On The True Measure of Success

Posted by Tony Kovner

I recently read a great article in Harvard Business Review which proposed four steps in measuring success in the organization you work for.  (To my knowledge, it is uncommon for many organizations, including health care organizations and schools of public administration, to follow these steps as part of standard practice):

– Define your governing objective.

– Develop a theory of cause and effect to assess presumed drivers of the objective. (the step that’s usually left out)

– Identify the specific activities to help achieve the governing objective.

– Evaluate your statistics (reevaluate the measures you are using to link employee activities with the governing objective (also lacking in practice).

I’m interested in learning more about organizations that carry out these steps well.  Please share your thoughts.

Suggested reading: “The True Measure of Success” HBR by Michael J Maubossin, Harvard Business Review, October 2012 page 48.

How Much are Three Letters Worth?

Posted by Debbie Koh

Pursuing a graduate degree is a huge undertaking. At Wagner, getting a Masters of Public Administration typically means an investment of two years’ time (nights studying at Bobst Library you’ll never get back), tuition (roughly $40,000 per year), and any lost wages if you’re not working (opportunity cost).

It’s reasonable to question whether such a significant investment is worth it, especially when considering a public service career. So what convinced me that getting those three letters behind my name was worth the time and resources? I’d say the following areas: networking, experience and skills.

- Networking: No, I don’t mean the jaded, using-other-people’s-connections-to get-ahead kind of networking. I’m talking about being brought into a group of students and alumni who are joined by the desire to use their careers to achieve some sort of social impact. That shared motivation is what drove my day-to-day conversations with other students, helped me conduct information interviews with alumni, and encouraged me to connect with prospective and new students. Sometimes this kind of networking opened doors to career opportunities and sometimes it didn’t, but it helped me decide what made sense to keep pursuing and what to leave behind.

- Experience: Wagner offers a unique opportunity to build up one’s work experience. Being in New York meant that I had access to a huge array of institutions, organizations, and companies. If I wanted to work for a non-profit with US headquarters and overseas offices, or a small consulting firm with local and national clients, I could (and did). Capstone, which remains the highlight of my Wagner experience, provided me with solid experience that I could reference in job interviews and lessons learned that I apply in my current job. Finally, it was inspiring to learn from from the variety of backgrounds that were captured even in a specific program like Health Policy and Management, and from the larger student body.

- Skills: Probably the easiest, most obvious reason the go to graduate school, but it’s still worth noting. Economics, statistics, and finance skills are critical to have but difficult to get outside the classroom. In addition, taking time to become knowledgeable and stay current about one’s field – whether hospital management or international development – often falls prey to the daily demands of the workplace. Graduate school provides the opportunity to study the history, theory and recent developments in one’s practice area. I believe that this is a key component to producing high-quality work in any field.

The affordability and utility of an MPA or any graduate degree will always be a personal choice. It’s impossible to know how my career might be different or whether I would’ve had the same opportunities without attending Wagner. Certainly, no program is perfect – but for me, it was worth it.

Debbie graduated from Wagner in 2010 with her MPA in Health Policy and Management, International Health. She returned to her native California in 2011 and currently works for Venture Strategies Innovations. Follow her on Twitter at @thedebkoh or connect via LinkedIn. All views expressed are her own.

The Hook

Posted by Jacob Victory

I recently bought a pair of trousers. The cloth was fancy, the pleats were perfection and the pants actually had lining. “Swanky,” I thought to myself, and I got excited about the discounted price; so I bought it—without trying it on because I’m a lazy shopper and found my size quickly. Excited about the purchase, I didn’t think about the pants until I had to wear it a couple of days later.  Yet, my enthusiasm waned; when I slipped on the trousers I had a wrestling match with the pants hook in order to button the pants. It did not hook properly and despite my strong intentions, multiple attempts and raised eyebrows, the hook won and I gave up. Defeated, I slipped into an older pair, grabbed my keys and took the train to have breakfast with one of my mentors.

On the train ride to work after my breakfast—elated at having had an hour’s worth of advice, encouragement, playful banter and savory hash-browns—my mind obsessed about the pants hook.  While I dislike purchasing clothes, I had found a great pair of fitted and expensive (albeit discounted) trousers. But that blasted hook prevented me from wearing it. Annoyed, my mind reflected back to my breakfast conversations and I was thankful that I had one mentor who, despite his modest rolodex and retirement from health care 10 years ago, understood me, listened to the questions I asked, and offered his years of experience, observations, and input on how I should focus on what I seek, delegate the rest, and look forward to all that a successful professional and social life has to offer. “He’s got me hooked on every word he says,” I recall thinking. And, just as the train conductor announced my stop, it struck me that “hook” was the morning’s theme.

On one hand, I had a fancy pair of trousers with the perfect cut and material but it was useless to me because I could not hook it up properly. On the other hand, I had a modest man of modest means offering me a tanker’s weight in wisdom & encouragement—and had me hooked for more. I believe in mentorship. If you’re a looking for a mentor, here are eight points to consider:

1.       Seek mentors who listen more than they speak. They are often the wisest.

2.       Do not solely focus on seeking the most powerful, well-liked or well-positioned person you can find. The best advice or opportunity is not always offered by those in “high” places.

3.       Once you identify someone, never ever (ever) ask, “Will you be my mentor?” It can be off-putting and tainted with obligation. Instead, consider asking them out for coffee or a phone-chat by asking: 1) “There is an issue on which I would love your advice,” or 2) “I’d love to hear about your background and thoughts on (insert topic here).” Anyone who allocates their time and lavishes advice on you will, in time, become your mentor.

4.       Find that “hook,” or that connection or particular commonality that bolsters your relationship.

5.       Carve out time to build a relationship, as this is 90% of the task.

6.       Consider their time valuable.

7.       Realize that some people are not inclined to teach, to give advice or lend their time. If you receive a polite “no,” thank them anyway and move on.

8.       Lastly: enjoy it, as feedback is a gift.

Jacob Victory, an NYU-Wagner alum, is the Vice President of Performance Management Projects at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. Jacob spends his days getting excited about initiatives that aim to reform and restructure health care.  He’s held strategic planning, clinical operations and performance improvement roles at academic medical centers, in home health care and at medical schools. Jacob also exercises the right side of his brain. Besides drawing flow charts and crunching numbers all day, he makes a mean pot of stew and does abstract paintings, often interpreting faces he finds intriguing.