Podcast: New Leadership Opportunities with SWE's Governance Update

In our latest podcast on SWE’s Governance Update, Penny Wirsing, Chair of the Governance Task Force, talks with Karen Roth, FY17 Director of Professional Excellence.
SWE Leadership Summit Update

Our Diverse podcast is brought to you by SWE Advance, supporting the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in engineering through career resources, professional development and one-to-one networking opportunities.


(Penny)

I’m Penny Wirsing, Chair of the Governance Task Force that is working on ways to create more meaningful leadership experiences for SWE’s members. We’ve recorded a number of podcasts on governance updates, available at governance.swe.org. This podcast will focus on section support in the new governance structure.

Section support is an area that has come up repeatedly – everyone understands how vital it is that members and sections feel connected at the local level, and there was concern that without the regional geographic structure this connection might be lost. The task force reached out to the Professional Excellence team to see how best to provide this support.

Joining me now is Karen Roth. Karen is the FY17 Director of Professional Excellence. She is a Professional Life Member of SWE and a Member at Large. Her role as Director of Professional Excellence includes oversight of the Curriculum and Leadership Coaching Committees, which has led to involvement in the Governance restructuring to ensure the Society’s Professional Development offerings are in alignment with the needs of the membership moving forward. 

Karen, please give us some background from your perspective.

(Karen)

  • Coming into the Director of Professional Excellence role this past year I knew there was going to be a large Governance impact on my job. Previously I was the Deputy Speaker of the Senate and a Senator for the three years before that so I’d been able to see all of the work to date. I had actually worked on the Senate sub-committee evaluating the Governance recommendations, but being a Leadership Coach in a previous SWE life, I also had an interest on keeping tabs on what was going on in some of the other sub-committees in regards to Professional Development.
  • SWE’s current strategic plan already has a focus on improving training for Leadership Coaches as well as evolving the committee in general, so we knew that would be an area we were working on this year. We then learned that the Governance recommendations included the Leadership Coaching Committee, or LCC, taking over a broader section-support type of role, to be the direct contact for sections in lieu of regions. My task was to filter through all of the recommendations, work with the teams, and come up with a vision on the way forward that included the entirety of the Professional Excellence team.

(Penny)

It sounds like the strategic work for the Leadership Coaching Committee had a lot of synergy with the task force’s direction. How did you approach the changes?

(Karen)

  • The Professional Excellence team, which consists of Curriculum Committee, LCC and our HQ Professional Development Team, started by meeting at conference and learning more about what each other did. In the past these groups have had separate goals in the strategic plan and, while they used each other as resources, they weren’t inherently working as a unit because of those separate goals. We held a big team meeting to work out some of those ‘big hairy’ questions on what was doable and where there were concerns, and what were the strengths of each of the groups to continue to leverage.
  • We came out with a proposal that gave a distinct focus to each group that allowed us to address the Governance recommendations. One of the bigger changes was actually with the Curriculum Committee, they’re a relatively new committee, only 5-6 years old, and had been created as an advisory group but without any active day to day tasks. Their new task is now to manage what we’re calling the content baseline for the Society. With a big focus on the SWE Leadership Competency Model for growth and skill building, we needed to make sure that members had a better way to not only find content, but also to find content that meets their training and enrichment goals. The Curriculum Committee is currently working with HQ and all of the Committees to develop a baseline of all of the training material currently available to members and mapping it to that Competency Model. Starting next year, the team will conduct an annual gap analysis to ensure the current needs of the Society are met, make recommendations on new content, what content to retire, or where updates should flow, and then engage with the content owners to ensure the changes happen. This way we’ll have one monitored repository and can eliminate some of the overlapping content from different groups who may not have known material was available or created their own material to fill a perceived gap.

(Penny)

So the members of the Curriculum Committee will now have much more active leadership roles, and the information that is being provided to our members will be more easily accessible and current. This is great. What else is happening?

(Karen)

  • HQ for the most part will remain unchanged other than adding resources for the teams to work with, especially with some technology needs of both committees. We really tried to focus on how to best use volunteer time while not expecting them to also work on things that they’re not experts in like branding, or doing contracts for events.
  • LCC will be making some changes as well, but honestly I would call them more changes to streamline best practices than they are specifically to meet the needs of the Governance recommendations. These were things we would have wanted to do with the committee anyway to help meet an evolving Society that has doubled membership in the past ten years. The things that we did ten years ago to support sections aren’t the same things that are needed today if we want to continue this momentum and ensure the same high quality of service for all of our sections, domestic and international.

(Penny)

That sounds very consistent with other changes the Governance task force is pursuing, recognizing that the way we’ve been doing certain things made perfect sense when we started, but it’s important to take stock periodically and really test to see if the needs have changes, and how best to meet those needs today. What specifically is LCC doing differently?

(Karen)

  • We started off with the premise that LCC’s focus would be section vitality. We wanted to focus on the best use of volunteer time and expertise and ensure the group was well trained in this one focus area versus trying to be a jack of all trades for anything a section may need. We want to build a team of coaches, people that are great at working with groups and one on one, listening to issues, identifying best practices and then putting together a game plan with a group to make it better.
  • So with that focus on vitality, we’re going to assign a coach to every section, group, or affiliate in the Society. Some regions already did this, while some used a more holistic approach, but we’ve found that interaction with the coaches was better when the sections had a distinct point of contact to work with. We also said that the job of these coaches was to consult, coach, and train their assigned groups, and also to utilize other materials and resources as necessary.
  • We’re also going to have a group of subject matter experts, or SMEs. Previously we expected coaches to know everything on how the Society runs, which just isn’t feasible. There’s naturally going to be some people that know more than others based on their experiences, but with SMEs we will have specific individuals who are knowledgeable about specific areas who can serve as one of many resources to the coaches.
  • It really depends on the needs of the section. If they’re asking a lot of administration questions then the coach should be connecting them with HQ. If the group is looking for more training on salary negotiations, then the coach should be working with the Curriculum Committee to find the best content for training and perhaps bring in a SME if needed to supplement. Coaches will act a little bit like a Program Manager and fill in the gaps with their own knowledge and resources. We’ll also create some new Lead positions to focus on enabling communication and collaboration with other committees, continuing our mission of section startup, and managing current content.

(Penny)

That sounds great. How close are we to having this in place?

(Karen)

  • We have plans, but we’re still early in the roll-out stages. Curriculum has already submitted for and gotten approved a new charter and they’re actively working on putting together the initial baseline of existing training materials that we discussed earlier and will kick off next year with an in-depth review there. LCC is in the process of selecting a new Chair Elect and leads for the new structure that they’ve laid out. They’ll have a new charter by the end of the fiscal year. We’re planning an in person training for all of the leads in conjunction with Board One to work out the tactical execution for the rest of the year.
  • By WE17 next year each section should have gotten initial communications from their assigned coaches, the committees should have gotten initial communications from the collaboration lead, and the SME selection process will be in progress. In the August/September timeframe you’re going to be seeing a lot more marketing on the new model, and calls for participation. The committee needs to grow to be able to ensure complete coverage and provide the SME resources as well. I would encourage you to step up or to recommend other SWE leaders step up for these positions if you know they would be a valuable resource. If you have any questions on the roll out or impact to you, feel free to email the governance@swe.org email and it will be forwarded to me.

(Penny)

This new coach position sounds like a great opportunity for someone who is passionate about SWE to really get involved and make a difference. How are you going to ensure the coaches are set up for success?

(Karen)

  • We’re going to be working a lot of things in the background that will make it easier for coaches to do their jobs and do them well. That includes a more comprehensive training program that will be supported by our new SMEs. It includes prototyping some of our material in eLearning modules that coaches can use to support their consulting. We’ll be working with HQ to integrate into the new Learning Management System so sections and individuals will be able to track what material they’ve done and see some options to fill identified gaps. We’re going to create a more comprehensive coach tracking and evaluation system so we can understand how we can do better and what material sections are looking for. Simply put, we’ve grown to a size and the Society needs are as such that we can’t work off of spreadsheets anymore. It’s not manageable. There will be some bumps along the way, but we appreciate the support in getting to the next step!
  • There are a lot of things we considered and are putting on a ‘Future Goals’ list. We wanted to focus on creating this new structure and making sure it’s solid first but we recognize there are some other things that we need to do better like engaging our SWE International Ambassadors and SWEFLs and folding in their knowledge and expertise. Be looking for more on these ‘Future Goals’ in the coming year or two.
  • I’ve additionally created a Leadership Summit Taskforce for FY18 that’s going to look at everything the various regions do and recommend a path forward. You will continue to have Leadership Summits in FY18, but in the meantime this team is going to look at how to standardize and ensure quality content. We expect a recommendation in Winter of next year so they can start creating an execution plan leading up to the typical Fall timeframe for Summits.

(Penny)

Well, Karen, it sounds like you and your Professional Excellence team have lots of great plans to help ensure SWE continues to support section vitality, and in doing so you’re providing some great leadership experiences for our members. Thank you so much for sharing this information with us today

I want to thank those who are listening to this podcast and reaching out to learn more about what the Society is doing. To find out more about the governance update, go to governance.swe.org or email your questions to governance@swe.org.

Karen Roth is the FY17 Director of Professional Excellence and Professional Life Member of SWE. Karen, thanks for participating in SWE’s podcast series.