President Preview

As part of his annual planning cycle, President Neal Smatresk hosted his 2016 Planning Implementation Workshop, with the theme of United by Purpose, Aug. 16 to review the progress from the 2015-16 academic year and outline the priorities to tackle in the coming year.

This year's workshop focused on driving a broad cultural shift toward a more collaborative team approach across the university's areas. The ultimate goal is change the way the administration, faculty and staff work together to further improve academics, research and the university's reputation while helping students succeed and graduate at even higher rates. About 120 UNT administrators, deans, chairs, students, faculty and staff members participated in the workshop, which Sara Smith, a former IBM executive and leadership coach co-facilitated. Read Smatresk's message to campus about 2016-17 priorities.

In opening the workshop, Smatresk told the participants that UNT had accomplished a lot in the past two years, working to fix urgent and core issues to put the university on firmer ground to achieve its goals and mission.

"What we have to do now is pull together as a team and infuse our culture with a common purpose to achieve our goals because they directly impact our students and our mission. This requires the full commitment of our deans, chairs, faculty and staff," Smatresk said. "We need to double down on our commitment as an institution to move ourselves forward. It's not a top-down effort. It has to come from the heart and souls of our faculty, staff, leadership and our students."

In laying out the university's accomplishments and challenges, Smatresk told the participants that the university must figure out how to continually distinguish itself in the marketplace and add value. 

"Every day, we should think about what we do to add value to our students' education, to help them gain employment, to treat them fairly and to instill in them the loyalty and desire to be UNT students and graduates," Smatresk said.

Driving change through collaboration and innovation

In the workshop, participants explored the university's broad goals: 

Communication. Collaboration. Innovation.: Build a nimble and innovative culture.

Research and Reputation: Increase research, scholarship, reputation and engagement.

Student Success: Create innovative ways to continue to deliver or develop great new programs that meet students' needs and prepare them for strong careers.

Smatresk based the group collaboration on the "Accelerate" model, by John P. Kotter, the emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School, and a thought leader on change leadership. Kotter's model calls for a dual operating system, a hierarchical structure that provides the organization and a network-like structure that provides the agility and innovation.

"We need a hierarchical structure as a resource that will help drive innovation from a network structure of faculty, staff and students," Smatresk told the participants, who were mostly department chairs and faculty. "We're asking you to be innovators and leaders, and for central administration to be resources for your innovation."

Smatresk says he wants people to abandon their turf and silos and instead think about how their division or department can cross boundaries to help the university to deliver on its goals.

"We're creating avenues for grassroots, team-based management to reach our goals and to help us be nimble. It's a culture of change," Smatresk said. "But we're still all on one big team, working in unity to help our students succeed."

Smatresk organized "Change Teams" to address challenges for the 2016-17 year through projects that were pitched and evaluated "Shark Tank" style to the President's Cabinet during the workshop. Participants then voted on the best project in each of the three categories to implement for the year. The Change Team approach will carry on throughout the year, guided by executive sponsors — members of the President's Cabinet — with teams expected to meet regularly to get the three projects off the ground.

The President's Cabinet also chose several other projects to sponsor for implementation based on their value and impact in moving the university forward.

As part of the workshop, the participants took part in table exercises to write a short statement that captures UNT's purpose as an institution. The statements generated will be starting points for new purpose and mission statements that UNT will develop in the coming year, Smatresk said.

Collaborating around a common purpose

Melissa McGuire, assistant vice president for student affairs, said that portion of the workshop was the most valuable because it was good to see how people with different perspectives could coalesce around a common purpose and vision.

"Events and conversations like this help break down the walls and give me the opportunity to know how others think," she said.

Smith's session on how to lead change also gave McGuire important lessons that she plans to put into practice immediately.

In her session, Smith, the co-facilitator, emphasized that to successfully lead change, leaders must motivate people, build a path that people can follow and rally people through consensus.

"Transformation is really about shifting people," Smith said.

Following Smith, Seth Littrell, the new football coach, gave a talk during lunch about how to build winning teams, which reinforced the morning sessions.

Vijay Vaidyanathan, chair of the two-year old biomedical engineering department, said he loved being able to interact with his peers in other departments at the workshop.

"It's great to work together around a common purpose," Vaidyanathan said. "And I liked discussing ways to incentivize innovation."

For the research and reputation goal, one of the strategies discussed in the workshop is how the university can increase research funding, which struck a chord with Rajiv Mishra, Distinguished Research Professor of materials science and engineering and director of UNT's Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Processes Institute.

"How we implement the high impact hires is critical," he said. "The easiest path to increase research funding is with the people we bring in."

Jesse Anyalebechi, an Eagle Ambassador who took part in the workshop, loved hearing the dialogue about collaboration and learning more about the university's inner workings.

"A university is an organization and we have to have shared values, vision and common goals to make it run successfully," he said. "Seeing all of this showed me that all of these people are here to serve me and my peers. That makes me feel important. It makes me feel valued."

—Ernestine Bousquet, University Relations, Communications and Marketing.

2016 State of the University

Attend the 2016 State of the University at 3 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 2:15 p.m.

2016 Planning Workshop Recap
Top 3 Implementation Projects for 2016-17 academic year
  • Communication. Collaboration. Innovation.: Create a physical gathering space for faculty and staff to facilitate collaboration, communication and community.
    • Executive Sponsors: Finley Graves, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs
  • Research and Reputation: Increase the quantity and quality of graduate students by building online programs that increase revenue. The project also would focus on growing online master's programs to accommodate professionals in changing/growing fields.
    • Executive Sponsors: Finley Graves, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Bob Brown, vice president for finance and administration
  • Student Success: Provide resources to increase graduate enrollment and use a portion of the revenues generated to increase graduate student stipends, increase research and boost the university's reputation and rankings.
    • Executive Sponsor: Finley Graves, provost and vice president for academic affairs