Marking time or moving ahead?

I had the good fortune (at least I thought it was before the game) to attend the MSU-Alabama football game on New Year’s Day. My family had already planned to be in the Orlando area, so we just added one more item to our itinerary, splurged on the tickets and donned our Spartan apparel for the day. Before the game, the festivities were pretty impressive. I can tell you that the Michigan State University alumni put on a tailgate that puts the Alabama Alumni Association to shame. On one side, you had hundreds of people line-dancing, feasting on ribs and brats, and making quite a racket. On the other side, the red side, a few dozen politely sipped their iced tea (sweetened) and listened to music I couldn’t identify because the volume was so low and the Spartan speakers were blaring next door. It was a good day to be a Spartan until about 1:09 p.m. That was the time of the first pass interference call against MSU.

 Prior to the game, the two teams arrived and paraded separately to the stadium, accompanied by the marching bands. At least that was the plan. The problem was the crowd was so densely packed that the marching bands couldn’t really move forward. All they could do was mark time – ready to move ahead, but waiting for the right time to step forward instead of stepping in place.

 The image of the mighty Spartan Marching Band simply marching in place made me think about where we are in our own organization. We’ve been working on a redesign process for two years now, and from inside the organization, there are programs we are delivering or ways of doing our work that we wouldn’t have recognized two years or even one year ago. In other ways, there are times when it might feel like not much has changed, and we’re wondering if we really WILL see the full scope of our changes come to reality. At times, it feels like we’re marking time, marching in place rather than moving ahead. And like the Spartan Marching Band, marking time isn’t what we were made for. We’re here in order to help move Michigan forward.

 So why is that, and what can we do about it?

 I think it’s too easy to say “Well, we’re in a transition. Once we get through the transition, THEN we’ll look and feel different.” I plan to tax myself a dollar for each time I use the word “transition” this year – and the proceeds will go to the MSUE Professional Development Endowment. So this newsletter has already cost me $3.00.

The point is that some of what we have planned for in our new design is in place (institutes, districts, work team priorities, new budget system) and some is not (web redesign, planning and reporting system, new county MoA). Just like a new house that has the floor coverings installed in some rooms, but not others, at some point you declare the house finished, even though the carpeting company is scheduled to arrive in three weeks with the remaining carpet. Those whose bedrooms are already carpeted feel privileged to actually settle into their bedrooms. Those whose bedrooms will be carpeted in a few weeks feel cheated by getting to smell the new carpet smell from neighboring rooms, but not getting to feel the soft piles between their toes. Knowing that the house IS going to be done and that the new carpeting HAS been ordered doesn’t completely counterbalance that sense of incompletion.

 We’re at the point of needing to declare our house finished. Our redesign is in place. Yep, we still need to have former county Extension directors help us with some issues in some counties, though I’ve been impressed with how our district coordinators have learned the details of each county. And we still need to have 4-H educators continue to help coordinate 4-H in their county, even though they’re also working on a work group that takes their attention beyond their home county. We still need folks to provide supervision for SNAP-Ed or EFNEP who won’t be doing that in the future and are eager to get on to their new assignments. And we still need for agriculture educators to help with calls that are now outside their new specialization because the caller knows them and trusts them to help them find their way through our new system. As frustrating as it may be at times to still have some of the old and familiar on our to-do list, I’m hearing from a lot of folks who appreciate the opportunity to specialize in a new area and to build a new group of clientele to serve. It’s great to hear about those exciting experiences and it’s necessary for me to hear about the instances in which we’re not quite there yet.

 This year, I will do all I can to make sure we’re marching forward and not marking time. That doesn’t mean I won’t ask you to help us by marking time when we need for you to do so. But I want to assure you that I expect all of us to move forward – taking on the new challenges, but not ignoring what we’ve been carrying with us until we’re each confident that we’ve made an effective and secure hand-off of those previous responsibilities.

1 Comment

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One response to “Marking time or moving ahead?

  1. Julie Darnton

    I had to leave a comment here because I wanted to let you know how well-timed your comments were for me. Everyone deals with change differently — some people were nervous early when there were a lot of unknowns, some have had the same level of concern about the changes proposed and monitoring each incremental evolution as it occurred. I have been pretty content that things would be worked out and answers would come but something about the new year produced a real feeling of malaise and questions about where I am going professionally and that MSUE feels like it IS (or has been) marking time. I had my low point comparatively late but it was still low. This blog post helped me realize that I am not alone in that feeling and that was comforting. A bit of distance and time helped me to take stock and see that the changes that are coming now are moving us forward and out of our stasis. Thanks for these thoughts today!