Lead Where You Stand Take Time Off to Move Ideas Forward
At CATLab, we are committed to thinking deeply. In the words of Dr. Reed Sheard, Westmont’s CIO and Vice President for College Advancement, we believe that "our values should give rise to actionable principles.” Therefore, our commitment to learning is more than nominal—we seek to be an active extension of Westmont’s liberal arts education. In our last article we shared how our values practically shape our marketing. Here, we will focus on how we live out our commitment to education.
Last week, CATLab devoted a full work week to attend Westmont’s annual Lead Where You Stand conference. Many companies would balk at this idea—why would we pay employees to learn when there is so much work to be done at the office? We did it because we believe that education is well worth the investment. When our students grow, so does our program. Adam Vekony, a data analyst said “the conference gave me a concrete vocabulary to describe complex concepts.” For Alexa Gatiss, a designer, “it affirmed the way that we operate, encouraging me to be creative and take risks.” Joseph Chandra, an admissions representative, shared that “learning the difference between high context and low context cultures helped me become better at communicating within my team.” In addition to growing our students' abilities, Lead Where You Stand helped us discover another three concrete reasons to invest in education.
1. Make space for innovation.
At the conference, our team learned from Appfolio’s CTO Jon Walker that “one big way to move your company forward is to intentionally take time off to reflect on things that are outside the scope of your daily rhythms.” Appfolio hosts biannual hackathons where employees are allowed to work on any project or idea that they want, so long as it is not something that they would normally do. At CATLab, we move ideas forward by creating space for our students to do what they do best: grow, learn, and explore. Walker pointed out that “you can’t take people to a place you haven’t been.” By investing in education, we encourage our students to explore new intellectual horizons which they can then share with their coworkers and future employers.
Setting aside time to reflect and learn furthers our students’ professional development and our program’s knowledge base. Educational events improve our student’s practical skill sets—at Lead Where You Stand our students listened to New York Times columnist David Brooks share candidly about his writing process and learned from Walker that the best ideas at Appfolio come from small teams of 5-6 working together. By learning new ideas and refining skills, we hope to spur innovation at CATLab.
2. Understand and appreciate your co-workers and clients.
We learned from David Brooks that when people leave a company, it’s not because of money, but because they don’t feel appreciated by their managers. While employees do value salaries, Brooks shared a 2021 MIT Sloan study which found that employees who feel undervalued are three times more likely to quit than those who feel underpaid.
According to Brooks, the best way to understand others—whether employees or clients—is to become a better learner and listener. During Lead Where You Stand, CATLab students practiced listening to diverse perspectives and asking open-ended questions to learn more. Brooks reminded us that “each person is an artist. Like Picasso or van Gogh, we each have a unique way of seeing the world.” As we grow in our understanding of one another, we begin to appreciate the unique value that each team member brings to the table.
Strong leaders need to know their team members. Gayle Beebe, Westmont College president, emphasized that learning about your community members prepares you to engage deeply with them during challenging seasons: “Crises affect people in different ways, but you can do things to prepare for them. You’ll only be ready to meet people’s different needs if you have been paying attention and living in community with them.”
The same holds true for relationships with clients. By knowing our clients well, we can live by Reed Sheard’s advice to “build products that delight customers.”
3. Create a meaningful corporate culture.
According to UCLA’s annual survey of incoming American college students, 84% of first years considered “being very well off financially” as an “essential objective” of college. In contrast, just 49% said that “developing a meaningful life philosophy” was essential. While students want financial success, employees in the workforce want meaningful jobs. According to MIT Sloan, the number one reason employees leave a company is because of a toxic corporate culture. When it came to quitting, company culture was 10.4 times more important than low wages. People desire meaningful work, but they might not know it until after college.
Since students and schools prioritize financial success over building relationships or life philosophies, few graduates are equipped to build a meaningful work culture. One way to begin building a positive company culture is by learning together. Walker recommended that “instead of gathering employees for yet another cornhole tournament, bring them in for collaborative work.” Learning together creates a shared language, reframing the company vision from “I” to “we.” A “we” centered company culture encourages employees to care for one another and inspires them to work for something bigger than themselves. For example, CATLab members eventually graduate college and leave our team, but while here they are inspired to work hard, knowing that their projects will continue to serve Westmont long after they are gone.
To conclude, Brooks offers us a parting thought: “attention is an on–off switch, not a dimmer.” Just like a healthy work–life balance, it’s critical to draw clear lines between education and work. While our team still got some work done during the week we spent at Lead Where You Stand, we made sure that any work was done before or after the conference. By staying true to our values, encouraging and empowering students to learn in the present, CATLab is creating a network of educated students well-positioned to make an impact.
Our projects are driven by CATLab’s core values—curiosity, commitment, and authenticity. Look for our next article investigating the complexity of using tech without being consumed by it.
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