These posts are based on a speech I gave on November 6th as part of the Leaders for Life session through the Order of Angell in partnership with the Alumni Association on “Being a change agent.” The previous posts can be found here, here and here.
This post refers to the change process where I find many fail. It is about building a team of change-agents. Initially, the ideas may come from me, but I need a team here of committed partners who believe in the idea as much as I do. This is the first and foremost test of the responses to steps 1-3.
You need to build the nucleus of a team around trust. They typically have varying strengths to make up for each others’ weaknesses. This team does not have to be big, but it has to united through the common belief that this thing is the most important to be working on. I have often messed up when I tried to build these types of teams too quickly or without deep scrutiny. I have also messed up when I tried to build a team out of people who are all “just like me.” The best teams should have members with differing backgrounds, opinions and strengths.
When I was asked to build the Center for Entrepreneurship, I immediately hired two people. First, I hired an assistant who knew the inner workings of the University of Michigan. I knew I could get stuck very quickly in the quick-sand of bureaucracy and process. So, I needed someone who could help and prevent us from getting stuck. She was like magic. If I could not clear some bureaucratic hurdle, I would ask her. Somehow, she had this secret network and things would just happen. To this day, I still don’t know how she did it. Second, I hired a person to deeply scrutinize any idea on the table. This lecturer had obviously thought through entrepreneurship a lot longer than me. I met her because she repeatedly came and asked me for money to build out one of the most unbelievable classes in the entire College of Engineering. I noticed the work she did and the way she made thing happened was incredible, yet she was wired differently than me. She understood operational aspects of academic programs in a way I did not. She was also more critical of people than me, asking some tough questions before I recognized the importance of the issues she questioned. But, she was absolutely willing to leap if needed, even though she did not yet see the solution. I almost had to push her to join our small team and I am convinced we would have never made it without her.
So, how did I find them you ask? I looked for people who were already doing the work we needed to get done to be successful as a team. I did not interview and hire based on words, I hired based on their track-record and actions. That’s a lot easier… I recommend it!
The 5th step is to build a team of early followers, adopters or customers. When I can help it, I try to create some success rather quickly. I am a strong believer that it is more important to show some quick initial success than doing it perfectly the first time round. By going through this check-out process, you learn more than any theoretical study or market analysis one might want to do.
Before I even hired the first person in the CFE , I aligned myself with the student organization MPowered. I liked their energy and saw them as the most ideal partners. I respected the early leaders and I appreciated the natural alignment of vision we had from the start. We also understood that we were going to need each other to make a big impact. It was clear I would be more successful, if I could engage students, as opposed to guessing how to create success and produce programs on my own. I also felt their feedback on the direction I was moving was vital to both our success. MPowered saw an opportunity to experiment and develop some ground-breaking programs they were unable to do without my support financially, as an academic representative or with my advice. We had a lot of impact right away. Some of our ideas were really bad, so we pivoted and went in a new direction. This CFE partnership with MPowered allowed us to scale up much faster and with better results.
I learned something in this process: if I want to change anything major in a university, I need to empower the students, and the change will happen! I cannot tell you how amazed I am by student organizations such as MPowered Entrepreneurship, the Solar Car, Blue Lab, the Chinese Entrepreneurship Network, and so many others!