Joanne Kossuth on Expanding the Executive Role Beyond IT

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The Integrative CIO | Season 2, Episode 6

Hosts Cynthia and Jack welcome Lesley University COO Joanne Kossuth to discuss building trust and relationships across the university.

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Jack Suess: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Integrative CIO podcast. I'm Jack Suess, vice president of IT and CIO at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Cynthia Golden: And I'm Cynthia Golden, associate provost at the University of Pittsburgh. Each episode we welcome a guest from in or around higher education technology as we talk about repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner in support of the institutional mission.

Cynthia Golden: Hi, everybody. Today, Jack and I are joined by Joanne Kossuth, who is the Chief Operations Officer at Lesley University in Massachusetts. Joanne, welcome to the podcast. Could you take a few minutes and introduce yourself to our audience, maybe talk a little bit about your background and your career journey?

Joanne Kossuth: Sure. Thank you, Cynthia. It's nice to see you. Nice to see you, Jack. I'm excited to be here. So, my name's Joanne Kossuth and I've been in higher ed quite a long time. And in the course of my career, I actually started in retail, which was a great exposure to customer service and had the opportunity to start to work at some smaller institutions when I decided to leave the retail environment, and as many of you will know, the small institutions tend to give you a number of opportunities that you might not get at other institutions. So, I actually had an opportunity to, back in the late 1980s, start with putting into action my thesis that I wrote on developing and implementing information systems for small businesses as part of my graduate degree. So when I worked for Fisher College, Scott Fisher actually read the thesis and said, "Let's do this."

And, that was at a point that Fisher had 49 locations and it was one of the first shared library systems and basically an older version, I would say, of ethernet, but that really put the pedal to the metal and made everything very real for me in the technology sense. After that, I had an opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in different areas, so I got to spend time as an assistant comptroller. I got to spend time as an instructor, so I had a broad view of the higher ed environment, which has been exceedingly helpful throughout my career. I then moved on to roles that were at Wheelock College, to Boston University, to Olin College of Engineering as one of the first employees, getting to build a new institution from scratch, which was obviously exciting and entrepreneurial and not something that people get to do often.

And after that, I moved on to work at Mitchell College and I moved on to working at Lesley University, and in between I've had exposure to quite a few different institutions in a consulting capacity and in accreditation visits as I'm sure Cynthia and Jack have as well. And so, essentially I tell people at this point, I feel like I've done virtually every job in higher ed except for president and provost. And so, that background has put me in good stead as my roles evolved into operations. And, I have animals that are part of my household. So, I have a pet dog that's a Havanese and one pet cat, and we're still working on the getting along part because the Havanese is relatively young. I have some hobbies and those hobbies are actually very different fun things. So, everybody always says travel and reading and those are true, but I like to design jewelry and I have a wine cellar where I like to collect wine, but also to enjoy the fruits of my collection. So with that, I'll turn it back to you.

Jack Suess: Well, really this is just a wonderful sort of introduction. You're the first person who's gone into their hobbies and I think that's just great. That may be something that we encourage the future guests to add as well. So, as you talked about your career in IT, I remember one of the things that has struck me when it occurred was while you were at Olin University, you assumed a much larger portfolio of responsibilities. You were one of the first CIOs who really came in and took on this role as almost chief operating officer, where you had public safety, facilities, dining, campus planning, a lot of the business operations reporting to you. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and the expansion of your responsibilities and how you have managed the change that sort of came about in taking on these responsibilities, but also bringing technology into these areas to really help them advance?

Joanne Kossuth: Sure, that's a great question. Interestingly enough, I think the background I described in retail got me started in a really good place with a lot of customer service and front end practice and the small college experience because I had so much opportunity in different areas of the organization, it really allowed me to use my organizational and technology skills to not just set up systems which really revised business practices. At Olin for instance, I had an opportunity to be the AVP for advancement as well as the point person for the Babson Olin Wellesley Collaboration in addition to my other roles.

And, those roles showed me areas that I had not spent as much time in previously, but gave me a much wider purview and allowed me to develop insights into most of the functional areas in higher ed. And when that first happened at Olin, I think one of the challenges was as you take on these new responsibilities, you have to basically develop credibility for those responsibilities with the teams that you're going to be working with that are probably nervous that someone new is taking over those areas, particularly when the hierarchy that was in place previously was still in place in terms of leadership in the institution.

So, folks had a lot of questions. One of the things I did was really have an open door policy to have a number of months where literally my door was wide open and allowed people to just make an appointment or drop by and have a conversation about what their concerns were to feel that they were being heard, and also to take and learn from what are some of the challenges and what are some of the wins that those folks thought they had already had and help us move forward together in a team as opposed to expecting me to come in to these areas and have all the answers, which obviously I didn't have. In terms of Lesley, I started out doing a consulting assessment for Lesley. It was focused on information technology and library services. As typically happens, those areas and the challenges they face are often symptomatic of larger challenges across an institution.

So, the assessment positioned me really well to talk to the institution of Lesley as a whole when I came in to the role at Lesley. And I think you're right, Jack, that we can think about the expansion of responsibility, not just at Lesley, but at Olin as well, under the umbrella of transformation and leveraging technology in order to be able to have information that we need to be a data-driven organization. A thorough understanding that I had of the functional areas was very helpful, definitely helped with credibility and focusing on utilizing systems and reworking business processes to take advantage of functionality really helped to refocus the work of areas in the institution and led to a lot of professional development of team members in different directions that they might have seen when they first started in their career.

I continue to be really deeply engaged with IT, but the operational opportunities across the campus at Lesley have really allowed for the IT team to become an integral part of virtually every area in the institution, collaborating at a high level and involved very early in conversations, which in my career history sometimes has been challenging in other institutions.

So, the IT team has basically been able to realign itself. We've pulled in siloed data employees from other areas of the institution and created a reporting team. So, now the reporting team is responsible for, as we say, one source of truth for the institution and makes the reports and dashboards available for folks for self-service. This has, again, allowed for staff development opportunities and also a lot of relationship building across the institution, so that the IT team has a can-do kind of attitude and is now seen as the place to go to have a conversation about how to streamline what you're doing, how to get information that you might not have been able to get if you in fact should have access to that information.

But essentially, I've seen it as a real opportunity to apply the benefits of technology, utilize that to really bring along teams to understand the importance of doing good work and doing good work in a way that makes sense and freeing up time for people. I wouldn't say that we're at the Google or Microsoft such and such a percent of your job that you have time, but it has allowed for people to really understand an institution in a way that is much more holistic than what their previous experiences were.

Cynthia Golden: It seems like that would be re-energizing for people too.

Joanne Kossuth: It's really interesting because people find it more energizing. I think as you both know, money doesn't drive everybody in terms of what is really a motivator, it's really challenges. So, the team is at the point now where you've been asked to do some work with advancement, for instance, and normally you can imagine saying, "Oh, we're going to have to jump in and do these various types of activities," and the team's like, "This is cool. We're actually learning about advancement, understanding how they use information and where that goes." So you're right, it's energizing, provides other opportunity, and really helps the team feel rewarded as an important part of the strategic framework for the institution.

Cynthia Golden: Well, as a follow-up, one of the things that you highlighted early on, and maybe you could just briefly talk a little bit about it is how you built the trust and collegiality within your group because that is one of the hard things is bringing in groups which historically might have other cultures and other ways of thinking and bringing people together to be the sum of the parts becomes greater than each individual, the one.

Joanne Kossuth: So, I think one big step in that was just allowing people to share. So asking something like three questions, so what is the one thing about your job that you absolutely love and don't ever want to give up? What is the one thing about your job that you hate and want to get rid of as soon as you possibly can? Probably phrased a little nicer than that, and the third one, if you had one thing that you wanted to make sure the institution knew and that you wanted to be engaged in moving forward, what would that be? And by asking those three questions and compiling those answers, it gave me a pretty good picture of where people were at, and then you were able to start from there and say, "Okay, here's what people love. How do I make sure that there's at least some portion of what people love that they're engaged in?"

How do I reduce the burden of the things they don't like so much and how do I make sure that we have the interesting projects and the executive level support to be able to do those projects moving forward to retain the folks that are here since staffing, as we all know, can be a great challenge, and so that's one. The second is that I always told my teams that we're focused on customer service, and so if you need to punch a hole in the wall, you come into my office and punch the hole in the wall literally or vent because that's important to be able to do. And, the other piece for me was I understand the culture and they would explain their challenges and I would say, "Well, but we can change what you do and then you would have time to do this work."

And, people tend not to believe it until they actually see it happen. And so, one of the really important lessons I learned is you can't wait till the end of a project to have people see it happen. You have to be able to show them in the beginning, in the middle of the project what seeing it happen is. And so, that creates the buy-in and helps to change the culture. And once you have some successes, they do the talking and the sharing with each other and among the group, which helps to build that consensus. I joke that we originally had some curmudgeonly people that didn't believe change to some extent was possible, and now they're like, "No, that actually happened." And so, that's when I feel that you've had some degree of success in doing that. And when other teams at the institution reach out to the teams that you've built to say, could you guys help us with this, because they know they're going to get a positive response and not, I have no bandwidth, I don't want to hear you, that's the second step.

And, I think that it's really important that the teams feel it and believe it, and they feel free to say, "You know what, Joanne, I think that's a really stupid idea. It's not going to work because of this," and sometimes they're right, but the fact that everyone feels that they have the ability to comment positively or negatively on where we're headed and have conversations, which is really the important thing about building the relationships, and when people believe that you are sincere in those conversations and having a little self-deprecating sense of humor doesn't hurt either, then they're more than willing to go along. And, the proof is in what you're able to achieve and when you achieve it, sharing the credit amongst all the team and also amongst the other groups you're working with is really important.

Cynthia Golden: So, that really leads into change management and change management strategies, which is some of what you're talking about. You already said that you had an open door policy, which is very helpful to people. Are there other strategies, Joanne, that you used as you had to lead change through these role changes? Are there other things you've done that you think are important or maybe things you wish you would've done?

Joanne Kossuth: There's always a few of those, I think. For me, it was about trying to find the win-win strategy. So again, as we said, having conversations around change is easier if you already have relationships with the staff that potentially is going to be impacted by the changes, but also being able to separate the here and now and focus on the future to talk about issues from a different perspective. So, if I'm concerned about what I do now and it's just me, then that tends to make me very protective and a little bit resistant to necessarily the changes. But, how can we make the better experience for staff, faculty, students, the community? And, all of us are in the business of working to meet changing expectations of these groups can be a really bonding experience with that win-win. Another challenge I found could be timeframe.

I'm sure everyone can relate to the fact that you're often asked to do projects at a different rate of speed and in a different context that might be ideal. And since change has to be a collaborative conversation, there are times when decisions get made to expedite change in a timeframe that may not be reasonable or seem reasonable, but there might be real business reasons to expedite the change. So in that case, I found that being able to define the initial change as a pilot or a phase can help to set the expectations and also set expectations that not everything's going to go smoothly and it's going to be a learning experience. So, having leadership that's willing to be transparent about such change and is also willing to support the team and take the heat is critical to getting the buy-in and then debriefing on a regular basis to learn from each of those experiences, to build that culture, as you said, Jack, of constant change, similar to what we talk about with students in lifelong learning.

I think early in my career I was very enthusiastic and I was inclined to try and solve challenges in one fell swoop and I would be like, "Wow, great. The team's developed these solutions. Let me apply these in a larger context." And, I think I got a little, what I call carried away in my younger days, that increased the pressure on the team and often may change more difficult than maybe it needed to be. So, I grew to understand that there's differing abilities of various teams to process change and I adapted to a much more incremental kind of approach with a broader sort of plan context and all the debriefs really served to help figure out how to build the next team around the next set of changes.

Jack Suess: That's great advice, we call this podcast the Integrative CIO, and given the roles that you've had and are currently playing, how do you think that concept of integration plays out for the CIO or should play out as we go forward?

Joanne Kossuth: So frankly for me, it's difficult to think about a CIO role as non-integrative. I was trying to figure out what that looks like. I think virtually every area of all of our institutions are dependent on the ability of the CIO and their team to integrate with all the functional areas of the institution to help provide expertise in solving the challenges of those areas, to drive innovation in those solutions, to take advantage of emerging technology, and certainly not to preclude the integration of future technologies, support the strategies of the institution in terms of differentiation, which is really critical when it comes to marketing the institution and to work to integrate information across the institution in order to support core functions such as retention in a holistic manner. So to me, there's no way to separate the integrative from the actual job of the CIO.

One example I can think of recently is we deployed a technology with face recognition technology on time clocks and this functionality removed the issues related to punching in and punching out, and it provided a way for us to check on accidents that may have occurred in a shift or ask questions around health issues such as COVID by asking questions when employees punched out. So, this is the integration of artificial intelligence and it's the integration of facial recognition technology around obviously policy issues that would need to be addressed at each institution, but it allowed us to be proactive at identifying issues or concerns, which was a win-win, but also the employees felt that it was a much more personalized approach than what had been done in the past. So, I think trying to look at any of the concerns that employees have tied to issues we may have from a business perspective and really leveraging technology in support of those as well as in the student experience. Students tend to want to have pretty instantaneous gratification.

And so the days when we used to say, "Well, we'll update this every 24 hours and you can access it," those are obviously long gone, but they want to be able to understand things in their own language. And so, one of the challenges we found was that we had a directory that was really focused not on how a student understood services, but on how we understood services. So, we had a team come together to basically look at doing a services directory from a student perspective. So, it's not about your bursar, it's pay your bill. It's not necessarily about the registrar, but it's sign up for your classes.

And so, to really do it in that manner allowed the students and probably their parents, I would guess for the undergraduates, to feel that it was a much more approachable way and easier to find information. Even though previously all that information had been there, but again, speaking the same language and integrating that language into the lens and perspective of the student really changed how people accessed information. So, hopefully those are two good examples of integration that I think is really a core role of the CIO.

Cynthia Golden: I think it's the relationships and it's the technology that you just talked about. So earlier, Joanne, you mentioned some staff professional development, and I've worked with you over the years on numerous committees and we've planned and directed leadership development events together. So, I know that professional learning and career development are really important to you . In fact, you have served as dean of Educause's Leading Change program, which was formerly the Frye Institute and directed a number of other programs for Educause and other places. And, I guess I'm wondering what advice you might have for aspiring leaders about preparing themselves for more senior roles.

Joanne Kossuth: So I think, if anything, the pandemic has really brought to light where we've had gaps in leadership development and put a focus on the fact that we need to move quicker in higher education, in creating flexible agile responsive leaders. And, one of the things that's really hard about thinking about preparing yourself for the next step is the fact that you have a full plate. And so, it can be challenging to figure out how to expand your purview when your plate is full. One of the big things I think can really help is making sure that you have the right butts in the right seats, as I say, with your team, so you can actually build in the ability to expand your purview. Educause programs have often told aspirants to expand their horizons through participating on search committees, volunteering for tasks such as reviewing applications and enrollment, participating in focus groups related to campus planning and other topics, and basically raising your hand for a lot of opportunities.

And, I think all of those are good suggestions, but you have to create the bandwidth for yourself in which to do that. So, my personal advice is that every aspiring leader needs to take the responsibility for their own development. I would hope everyone's supervisors are having and leading conversations as part of their normal course, but to make sure you're frank with your supervisor about what you'd like to learn, where you want to be in a period of time. Sometimes the size of the institution or the type of institution that you're in can be a challenge. It doesn't mean you shouldn't look outside of your institution for some potential opportunities. Sometimes those opportunities often come in that there might be volunteering opportunities in a K through 12 situation, there might be an opportunity to apply for a fellowship. So, there are different things that can be done to move outside of some of the restrictions of your institution if those are in fact a concern.

For me, I think in the institution, building relationships with senior leaders is a really important step. People like to talk about what they do and they like to talk about themselves. So, asking for something like an informational interview and setting up a cup of coffee meeting or similar meetings and asking the leadership about their challenges in the areas, it'll help you be seen in a different light, but it's also going to help you do your current job more effectively because it's going to give you some insights into managing up, and managing up is really an art as we all know, and the ability to see challenges through different leadership lenses can help you with strategy development and provide insight into how to partner with other areas of the institution to make you a more effective leader in your space and also to be seen as someone to go to maybe outside of your usual areas of expertise.

I think another piece of leadership development is creating your own kitchen cabinet or a small group of people you can trust and go to with any issue. Sometimes it may have a few people from your institution, a lot of times it's not a group of people from your institution. I think in part the success of leadership programs such as Leading Change, formally Frye, is in making and supporting the connections that are made in that experience. And, I would also advocate for including non-higher ed members in your kitchen cabinet because those different lenses from a corporate or not-for-profit perspective can be really helpful in widening your approach.

I also personally found that serving on boards outside, so I've done things with Pearson Education, Juniper Networks, a bunch of other ones, gives you a good sense of being a team player within another group with a diversity of perspectives. It also helps you grow in your own role at your institution. So taking responsibility, figuring out where your balance is and your comfort and forcing yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone, but having that group that you can always rely on whether you're having a really good day or a really bad day.

Cynthia Golden: I love that kitchen cabinet concept.

Joanne Kossuth: We used to keep on doing it pre-COVID by going out for tapas on a regular basis. It's a little different since COVID.

Jack Suess: How should today's leaders be thinking about succession planning? And, I want to preface that with the thought that higher education is especially sort of complex and often the way that we think about searches where we always want to do national searches even though we might have really strong people in a pipeline can somehow sort of get in the way of succession planning, but are there any thoughts that you have around how we as current leaders should be working with teams to be building that next generation of leaders, whether they're going to succeed you at your institution or succeed someone else at their institution?

Joanne Kossuth: So, I think succession planning is really critical, Jack, and to your point, I think it often gets pushed to the bottom of the list, when we know it's something we should be thinking about and doing. It's just there's a lot of things going on and people are like, "Oh, I'm going to get to that," and a lot of times it doesn't get done. One of the first steps I think is developing a budget and a consistent professional development experience for your entire team and making that investment. It sends a really important message to the team, but it also allows them to keep on top of either their technical or their softer skillset and sharing that experience. So, requesting reports or debriefs from the folks on your team that go through this professional development experience to share with others on the team A, in a way, gets you more for your money because you're sharing that development.

And B, it also encourages other team members to step up and be more vocal and say what they would like to learn or be engaged in, and I think it's an important thing for all of us to keep learning because as we know, not just technology but just management in general and all sorts of changes in the higher education environment are something that we have to keep on top of. For me, I've always thought about my job as being to work my way out of a job in order to keep succession planning front and center. One of the challenges I found is that each individual on your team really has to gain time to learn about the next steps. So, you really need to focus on building your team in an innovative way, in a strong way, so that it can support the scaffolding of professional development, this scaffolding of career pathing and moving on either within or outside the institution.

Another thing that I found really beneficial is to find opportunities for aspirants to engage with the broader organization and the leadership and set them up for a success. So whether you want to call it mentoring, whether you want to call it supporting, but really being there for the failures and the successes to help develop them and to help them debrief and understand what went well, what went wrong, what might be able to be done differently, but allowing them to grow and allowing them to grow through real world experience. And, you have to remember that things will get done, but they may not always get done the way you would've done it, and sometimes that can be a hard thing to do is let go of that for some folks.

But, another way I think is to have office hours, have conversations where especially now after the pandemic and where people have been really challenged in their professional, their personal lives and in their mental health to have open office hours and conversations to be helpful and just to really find the time virtually or in-person to relate to people in a way that you can hear what they're saying and what they're not saying through body language and other things to be able to understand how you can help them succeed in what they're seeing as the next step.

And I think when you put all those building blocks in place, they build upon each other and you end up with folks that are ready and want to take on the next set of challenges because there are a lot of challenges in the complex environment of higher education, a lot of different constituencies, a lot of different relationships. So, it's not an easy job and it's certainly one where people have to work hard and then they have to struggle and different campuses have different environments and cultures that folks have to adapt to.

So one of the other things I like to do, if I can do this at institutions, is really find ways to have team members work during highly stressful times or volunteer during high stressful times in other areas. So if it's the start of school, maybe it's in residence life or it's in application processing at a certain point. So, get what it's like on the other side of the coin, so you understand that moving forward you have to be able to take all those perspectives into consideration as you're going through your own development and your own decision making processes within your organization.

Jack Suess: I think that's a really incredibly astute, and one of the things I've noticed as I've been working here and trying to begin thinking about these issues is it's important to be looking at both inside the organization and outside the organization around this professional development. On the outside, you need to be getting people connected nationally and in key groups, so that they can be building the kinds of connections that they're going to need to be successful from a professional network standpoint, but similarly inside the organization, you've got to be sharing and putting them in a place where they can get to be making the relationships with some of the key constituents that are going to need to be... And maybe part of the search committee for the next position, and building that capability where some of your people have that. Those tight connections really are important, I think, for success if you're going to do really internal succession planning well, so thank you.

Cynthia Golden: Those kinds of things I think become really important and they may succeed at a different institution, but I think recognizing that collectively that helps higher education is also important when we talk about succession planning.

Joanne Kossuth: I agree with that. I think for me, one of the things I get the biggest sort of recharge out of is being able to help fill the pipeline with a variety of candidates that actually have the energy want to do the job and are up for the challenges for senior leadership roles. And I do think that taking to account, some people were in higher education, they left and then they decide they want to come back. At times search committees tend to hold that against people, why you left higher education, and now you want to come back, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad experience.

I look back, again, as I said, with my time in retail on the customer service side, so basically when you get to higher ed, nothing surprises you in customer service if you've been in retail and you've all probably had some experiences outside of higher ed as well. So, I think that looking at it holistically and being able to make sure that on these search committees when they ask the questions and that the candidates both that you put up internally or externally really have had a chance to demonstrate their credibility as a candidate is important.

Cynthia Golden: So Joanne, one of the things I remember well is participating on a panel discussion that you organized some years ago at Olin and it was targeted at women students in technical fields. And so, we were talking about pipelines and I remember that that was a really great discussion and that the women were really thoughtful and very practical in some of the questions that they asked. And, I do remember one student asking about whether it was possible to advance in your career and have a family at the same time. And so, as a profession we know that those concerns are still out there and IT is not as diverse or representative of our broader community as we'd like it to be. And, I was wondering what you think our institutions could be doing to bring people from previously underrepresented groups into technical professions?

Joanne Kossuth: So, I think that's a hard question that a lot of folks are struggling with, but one of our challenges is I think we often wait for people in these underrepresented groups to reach out to us as opposed to reaching out to them and tapping them on the shoulder and say, "Hey, this is a great opportunity. I think you've got the skills to do this, get started here," and encourage them to actually become engaged in the conversation around the positions in a different way than how we've maybe done outreach before. I think getting out in the tech communities and participating in the communities for those of us that are already in them and understanding who they're reaching out to could give us some insights into additional activities that we can undertake. Personally, I found that going to the take your daughter or take your child to work days and speaking at those elementary schools and high schools and supporting fun experiences like coding camps and really focusing on the pipeline from junior high to high school students can have an impact.

So, I love to hire high school students as interns on the teams, obviously giving them better jobs than necessarily just working the coffee pot or the copier, so that they have an impact on your organization, gets them excited and hopefully keeps them interested in the profession and the options they would have there. One of the things we've done is also partner with the enrollment team to identify students really early on in the application process that may have some proclivities in this area or some energy in this area and engage them really early on as even part of a recruiting strategy to the institution. And, then obviously we've all worked on trying to get college work study students, but this is a way to get started a little bit earlier. I think one of the other challenges we have, especially today is the market is obviously more employee than employer-driven at this point.

So, how are we taking into account commuting? Lesley's in Cambridge, not too many people want to drive to Cambridge and park. Parking, taking into account childcare, furthering education concerns, so do I need more education? Do I need a certificate? Do I need a bed? Is my family secure, insecure? And, developing the human resource policies or having input into them that allows for flexibility and career pathing and looking at the jobs to the folks that aren't applying for the jobs and trying to figure out if there are things that we can do that would make the jobs more inviting, more manageable, more relational. And, I think in some ways the pandemic has helped us do that with hybrid work, remote work, and a better understanding of what can and can't be done, though all that requires very hands-on management.

Jack Suess: So, one of the strategies that I've really tried to use here at my institution, because we tend to often hire people who worked here as students, is to really be focusing on the diversity of my student population. Now, we may be a little unique in that we're allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars of our budget to student employees not worrying about work study. We look at it as part of building this pipeline and really extending the IT workforce. I'm curious though, and you mentioned some, but as you're at Lesley, what are you doing specifically around this recruitment and retention piece? Is it the work, hybrid, remote kinds of activities or is it other ideas or just a mix of whatever is really relating to the individual?

Joanne Kossuth: So, I think one of the things that we've seen as a result of the pandemic, and actually Lesley was in this space before, but we have a number of different programs that run on weekends that are low residency, come to campus a number of times a year, different kinds of events, all those kinds of things that need support, so the flexibility of work hours. So for some people, weekends aren't enough for them, they don't want to work weekends or other weekends work really well for them and being flexible in how you actually configure the work week. We also look at the benefits packages around personal hours and days and how those are implemented. Opportunity is another big question that we often get asked. And so, making cross-training opportunities available for folks along with regular professional development, and we get asked a lot of questions while we're recruiting people about, so do I get to go to a conference?

Would you support me if I'm writing an article? People ask these questions now in ways that maybe weren't asked before, but then we also have folks that wouldn't ask that question. And so, for them it's more about challenging projects and making sure we could take advantage of the diverse skillsets that they've developed that may not necessarily fit in the exact mode of what we normally would have. I think we've also really taken care to take a hard look at our job descriptions and not put up barriers in the job descriptions. Does something really need X years of experience? Does something really need a certain degree level? We've also really focused on engagement as an important part for both recruiting and retaining employees. Again, to those questions about what do you want to be engaged in, where would you really like to make a difference? And, getting external advisory boards to help us.

So, using the environment we're in Cambridge and Boston to leverage companies in the area, to leverage organizations in the area to understand what they're doing, what are needs they see, how can we potentially partner with them in different types of business models to really afford a lot of other opportunities, not just to our students, but to some of our employees to get some additional experience, those have been helpful if people want to do that. I think one of the most critical things we do is our president, provost and, CHRO actually interview every finalist for positions at Lesley to really focus on the importance of team and being a member of the community and having an impact. And, I think that sends a really strong message.

Cynthia Golden: So, they interview everybody who's hired at the institution?

Joanne Kossuth: Yes.

Cynthia Golden: Wow.

Joanne Kossuth: I wouldn't say scheduling is fun, but yes.

Cynthia Golden: So Joanne, just quickly, could you talk for just a minute about how organizations like Educause, and I know you've been heavily involved in NERCOMP over the years, these professional associations, how have they played a role in your own professional growth?

Joanne Kossuth: Sure, I think they've played an important one. With NERCOMP, I held a variety of leadership positions on the board, really helped me to get a wide exposure to different types of institutions, different types of professionals. I think one of my big takeaways early on in my career was that the scale of issues will be different in institutions, but the issues are pretty omnipresent across higher education. So, we're actually all working together to solve a lot of the concerns, and that really was one of the first light bulbs that went off for me in terms of the importance of collaboration in higher education. And not just sharing, but collaboration in ways that made sense from both curricular and financial and other perspectives. The ability to be able to have opportunities to talk about something you're passionate about and appeal to a broader audience and share your experiences was very much not just exciting, but really learning from the actual audience in real time and being able to take that back and impact your own work as well as share it back to the broader audience to help impact others.

Building your network, one critical component we've talked about a number of ways today, but also figuring out that for me, mentoring and coaching the next group of people, the next set of talented individuals is an important piece and wanting to share and have essentially open time to have those conversations. For instance, with LCI, we actually for a year keep the current cohort in a monthly meeting where we get together and share experiences, answer questions, have them help each other as well as we jump in and help them, and then we just-

Cynthia Golden: LCI is the Leading Change Institute?

Joanne Kossuth: Leading Change-

Cynthia Golden: For our listeners, to make sure they know what we're talking about.

Joanne Kossuth: Great, thank you, and the same thing for the alumni of the Leading Change Institute/Frye Institute to have a monthly call to, again, just share experiences, talk about issues they have, and oftentimes they'll bring in a speaker that has a particular expertise when we hear and really listen to some of the challenges that were brought up in the previous call. The other thing I think those organizations provide within the various committees and on the boards is an opportunity to really learn skills and what it takes to work on a board, to be part of a board, and that I think really helps to position you when you're in your own organization and you have to have those interactions with the board, which a lot of times people haven't been exposed to in other ways.

Jack Suess: So Joanne, on one side, as we look at their current times, you can look and see challenges with enrollment and cost and other aspects that are there. And on the other side, you can look and see just a lot of opportunity with the way that technology is able to allow us to do new things and new ways that we never thought... Back to your facial recognition for time clocks and knowing you, I always think of you as a glass half full sort of person and I'm just wondering, how are you thinking about the opportunities and ways that you as a leader at a small institution can be helping to use technology to overcome some of the challenges that you see over the next decade to sort of lead your institution to a better place?

Joanne Kossuth: So, I think when you talk about enrollment and retention, that's obviously a challenge at a lot of places, and I think one of the things that has been interesting to me as I work with marketing and communications and enrollment is taking a look at how we have all this incoming data from all these campaigns and ads and digital and all these things, and there's not one pane of glass, there's not one dashboard that can actually speak to how successful things are overall or where they're not successful, why they're not successful. And so, we've been working at looking at how we can leverage technology to combine all this type of information into dashboards that really help us to answer the questions that we have about, what do we need to focus on, what do we need to be concerned about? And so, I think that really, again, spending time with the data, leveraging the data.

The other thing I think that we've learned is institutions have a lot of alumni and some alumni really want to be engaged, others not necessarily, but if you've got alumni that want to be engaged, how do you engage them and how do they help support your institution? And, not just by frankly writing a check, but how are they engaged in helping you think about what are their needs now that they're out of the organization in terms of what they need to move ahead in the next steps in their career? What feedback do they have for you for the types of things they wish that they had exposure to that they don't? How do you maybe look at those potential opportunities to help with not just the retention, but the ongoing engagement of an important constituent group? I think one of the other challenges is just when you look at overall budgeting.

And so, we've gone through big swings in technology about everything was on premise and everything was in the cloud, and then security and all, its permutations, but we've talked for years about personalization and I think artificial intelligence and the growth in those areas has really allowed us to look at personalization in a very different way. So, when we think about how we support our students, when we think about how we advise our students, obviously concerned about, what am I getting as practical application skills, so I have a job when I get out of my education, at least for my first pass out, and then what do I want to do and how do I maintain that moving forward, that we can leverage the artificial intelligence to really understand more about our constituencies and then therefore personalize the programs in ways that are most relevant to them that don't necessarily have to be start an entire new program, but could be start a permutation or think about it more along like options.

So, if you send out a bid for something, you're always asking people to option out lines, but we have personalization to an extent. But if we take a step back right now, higher education provides the credentialing. If we look forward, I can actually go on the web now and create my own experience. I can reach out and get all kinds of... I don't know about you, but I reach out to YouTube a lot when I have to figure some things out, particularly around the house, but I can go and find a number of ways to really build my knowledge in a different way than I probably could do 10 years ago. And moving forward, that's only going to increase incrementally with a focus on machine learning and feeding that loop back into intelligence and forward. So when we think about that as the future, how do we in higher education keep our content, our curriculum, our experts relevant?

Clearly having the relationships with faculty is important, clearly having the ability to advise students and share experiences is important, but the more personalized we get, I think that's one of our bigger challenges moving forward is, how do we really articulate on that? And when you think about the fact that, I don't know, what does a three-year old have, a phone now? We're pretty close to that, and they're used to pushing the buttons right off the bat and getting answers. People google things. I even heard that 411 service is going away because nobody calls information anymore. So, now we try to project ahead and think, "Okay, so people are going to have even more intense devices that can provide them with more information, whether an augmented reality and you're sharing experiences, virtual reality," and we're all playing in those areas now.

We're all experimenting in those areas, some of us more than others, depending for a research institution, but as we move forward, how does that really affect the educational experience? What is education going to look like in 20 years and how relevant are we all going to be? And I think for every institution, small, medium, and large, we have to think about that because our students are changing, their expectations are changing, how they want to engage with education is changing. You look at the gig economy. Do I need to be an expert in six things or do I need to have a really much more narrow expertise in one? I don't have the answers, but to me, I find all those things amazingly interesting, and also if you just look at what's happening in neurology and the science of neurology and how our brains work and how they accept or don't accept all these different types of inputs, to me just there's so much opportunity.

It's hard to harness it and figure out, how do we help our institutions take reasonable steps now to make sure that we're ready for whatever it is that comes? And, I think part of that is really inculcating change in our institutions, getting folks to understand the culture is change and moving forward, being able to have as much flexibility and agility from everything from our budgets to our training and our experiences. And in a way, I think really hiring people that are the most curious, that are going to want to follow through in take advantage of all those opportunities that come up.

Jack Suess: Well, I think that's a great way to end our podcast.

Cynthia Golden: Joanne, thank you for joining us. This has been a great conversation.

Joanne Kossuth: Thank you, it's been fun. I really appreciate the opportunity.

This episode features:

Joanne Kossuth
Chief Operations Officer
Lesley University

Cynthia Golden
Associate Provost
University of Pittsburgh

Jack Suess
Vice President of IT & CIO
University of Maryland, Baltimore County