The year 2020 has been challenging by any measure, and many in our community have suffered from previously inconceivable levels of stress and personal hardships. If there is one thing we learned from the past year, it is that people can be profoundly resourceful, resilient, and creative. We can also be kind, compassionate, and helpful.
Since starting my blog in July, I have often wondered if these “think pieces” could help our community take a more expansive view of our collective future, avoiding the curse of tunnel vision or short-term thinking that only focuses on getting over the current crisis, which undermines our ability to make decisions for the long-term health of the institution. I realize that some of these seemingly grandiose, big picture ideas may appear detached from our daily challenges.
In this blog, I would like to shift gears and balance these broad concepts with a few concrete, practical ideas. I am, after all, an engineer by trade, and it is important for me to connect directly with those who strive to make the day-to-day operations of the College possible during this incredibly challenging time. So much effort is spent focusing on the research and teaching missions of the College that we often neglect to acknowledge those who are the engine and make the College function. It is those individuals—Baruch’s talented staff—who are essential in taking the larger vision and transforming it into not just a workable plan but a path to our success.
The Unsung Heroes
Allow me to take a detour. I became a department chair more than 20 years ago, somewhat by accident. My department’s chair was recruited to head up a division at the National Science Foundation; I was nominated to fill the position, and at first, I was reluctant. I just got promoted to full professor, was excelling in my research and teaching, and had no desire to assume administrative responsibilities. I accepted out of a sense of obligation, figuring the position would be temporary.
To my surprise, I enjoyed many aspects of the job. Being a department chair provided me a “ground floor” view of the organization. Not only was I offered the opportunity to learn more about my colleagues’ work—about most of which I had little or no understanding—I was able to work with staff from across the university who ran the university’s daily operations, from HR, to facilities and grounds, budget and finance, public safety, and student services and affairs. I quickly realized, and continue to believe, that the unsung heroes of any higher education institution are those hard-working and talented individuals—those whose efforts are often under-recognized.
The new awareness generated fresh perspectives, allowing me to bring people together to make positive impacts on the department and college that I didn’t know were possible. I also learned that the most fulfilling parts of the job were to connect colleagues from different parts of the university and help them succeed together. Not only did the staff I work with play an integral role in advancing these collaborations, I came to understand their intrinsic value—their commitment, professional skills, and patience that translate ideas into actions and outcomes. They help me see my role as an academic with humility and with gratitude—I cannot do what I do without them.
The 70-30 Principle
It was about this time that I came up with the idea of the 70-30 Principle, which is that everyone in the institution should devote 70 percent of their time, energy, and effort to their primary responsibilities—doing their job diligently and doing it well. More importantly, everyone should devote no less than 30 percent of their time to help their colleagues succeed.
This principle has two important consequences: First is the benefit of collaboration and coordination. When we collaborate, we move in concert to achieve a common goal. When adding coordination to the recipe, we improvise and adjust our own rhythm much like musicians in a jazz band. The magic happens when we combine collaboration and coordination, which build trust and goodwill that ultimately translate into cohesion while simultaneously creating greater effectiveness. And second, by helping others we not only amplify their achievements but we also gain a deeper understanding of our own work—allowing ourselves to make sense of our endeavors in the context of the big picture.
If we all believe in our ultimate mission as an institution—one thing I know we do at Baruch—it only makes sense that we seek to understand the professional challenges others face and learn what skills they have to tackle them. We can then fill in the gaps with our knowledge, experience, or connections and in the process build stronger relationships and create a better-quality result. Let me assure you that this makes the work a lot more fun as well.
We Are in This Together
How we position ourselves as an institution will make a difference in our future. Recovering from the wreckage of the pandemic will require not only long-term vision and strategy, but also concrete plans, sensible tradeoffs, broad buy-in, and disciplined execution. Baruch, like our higher education peers, is facing a turbulent and uncertain future. While we will emerge on the other side, it won’t be without pain. We must be ready to face the unknown, and what matters even more is not what we do but how we do it.
Let us forget about work and think about life for a moment. The 70-30 Principle boils down to the idea of not only spending time to focus on our own interests but actively seeking opportunities to help others in our community or anything larger than ourselves. In difficult times like these, collaboration and coordination can go a long way in building community and creating a collective sense of purpose.
Let us choose to fill 30 percent of our time as a listening ear, a pair of helping hands, and an empathetic heart to support one another in all aspects of our lives. No matter your religion and creed, isn’t that the fundamental spirit of the holidays and path to a better, more meaningful life? In the midst of it all, I wish you moments of peace, healing, and happiness and look forward to resuming our journey together in the new year.