient and you will strengthen relationships with everyone involved. It will be a valuable investment.
Dr. Aly Goldstein: So you can really see here how powerful of a tool this is because it can help you eliminate and consolidate the hundreds of thousands of possible options into a handful of helpful options. This can help with live communication about different scenarios. Once you’ve been able to have the conversations and project things out, now you can move to decide.
The Process - Decide Stage
Dr. Aly Goldstein: Depending on your role in the organization or the structure of your organization, you may or may not be you making the final decision. It may be deciding which solutions to bring forward to different members of your team or what solutions or information you will bring to external stakeholders.
It is important to keep in mind and help your team remember the difference between consensus and agreement. We’ve talked some about group think already, which is something you want to try to steer clear of as it stifles innovation and strategic thinking. To that end, total team agreement is not necessarily the team goal, however team consensus is the goal. Strategic and effective team consensus means that your team will have chosen the best and most effective solutions in using the key skills from clarification and project stages.
After making a decision or reaching a consensus; you need to create an implementation plan. To make sure the plan moves forward, there must be established accountability and responsibility of action steps to roll out the plan. Through this plan, one of the priorities should be communicating the team decision. There should be specific actions steps in place. This involves assigning accountability and responsibility of who will communicate which pieces, where or how, when, and to whom.
- What does your timing and priorities look like? What information needs to be shared in the more short term? How much needs to be shared at one given time? What is the timing for sharing different pieces of information?
- What is the tone you will use?
- Make sure it is directly aligned to your mission, vision, and values.
- What is the strategic and tactical medium you will use? A memo? Handbook? Infographic? Will you use different mediums to communicate to different audiences? How will you maintain transparency of communication to different audiences?
- What is your feedback structure and policy going to be? How can people ask questions? How can you respond to these questions or feedback?
We could have a whole conversation, actually many conversations, about communication, and we have these frequently with our clients. With some we even work primarily on communicating not just on teams, but throughout their entire organization. So here we just wanted to touch on a few important points for this topic.
One of the things I think is so cool about Synario and helpful for leadership teams is that you are able to build these different dashboards that are helpful for communicating with different groups. Kevin do you want to talk ab it about the decide phase from the financial modeling perspective and how it helps to build that consensus?
Kevin: The decision process can be different for different types of analysis. As an example, market conditions may be favorable for accelerating a bond deal – if that’s the case you may need to fast track a decision and the responsibility may lie with just a few people.
For something like COVID-19, many parts of the institution are effected. Socializing the results before the decision and after the decision can help everyone understand what needs to be done. You could create focused views for your different groups so they understand what impacts them.
Kevin: We’ll talk about ways to increase the impact and build credibility next.
Build Credibility and Consensus
Kevin: Its important to build credibility throughout the processs. You’ve already gone through a detailed process, now the way you present is the icing on the cake. Make your outputs clear and relevant to your audience.
Show that you did your homework and looks at many alternatives and explain why you are making your recommendations. You followed a process which we’ll review now.
The Process - Summary
Dr. Aly Goldstein: To sum it up, we will go through quickly each step of the process from our perspectives. Gathering requires leaders to put on the facilitation hat and get the right people in the room. Once their in the room, you as a leader must execute the task of figuring out what the strengths and gaps are on your team and assigning informal roles. Clarify is all about being a relationship oriented leader, helping the team understand who is working with each other.
Once you have that, your team is built and then you can start to project – have the conversations which will give you the tools and information you need to make the decisions and communicate to relevant stakeholders. Kevin do you want to wrap-it up from a modeling perspective?
Kevin: I am really glad we were able to do this, Aly. We all want to make the best decisions, but I think the process of decision making doesn’t get enough attention.
I really believe a good financial modeling regime helps make better decisions. This is particularly important in todays uncertain environment. I often hear that getting a model built sounds hard and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There is incredible cost to value considering the high impact decisions that are made on campus. There are well-established tools and best practices from our years of higher education experience that you can utilize to get a model built in a few weeks without additional staff and start doing high-value analysis Our newest client, Averett University had their kick-off call with us this week and is presenting scenarios to their Board in early September.
Because our clients are using the right tool in Synario, they find that allows them to spend less time crunching the numbers on an ad-hoc basis and more time communicating with stakeholders about the strategic decisions.
We are dedicated to servicing our higher education clients and we would love to talk with you further about how we work with clients.