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Two participants talking through an exercise in the Transformational Leadership Program.

TLP participants Bonnie Marten, left, and Mary Luther, Office of Human Resources, discuss their project plan. In the background: Etty Westergaard, University Services.

Leading the transformation

U staff members become process improvement leaders

By Meredith Fox

Brief, December 14, 2005

More than 30 task forces are currently hard at work developing plans to help the University of Minnesota become one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade. Once recommendations have been submitted and priorities decided, the hard work of implementing improvements will begin. The University will need to bring all of its resources to bear in order to successfully execute this transformation.

Last week, 22 University employees began a journey to prepare themselves to help make the improvements a reality. In an unprecedented partnership between the U's Office of Service and Continuous Improvement (OSCI) and 3M, selected staff from a cross-section of colleges, units, and campuses are learning how to methodically improve processes. Over the next 18 months, they'll complete two more weeks of training and lead at least two strategically aligned process improvement projects.

Adapting a world-renowned process to the U

The Transformational Leadership Program (TLP) curriculum is based on 3M's world-renowned process improvement techniques that have been customized for higher education and for the University of Minnesota in particular. The first TLP class is co-taught by process improvement trainers from the University and 3M. OSCI's Matt Larson worked directly with 3M to customize the training.

"TLP is teaching participants how to examine the pieces of what we do at the University, determine whether they are being successfully accomplished, fix any gaps in performance, and maintain improvements over time," Larson says. "We all come to work each day and put forth efforts that have value to others. This program gives the University tools to measure our effectiveness and do something if there is a problem or gap. Preparing the University for future success through this program is an exciting opportunity to make a significant impact."

TLP is in direct support of the strategic positioning task forces, adds OSCI director Scott Martens.

"Not only do TLP projects help drive success of particular strategic objectives," says Martens, "but the new skill set, language, and energy that is created through participation in TLP will be a critical tool in driving a University culture committed to continuous improvement and excellence."

"We have been identifying strategy, but I wanted to learn about how to actually change the underlying processes."

Participants applied to the program in the fall of 2005 and were selected by a committee led by the president's chief of staff, Kathy Brown, and vice president for human resources Carol Carrier. Many are alumni of the President's Emerging Leaders Program.

Jean O'Connell, 3M's director of community affairs, kicked off the first day of TLP training by telling participants that they are embarking on an exciting journey with the University, armed with proven techniques to make a difference. She stressed that the program is not just about the tools they receive but about the positive change they will facilitate.

Four participants in the Transformational Leadership program and a flip chart
Left to right: Kimberly Carlisle, OHR; Stephanie Vine, UMD; Margo Marko, College of Nursing; and Cynthia Scott, UR, map a process on the flipchart and discuss how to improve it.

"3M has done the hard work of developing process improvement models to assure their status as a world-class organization," says participant Etty Westergaard, assistant to the vice president for university services. "The TLP partnership with 3M is a great opportunity to learn strategies and tools that successfully drive change."

Westergaard also saw the TLP program and training as a way to network and build relationships with people from across the University who will be critical to achieving strategic positioning goals.

Jon Binks, Office of the Provost, Twin Cities, is interested in deepening his understanding of how business models of leadership and management can be translated into a higher education setting and how that expertise can inform the University's strategic positioning process.

"We spend a lot of time with ideas but don't always have the methods, tools, or peers to get things done," says participant Jim Nichols, Information Technology Supervisor for the U of M Extension Service. "The peer group is the most valuable part of the TLP experience so far. We are going through the process together [and] have a lot to learn from one another."

Starting on unit projects

Until spring 2006, when strategic positioning decisions are made and many project implementation efforts are identified, TLP participants will apply their newly acquired skills to improving performance in their own units.


Meredith Fox is community relations coordinator with the Office of Service and Continuous Improvement. She is also a participant in the Transformational Leadership Program.