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The Leaders · Season 1

Leading change with a common purpose

May 6, 2020

Pivoting during a pandemic. Hear from Ivey Business School Dean Sharon Hodgson on how her team of staff and faculty transformed the immersive, world-class Ivey classroom into a virtual experience. COVID-19 has knocked all sectors off their axis – but in this inaugural episode learn how leading with a common purpose during this crisis is sparking experimentation and novel approaches for Canada’s top business school.


Sharon Hodgson

Pivoting during a pandemic. Hear from Ivey Business School Dean Sharon Hodgson on how her team of staff and faculty transformed the immersive, world-class Ivey classroom into a virtual experience.

COVID-19 has knocked all sectors off their axis – but in this inaugural episode learn how leading with a common purpose during this crisis is sparking experimentation and novel approaches for Canada’s top business school.


Insights and wisdom lie within every business decision. Welcome to the Leaders Podcast by Ivey, where we discover hidden narratives and unlock key learnings for our own leadership and career journeys. Hey welcome to the first episode, I’m Matt Quinn and today's host. On this podcast you're going to hear from a number of leaders with a wide variety of backgrounds and interest, who will be taking a roaming host approach and I’ll be your guide for the first few episodes. Keep checking back, we have a great line up of guests. It will be making the most of the highly talented leaders in our school and from across our Ivey alumnI network. Today is Global Ivey day, so to kick off our podcast and to celebrate all things Ivey, I bring you our very first guest, Dean of the Ivey Business school, Sharon Hodgson. Sharon joined Ivey in 2019 after holding senior leadership rolls with some of the world's largest professional service firms, including IBM, PWC and Anderson Consulting, now Accenture. Sharon is passionate about leading complex organizations through disruptive environments. I think you're going to like this conversation. Let's get going. So Sharon thanks very much for joining us. I know you've got a ton of experience in change and leading groups and businesses in times of disruption. Can you talk about the most significant challenge or opportunity that you've faced in the past six to eight weeks? What's something that stands out to you as a significant challenge or opportunity for Ivey. Everybody who would you would ask this question to at Ivey, this particular time would have said that the most significant challenge that they've had to deal with in the last little while has been the impact of the COVID crisis on their business. While I’ve been through lots of change before and actually managed businesses through crises in the past. This is my first time dealing with it in an academic setting. So for sure it is the how we've responded to COVID and actually helping to manage the business through the COVID crisis, but when I sort of skinny it down to what was really really the challenging elements of it, it was number one first making sure that we had a very good appreciation for how to keep our community safe and get our community to a safe place and then continuing the business operations and, in particular, delivering a great experience to our students, and we stayed very firmly focused on those two activities and made sure that we put all of our resources behind affecting those two activities. You mentioned that this is the first time in an academic setting. Is there anything that stands out to you as a as a hallmark or a key thing about academics in time of change, that you've noticed compared to some other businesses and industries that you've been in? So, it's really interesting. When you look at academia you when I first came into this role, a lot of people told me that academia is very long in the tooth in terms of needing a change and that we really needed, it's been a challenge because academics, you know, think of their institutions as being so longstanding, and delivering in a very specific way. And it would be hard to get them to change. The absolutely pleasant surprise that I have seen is just how swiftly all our entire organization jumped on to this change and made it happen. You know in record time you know three business days, we converted everybody to a virtual classroom, and it was a staff, faculty and students all had to be heavily engaged in this, and they just you know so any myth that may have been out there about academics, not having the ability to change and pivot is, you know, gone for me now. I think this organization has shown me just the their absolute ability to be able to shift and pivot on a dime, and I’ve been really really happy about that. When you look at change and the need for change, how do you personally approach that? How do you lead in a time like this? Are there certain inspirations that you've had before? Is there a certain mindset that you had before in tackling this challenge? Yeah so I think the big things in terms of when your leading change is making sure that first of all, there's a common purpose and that's why we were so vigilant in terms of making sure we had guiding principles that were driving everything that we did, and I mentioned those before making sure the health and safety of our community was first and then delivering a great student or client experience for the Ivey Academy and Ivey Asia. So making sure there's a common purpose that everybody is very focused on, especially when the shift is incredibly fast. The common purpose needs to be very narrowly defined. The second is making sure that you've got the right team in place to help to manage, through the crisis and or through the change. If it's not a crisis base change. And making sure we have the right team and we've got the right level of communications out to all the constituent bases. So, they understand first of all the case for change and then understand what their role is and the impact that they're going to how they're going to be impacted by the change and then ultimately, how they're going to benefit from the change. And I think you need to be very open, and you need to be very transparent because not all change affects all constituents the same way. When you see that certain constituents are maybe going to be less may be impacted in a negative way versus a positive way. You've got to be frank with people about that, and you got to be able to talk to them about both the negative changes in the positive changes to their everyday work world. And so, I, you know firm believer in open, honest and transparent conversations. One of the groups that is really experiencing a tremendous amount of change in a hurry is our students. Could you talk a little bit about the student experience and some of the things that are highlights for you, things that we've done things that we have to consider and maybe why this whole student experience might change as we move forward? In fact, student experience is one of the biggest focuses that we've got right now in it and, as you know, in terms of our guiding principles, that was one of the areas that we said. We've got to deliver the best student experience we can given the conditions were in. I would say that the early transition that we did our students were actually very patient with us, and while they were, you know we got really good feedback from them on the quality of the online experience that we were providing. It's not the online experience that we would expect to provide if we had a longer period of time to prepare- and we owe it to our students to make the investments that are necessary to make their experience online be as good as or better than what they experienced when they were in the classroom. We are working on a number of things, so, first of all, we meet with them regularly to get their feedback on, what's working and what's not and how they are experiencing the program. The bigger the biggest gaps that we have is more in the area of social learning. So it's not necessarily gaps in learning that they're getting in the classroom. It's the gaps between class, it's that conversation that you normally would have when you walked out of the classroom and you walked down to Starbucks to get a coffee. You were talking to your buddy about what was a takeaway from that particular case and what you learned, and maybe a different way to think about one of the challenges that was expressed it by the faculty member in the class. Those are the types of things that we've got: we're trying to build out a more robust experience for and creating discussion groups outside of the class. That's great. You mentioned earlier that the school really made this change quickly and you've been really surprised, and it's seen a lot of positive things. What is it in Ivey's, core competency or in the community that you've noticed that has really made this possible? I know in the past, you've talked about the alumni network, speak a bit more about that, and maybe some other things that you've seen that you've gone boy, this has really set us up for success in the situation. That's a really great question. I think when, as I think through all of the messaging that I got in I, as you know, Matt I did this four month listening tour right at the very beginning of my time, and people were telling me all the different things you know, I talked to faculty, staff, students, alumni, corporates, other deans at other business schools, and what kept coming out for me is the one thing that one of the things that makes Ivey very special is that, among all other things for staff and faculty student experience is first and there's lots of things that we can get into our silos on and focus on. You know our own individual areas, but when it comes to delivering an absolutely great student experience, all of our team is incredibly aligned and because this shift really was about first safety of our community and then delivering the absolute best student experience we could. I think, that's why it was a relatively I don't want to say easy, but we were able to make the pivot so quickly, because everybody had that focus, and it was all about the students and, let's just make this work and put together the programming that we need to be successful. So I you know that to me is how Ivey stands out in this case. It sounds to me that there are a lot of learnings that are coming up. That are, you know, surprising and positive. Are there other things that you've seen going through this with lots of different audiences? Are there other key learnings that stand out for you as the as a leader of our organization, that you go wow. This is neat. I never thought of it this way, or this is a neat opportunity for the school moving forward. There are tremendous opportunities and that have come out of this crisis that we really need to take with us as we move forward. First of all, this was the little push that we might have needed to give all of the faculty and opportunity to experiment and experience online. There were a number of faculty that, when we started this had already got a fair bit of experience an online teaching because, as you all know, we launched our accelerated MBA. That is a forty percent online MBA at the beginning of January of 2020. So we had it. We had this group of faculty who, as I mentioned already, had a ton of experience and boy this group just jumped on it. They said all right: we've got some of the best practices. We've got some experience with this. We are going to be the team that supports those faculty who haven't yet made this switch, and this group basically put together the best practices for how we would be operating online, met with individual faculty members that were really a little bit nervous about this and coach them on how to use the tools online and showed them what good practices were out there. They produced a document that covered the best practices that we needed in terms of executing on this. They also we brought in both our ed tech group, which was part of the team that helped to produce the original, accelerated MBA materials and all of our program directors to make sure they were very well versed on this, as well as faculty administrators who supported the faculty through this, so everybody's kind of got a great dose to start with of best practice for how to deliver online, and this we will take into the future and were continuing to develop this. In addition to that, almost in every single area of the school there has been some innovation that's been created that I hope that we are able to take with us into the future. That's great! I wonder if you might speak to higher ed as a whole and maybe some forward looking. How do you think that higher eds going to evolve from this and what things do you see as an industry and as a community that we're going to take forward and evolve with any prognostication or looking forward that you can think of? I think that one of the benefits of what we're doing is there's going to be a lot more partnering and that partnering could look a lot of different ways depending on who the partner group is, but, for example, when you've developed some really good online education and it is fit for purpose for how you choose to deliver your education. I think there's going to be opportunities for us to share across institutions some of this material and to be able to get it to more students that are out there. So, I do see some sort of collaborative content development sort of partnerships to evolve. I also think I’ll use another example. We were talking about the challenges that we're seeing with proctoring. We all you know proctoring is not a competitive advantage, so we only need one solution across all the Canadian universities. How about we put our heads together and pick one solution that we can do across all of the institutions and just build at once for all of us. Again, no competitive advantage in being a e really good at proctoring. So let's just you know pick that spot and focus for you as a leader as an individual. Where do you take your inspiration from in times like this? Is there a book that you've read? Is there a video that you watch, because I know the audience is looking for all kinds of different things to inspire them as well in their leadership journey, or is there leading groups in challenging times here anything that inspires you? So, yes, I’ve read lots about theater books and I’ve got role models that I’ve seen throughout my career that I always turned to for advice and counsel. But I would say one of the things that's been really helpful and it's quite amusing when I think about why we set this thing up. We created this program at the beginning of this crisis, called the Ivey Teachable Moments series and what we're doing is having CEOs and like the chairman of the Bank of Canada as an example, another leader in in their organization talk to our MBAs. They spend about thirty minutes talking to them about the crisis and how they are navigating their organization or their constituents through the crisis and the leadership lessons that they've learned through this process and what they've used in terms of their in you know the models throughout their career that they have leveraged to drive and manage change in a crisis. Honestly, the learnings that I’m getting out of those teachable moments, I’m probably getting as much out of them or more than the MBA students, because the leaders that we've had engaged have been tremendous just in terms of those insights that are really going to make the difference between just getting your organization through it and getting your organization to thrive on the other end of it. And I feel like we're in a position to thrive, but where I’m learning every day from these guys how to still be inspired and still drive for more change coming out the other end of this. That's awesome. Is there anything that's keeping you up at night, something that, as we keep going through this and working together as a team, that you are still wondering about something, that's unknown, that's keeping you up or just a challenge that you're having to face it you're still trying to work your way through? Some of the things that still keep me up at night are this idea that the relationship when a student but comes into Ivey, I don't think of their relationship with Ivey as just being their time at Ivey. I think about their relationship as being a lifelong relationship with the institution and the only way that we cement that life long relationship is, if we do a great job of delivering on the career management trajectory that they get, that first great job placement and we've been known for years and years of being able to have very high placement rates for our students in the areas that they want to be placed. I'm actually quite worried about that this year, when we were looking at our trajectory at the end of march, we were actually in quite good shape with our placement for all of our graduating students and even for our summer placement. But you know not three weeks later, the job boards dried up and we were really were at about eighty percent- less job opportunities than have been out there historically at this time of year. So I do worry about making sure that we get placement and we're working with our alumni networks to continue to do that placement. As well as with our recruiting the companies that traditionally recruit from us and we're actually coming up with creative new ways to play students in different roles that they had not traditionally thought of so we're working it. But I still remain concerned. I also remain concerned about the health and well being of our community, while our community has done a great job of stepping up and has been incredibly patient. I know they are very worried about the future and what does the future look like for them and how are they going to return to a safe fit for purpose facility? And my answer is yes, they absolutely are, but what that means for each individual person is very different because I can create and we can create great facilities to be able to manage through this, and you know, provide people with the right physical distancing environment and give them PPEs and make sure that we're doing testing. But beyond that, they've got a family to think about, and some of them have children, young children at home that they don't necessarily have the proper childcare set up for so that they can come back to work, we have to be very conscious of those issues or you've got individuals who maybe have compromised immune systems or their family and their close family they've got compromised immune systems, and we've got to be thinking about how we continue to have those individuals involved in the school and delivering on the work commitments they have. While they've got the challenges that they're dealing with at home. So these are things that are buzzing around in my head and I’m thinking about what are the ways that we can actually address all of these concerns and make sure that we still keep the health and well being of our community at top of mind, as we switch back to the in person experiences. So, a lots of different audiences that you're considering and also lots of different plans that you're putting in place. So is there anything that you'd like to leave the audience with a thought, something to consider, an initiative that you're passionate about, leave the audience whether they’re alumni, they're practitioners, they’re students listening, staff Listening. What would you like to leave them with as we round up our time today? So I’ll go back to a comment that I made a little bit earlier, when our students join Ivey, they don't join Ivey for just the time that they're part of Ivey in the classroom. They join it because of the opportunities they get, the people they meet and the Ivey network that they become part of- and, as I mentioned before, the Ivey network has done a tremendous job, stepping up not just in helping to find opportunities for some of our graduating class. But in terms of participating in these teachable moments, series we've held a number of webinars for our community and our Ivey alumni have been front and center in terms of participating in those. So my ask is continue to help. You know for me this. I call it student relief, but it comes in lots of different forms. It's offering to help people find a job, offering to help to be a coach or a mentor to a graduating student, or it could be you know thinking about how we put together a small fund that we can support some of these students with additional career placement or additional career services, after they graduate maybe some coaching opportunities for them with some of our great coaches from the Ivey Academy. So my ask simple: as an Ivey network continue to do the great work you do as a network and help to support our students and that's short and simple, you guys do it so well now just keep doing it. We need all the help we can get with them. Dean Hogson, as we launched this podcast and have this conversation we're celebrating Global Ivey day. What does that day mean to you and what message would you have for all of those that have been touched by the organization over the years? This is my very first Global Ivey day. I was fortunate enough to be a part of Global Ivey day last year, when I was just, I think it was four days away from my official start. What I’ve learned over this first year of being part of this organization is just how sticky this network is. I at time and time again, I have seen the network step up in so many incredible ways to help the school and also to help each other, and it makes me feel so proud when I think about the network, that's out there and how we rate, I mean we're in top fifteen globally in the world in terms of the connectedness of our network. I hope that everybody takes a moment to day to just think about. You know someone in the community that they can help that they should be reaching out to that. They haven't heard from in a while and make a connection and reach back in and just check on them and see how they're doing our network is strong, and I hope that everybody continues to reach out and take care of their network as we go forward. That's great and on behalf of this community, from Ivey and around London across Canada and the world, thank you, Dean Hogson for sharing your time with us today for talking about the different ways that we're approaching audiences. You know the key things that we're thinking of as an institution your, namely the health and safety and wellness of our community. The student experience in the way that we evolve as an organization. Thank you to Dean Hogson for joining us for a very first episode of The Leaders podcast by Ivey. We hope you enjoyed it like what you heard on today's episode, subscribe to The Leaders podcast by Ivey through your favorite app. Have any questions or feedback send us an email at