Lessons Learned

As I write this I am somewhere between Chicago and Austin, TX on my way to the UPCEA Executive Committee. This is an annual event where we not only solve the world’s problems, but we also have the good fortune to be hosted by our president, Judy Ashcroft, on the beautiful UT Austin campus.

I have been traveling for about twelve hours, having left my house at 5:30 am, and I wanted to pass along some of insights that I’ve learned in my journey that you might find pertinent in working with our students, clients, customers, and our staff.

Insight one:  Even if isn’t your fault it’s still your fault

My adventure started at Weyers Cave Regional Airport with an early morning flight to Dulles and a direct flight to Austin.  As they say on ESPN’s Sports Center, “not so fast, fella.”  Well, wouldn’t you know that Dulles was fogged in (really Dulles fogged in, come on man) so we were diverted to the Charlottesville Airport because we needed fuel and had to wait out the fog.

Now I know that the airline has no control over the weather, but oh my — I was not a happy camper.  Luckily a strong cup of coffee took the edge off.  In the same way I was blaming the airline for something they couldn’t control, many of our students run into policies and procedures that just don’t make any sense to them (and sometimes ourselves), and because we are part of the institution students sometimes presume that these policies and procedures were our idea.  In my experience it does little good – and actually a lot of harm — to try to shift any blame. We do the student and the institution a disservice if we do this.  So, Shaeffer, what’s the insight?  See insight two below.

Insight Two:

As we are cooling our jets (pun intended) in Charlottesville Airport, I have a chance to talk with the crew. Each one them was very empathic with our frustration and repeatedly said they were sorry for the inconvenience, and that they would work with us on making alternative arrangements.

Insight two is that we need to listen and be empathic with the needs and concerns of our students, customers, staff, and my kids and wife should be added to this list.

Insight Three:

I hate waiting. Anyone who knows me well knows that patience is not one of my virtues, which brings me back to my adventure.  From Charlottesville we flew to Dulles, and  made it to Dulles just two hours late for my direct flight to Austin.  This began a series of hurry up and wait events that eventually took me from Austin to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Don’t get me wrong — I love Chicago, especially when the Cubs are in town, but not when it gets between me and a supposed direct flight to Austin.  Now to add insult to injury, my flight from Chicago to Austin was delayed over an hour.  The insight Shaeffer?  Nobody likes to wait or be inconvenienced.  And this is true for everyone with whom we work (did I use whom correctly?).  Not providing timely responses to questions, failing to get back to our partners, even being late for meetings is an inconvenience for someone.  I have to be honest here, I can be guilty of this because I make the wrong assumption that whatever I am working on is more important than keeping the promise I made to be at a meeting.  Now I’ve confessed. JMU folks, I will do better.

Insight Four:  For Heaven’s Sake, Communicate

You will remember we left our hero in Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting for what turned out to be a very non-direct flight to Austin. After over an hour delay, we boarded the plane and we raced out to take off…and then we waited, and waited, and waited.  Now there is only one thing I hate more than waiting, and that is NOT knowing why the heck I am waiting.  After what seemed forever we finally started to move and were informed that we hadn’t been moving because someone (pilots, politicians, who?) needed to cleanup some paper work.  Now why in the heck didn’t you tell us that earlier?

Same is true with our staff, students, and partners. We owe it to them to keep them informed, even when we don’t have any new information.  I am reminded of students I work with who are waiting to hear if I have approved their request to enroll, to continue in a program or any other request they make. In many cases, I haven’t responded because I am waiting to hear from someone else (the registrar, faculty member, fill in the blank) before I respond. If I’ve learned anything on this trip, it is to share information even if you having nothing new to provide.  Without communication, we as customers have a tendency to fill in the information void with inaccurate information, which just creates more frustration.

Insight Five:  The Wildcard

My fifth insight on this adventure (oh, by the way, I am still somewhere between Chicago and Austin at 32,000 feet. This is when in doubt I take heavy doses of…Jimmy Buffet.  You can’t go wrong with the King of Margaritaville, with someone who professes that it is five o’clock somewhere, and provides excellent career advice if you want to be a pirate.)

Hang in there Judy and the rest of the Executive Committee, I am almost there! I hope.

PS. I know that the rest of you don’t make the mistakes I mentioned in this blog but I sure feel better getting this off my chest. Thanks.




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