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Next Generation Leadership Partners on Building a Career in Higher Ed Technology

min read
The Integrative CIO | Season 1, Episode 15

Hosts Cynthia and Jack talk with Mary Beth Baker and Phil Goldstein from Next Generation Learning Partners about the best way to approach approach, interview for, and attain a leadership position in higher ed technology.

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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.

Hi everybody. Welcome to the Integrative CIO podcast. We are here live at EDUCAUSE 2022 in Denver, Colorado. I am Cynthia Golden, from the University of Pittsburgh.

Jack Suess: I'm Jack Suess, from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Cynthia Golden: And we're happy to have everybody with us today. Today we would like to welcome Mary Beth Baker and Phil Goldstein to the podcast. Mary Beth and Phil are managing partners of Next Generation Leadership Partners. So Mary Beth and Phil, why don't you introduce yourselves to our audience, and tell us a little bit about Next Gen Partners?

Mary Beth Baker: Sure. Well, thank you. And thank you for the opportunity to be here. We are super excited to have this conversation. So as Cynthia said, I'm Mary Beth Baker. I am one of the halves of Next Generation Leadership Partners. Phil and I have been... We've dedicated our professional careers to higher education. We've been in this business for I should say, maybe close to 30 years. We started our careers as consultants. We were both with Coopers and Lybrand. We left there. I was a partner, leading the higher education consulting practice for the west coast. Phil was leading the technology practice nationally. We both left there at different points in time, to establish our own independent consulting practices. And we continued to collaborate, because we had a very strong relationship professionally. And as we were continuing to do our consulting work, at one point we realized that there might be an opportunity to come together and build a brand around executive search.

So what was happening is that we were doing IT strategy work, or IT organizational assessment work. And often at the end of the engagements our clients would say, well you recommended a CIO. Do you know anybody? And this only needed to happen a few times for us to realize that, wait a minute. There's an opportunity here, for us to get more involved. And come together, and establish a search practice. So our firm is dedicated, continues to be dedicated to higher education. We are dedicated to the information technology space. We do both consulting work, and strategy, and organizational assessment. And then our search practices as you know, is focused on chief information officers and their direct reports.

Phil Goldstein: And I think because we put those two things together, it allows us to do a couple of things. We spend a lot of time working with CIOs. And it really helps us understand what makes a CIO successful today. And how those needs are changing over time. And I think also because we understand the underlying issues and challenges that CIOs have to address, when we're in a search, we can represent the institution's strategic agenda to candidates in a way that's transparent, compelling, authentic. And we think it prepares candidates better, to engage with institutions successfully.

Jack Suess: We'd like to talk a little bit about the executive search process.

Phil Goldstein: Jack, I'm going to take that from the perspective of how a candidate experiences it. Because we've just spent the last two days here at the conference, meeting with aspiring IT leaders. And often what we're asked to do is, demystify the search process from their perspective.

And there are probably more than a half a dozen points of interaction that a candidate has with a search process, when a search firm is engaged. It could start with just a phone call expressing an interest of, hey. I saw you have an opportunity. Can you tell me a little bit about it? I want to understand if it's something that I might be interested in. Then it becomes the formal application of a cover letter, and a resume. Which is the way we get to know the person better, if they're not already part of our network. But more importantly, it's going to be the way that a search committee down the road, is going to first meet the candidate on paper. Then when Mary Beth and I are doing searches, we'll end up having probably two or three conversations with candidates, before we ever introduce them to our client search committees.

And through that process, what we're really learning about the candidates is why they're interested in the position. What it is that they've done as leaders, as their career has grown. And how does that match up with the institutional agenda that the search is focused on? And it gives us the information we need to then go to a search committee and say, here's what we learned about this candidate. And here's why we really are recommending them to you, as someone that you should get to know. And it really helps the search committee when they finally are in front and interviewing a candidate, do so with a depth of knowledge about the individual that they otherwise wouldn't have.

And then as the institution takes more of the leading role in interviewing candidates and vetting the candidates, we're still there behind the scenes guiding them. And making sure that they're in a position to put their best selves forward in the interview process, by having debriefing calls with them. Having prep calls with them. They get pretty tired of hearing from us by the time they're to the finalist stage, and are going through those day long interviews of meeting with all sorts of interview panels. And then, we're involved in checking their references. And making sure that if we learn something, we go back to the candidate and say hey. Can you give us some context about this? Because, we want to make sure we can explain it in a way that's objective and fair. And hopefully we're there to congratulate them when the search is over, and see them get successfully launched.

Mary Beth Baker: And I think I would just add from a candidate's perspective, we want candidates to go into the process really trying to seek an understanding of what the institution is looking for, so that they can present their best authentic self. We also want you to be very honest about the opportunity. And talk to your family about it, if that's important. To make sure that they're interested in moving to X rural location, or X urban location. And really don't surprise your partner, or your spouse when you made it to the finalist stage. Because, wait a minute. I didn't know we were thinking about moving. That was a surprise to me.

But we want people to scope out the opportunity. Obviously, not just for the reasons of geography. But we want them to evaluate the institution, and the culture. And the size of the organization. And the challenges that they're facing. As Phil mentioned, we work with our clients right up front, to understand what the agenda is. What are the opportunities and challenges. And we want people to be realistic about those issue sets, and see if they're going to be excited about those. Can they get behind them? They may not have experience in every single one of them, but are they excited to try to pursue those challenges? So those are really important things to be thinking about upfront. And use us as a search firm, to really try to validate your understanding of what they're looking for.

Jack Suess: So I always tell people who are thinking of search, it's a lot about right person, right institution, right time. And it may not be the right time, it may not be the right institution. Or you may not be the right person for either of those. How have you helped people understand, to make that evaluation?

Phil Goldstein: I think only the individual knows if it's the right time, because that's a lot about where they are in their career and the stage of life. I think in terms of right person, I think part of our responsibility sometimes, is making people realize they're more ready than they think. That there's a lot of people who self-select out of processes, because they don't think they're the right person. Because they look at a job description and say, I haven't done all those things. And I think sometimes when we can, we reach out and say, that's not what we're asking for. We're looking for whether you've had leadership experiences that you can draw from, to inform the things you haven't yet done.

And I think that helps people see if they're the right person, beyond what they think of themselves. I think whether it's the right institution and the right opportunity, that's a discovery process. And my advice would be, don't make that decision from the job description alone. Have a couple of conversations with us. And you're going to learn more, as you get through the process. But start with a reason why you're intrigued, but then go deeper. And you'll start to figure out if it's the right opportunity for you.

Cynthia Golden: Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes in our world.

Mary Beth Baker: Just a few.

Cynthia Golden: And for example, one of the things that we're seeing a lot more of is virtual interviews. And so, they've become important. And how do you think people should be preparing for these kinds of interviews? What should they know about how to engage in a virtual interview?

Mary Beth Baker: You need to show up just like you're showing up in person. And starting with the... You're behind a screen, so make sure the lighting is good. The audio is good. You don't need to necessarily have a virtual background. I don't... They're walking into your office, so I think that's fine. It makes you human. Makes the experience a little more personal.

You need to do your homework, just the way you would if you were showing up in person. You need to allow some time, both before and after. So don't try to schedule the interview at the end of another meeting. So your meeting ends at two, your interview starts at two. Don't do it to yourself. Because you can't fully engage and be present in the process, if you're running from one meeting to the next.

I would also say, follow up with a thank you note. I mean, people don't do that anymore. I mean it doesn't have to be written, but it can at least be an email. Because, a lot of people are putting a lot of time and energy into the process. And a little gratitude goes a long way. I'm sure I'm forgetting some things.

Phil Goldstein: Well, I think the... Here's a lesson learned. I think there's a temptation because we're sitting in our home offices, and we can have multiple monitors up. Or we can have a set of notes under the table. You don't want to be reading your responses. You want it to feel conversational. Yeah. Do your homework, prepare. Write up some talking points. It's okay to have a couple notes. It's okay to jot a note down of what was the question that was asked of you, so that you can make sure you're answering it fully. But you're not giving congressional testimony. You don't want to read a prepared statement to the search committee. Because they're on the other side, trying to be interactive with you. And you want to be able to come across in a much more conversational way.

Cynthia Golden: Yeah. And one of the challenges in that kind of a situation is, you're not making eye contact with people. And so you have to pay attention to some of these other pieces of advice I think, that you're given.

Mary Beth Baker: Right. And I think sometimes if you do better standing, then stand up. Get your setup standing, because you might be able to be more energetic. And if you do better sitting, then sit. Don't be alarmed if your dog or your cat runs through the screen. I mean again, we all are appreciative of the environments that we're in. So try not to let that distraction distract you to the extent that, that's possible.

I think another thing that's a little bit different, at least for us is that when we used to do the semi-finalist interviews in person, part of that interview process was a presentation. And that we've actually recommending to our clients, to take that out of the Zoom interview. Just because, it is so hard to make eye contact. And there might be some people that don't have their screen on, for whatever reason. And it just makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable. So we're creating the structures to create the conversation.

Phil Goldstein: And one of the things that you can do on video, that you can't do as easily in person is you use the name that is in the box of the person that you're interviewing with, of the committee. And if you remember that, that person who's asking you the question works in enrollment services, connect with them in that way if you can.

And certainly when you get to the Q and A part of it, use people's names. It's a way that you can make it feel more personal.

Jack Suess: So we've talked a lot about how this has changed for the individual, but how is it also changing for the organization? And what are some ideas? Because when we used to do the search processes in person, a lot of this is also trying to make the candidate want to come to our institution.

So what are some things we can be doing to help with that?

Mary Beth Baker: Yeah. Some of the things is providing more background information for the candidates to review, in advance of their interviews. I mean, we ask for the org charts obviously. But we also want them to share strategic plans. And any other information about not only the IT organization. That may not be public. But about the institution. I think the other thing from a specific search committee perspective is just as we've talked about don't walk from one meeting to the next, spend the time looking at the individual's cover letters and resumes. And try to create a buffer before and after the interview. Because you too, want to put your best self forward. Because, you are representing the institution. And you want the candidates to be excited about the opportunity.

Phil Goldstein: I think we also ask committees, work with us. Have fewer questions, and more space for follow up and conversation. And it's a chance for the committee to share information about the institution. As opposed to trying to fill the whole hour/hour and a half with 20 questions.

And it just feels so rapid and impersonal, that you don't get a chance to really share what is a point of pride, that you have about the institution.

Cynthia Golden: Are there other things the institution should be thinking about? We on the hiring side, when we're looking to work with the search firm?

Phil Goldstein: Be prepared to look at the position from the candidate's perspective. You're going to engage with us. It's not just for the management of the process of recruiting, it's really... It's for the discovery of the agenda that you're hiring someone to provide leadership around. So we are going to want to work with you, to really understand how will the candidate perceive this opportunity? What will they get to work on? Is there an alignment of expectations, authority, resources, agenda? Because certainly, the candidates are going to be scrutinizing that. Because they don't mind a challenge, but they want a challenge they can succeed at. So being able to look at it from that perspective. Being able to look at the construct of the job. When you're about to begin a search, it's one of those rare moments where you can take a step back and as an institution ask, do we have this position reporting in the right place in our organization, for the changes we're expecting the leader to affect?

And that's also true, if we're advising a CIO on hiring somebody as part of their leadership team. Are we having the right components of our organization reporting to this person? If academic technology's not part of IT, this is one of the rare moments when you can take a look at that before you start the search. Because you may make a fundamentally different decision with us about the kind of candidates you're looking for, based on that organizational structure.

And we also ask on the scale from operational to visionary, where are you trying to land with the type of person that you want to hire? Because you don't want to hire a visionary, and then give them an operational agenda. And then you don't want to hire an operational leader who's going to be challenged to create vision, when what you're looking for is someone who's going to raise the visibility of the institution by really taking IT to a national platform. And really pushing the innovation side of things. So we're going to make you look at the position through the candidate's eyes, as we prepare for the search.

Mary Beth Baker: I think I would just add two things. Jack, I think you mentioned when individuals are looking at jobs, it's right person, right time institution. We're going to press search committees on that question of right person. Because, many people on the search committee... And people are evolving and learning. They're going to be looking for computer science degree. And they've had X, Y, and Z experience in all parts of the agenda that we're seeking. And we're going to bring to you candidates that have a very diverse set of experiences. I mean at this level, at a CIO level, you're looking for someone who's a leader of technology, not a technology leader. And so, we were going to bring to you people that have leadership experience. And they may come in very different flavors. So we're going to push on that search committee to think differently about what their preconceived notion of the right person might be.

And then secondly, adding onto your question around what's different? The CIO market, the IT leadership market is very dynamic right now. And we have to think differently about our schedule. So we are asking our clients to move a little faster, be a little more agile in their process. And for some, it's a little uncomfortable. But if you want to recruit the best candidates and keep them in your pool, and ultimately attract them, you need to think differently also. Or in the early days, 10 years ago, we'd recommend they choose six semi-finalists. Now we're saying six to eight, maybe nine. Just because, there's so much movement right now.

Phil Goldstein: One of the advantages of having the search committee do much more of their work on video is, it's removed cost as an institutional concern. So it opened up for larger candidate pools. Which also has helped us create more diverse candidate pools. Because it really puts search committees in a situation where they feel like that person may not have all the experiences we were looking for, but boy we see a lot of potential there. Let's give that person a chance to interview. Because, we're investing an hour and a half on a video interview. Why wouldn't we want to meet as many candidates who are well qualified as possible?

Jack Suess: So this podcast is the Integrative CIO. And it's really about integrative leadership. And we were wondering, are institutions looking for integrative leadership? And if so, how do they define integrative leadership?

Phil Goldstein: Whether they know it or not, they are. If I think about what we're hearing from clients is important to them in the hiring they're making, they're thinking about things like data strategy. Where we really want to be able to raise our ability to use data to make decisions. They're thinking about business process change. Whether that... It's a holdover from emergency things we did during the pandemic, to move off of paper. To now, we really want to actually do digital transformation.

They're thinking about student access, and digital equity. And the need to engage all parts of the institution with IT in doing that. Or they're thinking about how to look holistically at the student experience. And so, that's the issue set that they're more often than not describing. Or if it's a research university, it's are we striking the right balance as a federated IT environment? And there really is no way to affect change on that issue set, unless you're someone who's got the leader skills to work across the entire institution. And so I don't know that they've used the word integrative leader with us, as much as they have institutional leader, ability to lead change. Ability to have a perspective beyond the IT organization, to the broader institution.

Cynthia Golden: Following up on that a little bit, are there specific kinds of experiences that you think future CIOs might want to have on their resume, that presidents or provosts would be looking for?

Mary Beth Baker: I think what institutions are looking for are people who understand, and can develop the collaborative and strong business partnerships across the institution. So they want people who've led organizational change, and have an enterprise-wide perspective. They want people who understand that IT is delivered in service to the institution. So that... They want to hear about projects or initiatives that they've led to improve student success. To expand the research footprint. To improve operational efficiency. Those are some of the things that Phil was just talking about.

They obviously want someone who understands and appreciates the balance that's needed when managing security. The security environment, the security threats. Especially, in a research institution. You can't just go command and control. There are a lot of researchers there that you need to be able to engage with, and appreciate their situation. So those are some of the other pieces. I think they're looking for individuals who understand the importance of data. Data integration, data management, data governance. And I think from a pure quality standpoint, they're looking for leaders that are innovative, they're curious. And they're human. Because you're not just leading technology, and technical projects. You're leading an organization that's customer service oriented. That is again, in support of college or university mission.

Phil Goldstein: Picking up on that last point about leading people, I think really, the recognition of the competition for IT talent, recruitment and retention has really put an emphasis on leaders. And not just CIOs, but rising CIOs as well, who establish organizational culture. Who really, can think creatively about staffing strategies. Who can think about professional development. Who can think about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And who can create a sense of belonging in the IT organization, for people and ideas from very diverse backgrounds and perspectives. That's gone way up higher on the list of criteria. Because, you're leading people much more than your leading technology at this point.

Jack Suess: So one of the themes that we've heard... And I'm just curious how people might bring this forward is, the integrative CIO is really a team. And is that reasonable, to be talking about how you build teams that really come together to take the group to a different level?

Mary Beth Baker: Absolutely. I mean, you're not doing it alone. You can't. So it is probably one of the most important criteria that someone needs to be able to demonstrate, that they've created a high performing team. That they've created that culture, as Phil mentioned. And I think it's... You've not only done it in your past, but you've done it in the last couple years. Which is... We know we will continue to be challenged by this hybrid environment.

How have you taken advantage of the lessons that you've learned through the pandemic, to create a culture of belonging when you know you've got a third of your workforce working remote, a third of them hybrid, and a third of them in person? I think that is really, really important. And it's not only creating that culture, but what are you also doing to help those individuals advance their careers?

I mean you're obviously looking out for your own career, but you need to be developing the people behind you. And the succession plan. So creating opportunities for them is just as important as having those people focused on the opportunities that they need to deliver on.

Phil Goldstein: One of the questions that we've been getting from some of the people we've been coaching here the last couple of days has been, what is different about managing a larger organization from managing a small organization? Because often, people just count the number of direct reports. And say well, I'll still have seven direct reports.

And just getting people to think about what is fundamentally different when you are managing and mentoring people, who manage and mentor others. And getting in that mindset of how you would act differently to build that kind of a team that can affect change, really only happens through your ability to develop other leaders.

Jack Suess: One last follow up. As we've done the podcast, one of the things that we hear over and over is about the value of good communication skills. And it seems like one of those things that sometimes is hard to showcase. But are there ways that you've seen people be able to highlight not just in their presentation style, but in work that they've done? Their background in communications and change management.

Phil Goldstein: I think, definitely. I mean in some ways, the construct of the search process creates those opportunities. I think people often feel like, wow. This is overly performative. Why are they making me jump through these hoops? But if you step back and think about it, those think on your feet moments, talk to diverse groups. Be able to interact with the cabinet one hour and the IT staff the next hour is what a CIO does every day, as you two both know very well.

And so, I think the search process does provide those opportunities to demonstrate it. But you also have to realize that you are being challenged to write well through your cover letter, and your resume. And certainly, people on the search committee are going to read that. And they're going to comment on your grammar and clarity.

You're going to get a chance to do it certainly verbally, with very diverse audiences. With short questions, complex questions. Technical questions, non-technical questions. And you're going to be asked to expand on what in your own experience, has been your approach to leading change? And maybe you've not dealt with the issue that the institution you're interviewing with is dealing with. But what in your experience base is the equivalent complexity of change, where you had to be that communicator that built the coalition that got it ultimately done?

Mary Beth Baker: And just two follow ups. One, on the cover letter. Which is one of my personal pet peeves, is that people think it's a box you have to check. It absolutely is not a box you have to check. It is... My favorite analogy is telling people that, treat it as your movie trailer. This is the movie trailer that the search committee is going to read, to want to get excited about learning more. And so get them from the cover, letter to the resume, to the interview. So be yourself. Be your authentic self. It's not proforma. It's not a transmittal letter. So really think about that cover letter, and expressing why you're interested in the role. And why your experience tees up with what they're looking for.

Cynthia Golden: One of the things about the cover letter that I have heard, is people thinking that it is proforma. That it doesn't really matter. And I was just talking to somebody the other day who said she spends more time focused on the cover letter for positions she's hiring for, than the resume.

Mary Beth Baker: Yep. Because, that's where your human side comes through. And I know sometimes people are looking at their experience within the institution that they're working for currently. Or maybe, a prior role. And they might feel like, oh. I don't have that experience that they're looking for. But we also... We tell people two things. Think about experiences that could translate. And then, look outside. Because, I know many people are involved in volunteer work. They might be on a board at their local church or local nonprofit, that could be equally transferable to the job that they're applying for. So that's all part of your package. And don't hesitate to use those as examples.

Phil Goldstein: In fact, to your question Jack about communications, the equivalent of the cover letter verbally is that opening question from an interviewer about, why are you interested in this position? And that is not a throwaway question. People really want to know, why do you want to be our colleague? What is it about our institution that connects? And it's not a challenge to recite why you're qualified. It is really an opportunity to talk about what it is about this moment, the institution. The mission of the organization or the institution, the challenge inherent in the job profile that you read, that really resonated with you. Grabbed you, and wanted you to invest your time in pursuing it. So that's... The way you tell your cover letter, should be the way you tell your answer to that question.

Mary Beth Baker: And please don't lead with geography, or this... I had one more stint in me. And this is where my grandchildren live.

Cynthia Golden: We've talked a lot about CIO positions, and looking for new CIOs. What other opportunities do you see out there, for senior IT leadership kinds of roles?

Mary Beth Baker: There are many. There's chief information security officer. We've done... We recently did two recruitments for an associate CIO for research, and associate CIO for education. There's vice president for infrastructure services. Chief data officer. Chief digital officer. Digital transformation. So there are a lot of opportunities for people with a lot of seasoned experience in IT, that may even be coming... They might be CIOs at a smaller institution, and are looking to make a move to a larger institution. That might be a nice bridge way into a larger institution.

Phil Goldstein: And we see people whose careers move up and down a little bit, because they're trying to change scale of institutions. Maybe a CIO who becomes a deputy CIO, because that's your path to becoming the CIO again at a fundamentally different type of institution.

Jack Suess: So this has been wonderful. And as we get ready, one last question for our average listener. What are some things that they should be thinking about now and in the future, as they may be thinking about a job change or other sort of endeavor?

Phil Goldstein: A couple things come to mind. Keep your resume up to date. Not maybe moment by moment. But certainly, every six months. And one exercise I've often advised people to do is every six months, maybe write a memo of accomplishment to your team. Which gives you an opportunity to document some of the outcomes that you as an organization, have had. And some of those very same bullet points that you're giving kudos to your team for helping you accomplish, are the things you want to highlight in your resume that you're doing to make a difference at your institution. And just being in the habit of keeping that up to date, and keeping that fresh also keeps you in the mindset of looking at, am I growing? Am I continuing to get those leadership opportunities across my organization? Am I learning about different parts of the university? So that when I sit down with my boss, I can ask for those opportunities?

So that's one. The second is, build your professional network. You can never extend that enough. And whether it's through EDUCAUSE events you're going to, or if you're in a university system. People at other campuses, people within your campus, your ability to tap into the generosity of this community is one of the best assets that you have, as you're navigating your career.

I imagine people do this to the two of you, of just asking you to tell us your story. How did you get to the role that you're in? How'd you get to your first CIO position? And the more you have those conversations with people, the more you'll discover that there's many ways to get there. And I think, you'll benefit from that.

Another thing to do is call us. We really want people to reach out to us, and just get on our radar screen. But I think it's an opportunity to really have a conversation with us before there is a job that you're pursuing. To just let us know what you're interested in, let us know what you've been accomplishing. And let us give you some feedback about the kinds of opportunities we're seeing that maybe you didn't think you were ready for, that you should start competing for.

Mary Beth Baker: Yeah. And I would add a couple things. I think with respect to getting involved, getting involved with EDUCAUSE and putting yourself out for either committee roles or putting in proposals for presentations, that's a great way to get exposed and to share your subject matter expertise. I think also, getting involved with your local community. There are many institutions now, that the local economy is bound to the local university. So see what opportunities there are to create bridges and partnerships there. And then finally, I would just say as you go through this process and continue to evaluate your career opportunities, be nice to yourself. Take your foot off the pedal a little bit. There's not a pressure to get to the next step in six months or a year. It is a process of evolution. And just enjoy the ride, as you go through it.

Jack Suess: Well Mary Beth and Phil, thank you. This has been a wonderful episode. I'm sure our listeners will love it.

Mary Beth Baker: Well, thank you. Really appreciate the opportunity.

This episode features:

Mary Beth Baker
Managing Partner
Next Generation Leadership Partners

Phil Goldstein
Managing Partner
Next Generation Leadership Partners

Cynthia Golden
Associate Provost
Executive Director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning
University of Pittsburgh

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