Appendix B
Episode 024 -

Moving from Order-Taking to Strategic Frameworks

Appendix B Episode 24, text is present that reads, "Moving from Order-taking to Strategic Frameworks"

Kristin Van Dorn discusses the presentation she recently gave at PSEWEB on transitioning from order-taking to strategy in Higher Ed digital roles. She shares her experiences dealing with disconnected leadership and offers insights on overcoming challenges, and introduces organizational frames by Bolman and Deal, which include structural, political, human resource, and symbolic.
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Carl Gratiot:
From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. Candid conversations about Higher Ed, in ten minutes or less. On this week’s episode, Kristin Van Dorn and I chat through her recent PSEWEB presentation on moving from order-taking to strategy.

So Kristen, I know you were supposed to have just gotten back from Victoria, is it Victoria Island in Canada to present at PSEWEB, but because of a flight delay or a flight problem, you were not able to physically be there. So you presented virtually, but can you tell us a little bit about what the presentation was on and maybe give us an abridged version of the experience that you went through, that you described in your presentation?

Kristin Van Dorn:
Yeah, sure. So my presentation was about moving from order taking to strategy. And I think that this is a situation a lot of Higher Education digital strategists wind up in, where they feel like they take a lot of orders from their leadership. Sometimes it’s disconnected from strategy. Sometimes leaders have their own strategy. But they have trouble bringing to bear their full expertise on what a university or college could be doing differently and how we can use digital tools to be more effective.

And so I told the story from early on in my career about a time when I was invited to a faculty meeting and asked to produce videos on the achievement gap. And I had a bunch of questions for the faculty at that moment. You know, what are the videos for? Who’s going to be watching them? How long do you want them to be? And they were resistant to any answer at all for any purpose. All they knew is that they wanted videos and they wanted to be able to share them when they were ready. So we went through multiple rounds of this where it felt like every time I walked into a meeting with these faculty members, I was experiencing this group amnesia where they would act like I should have been working this entire time on these videos and then I would take my time and talk them out of it.

And then a month later we’d start the whole process again. And I couldn’t understand what it was that was making them want these videos before they wanted. Very basic things set up in advance, like how they wanted to talk about the achievement gap, their research on the achievement gap, maybe a website that would host the videos, those kinds of things.

So ultimately, we ended up having one final meeting in the year where a development officer was invited and in the surprise, we want video conversation, she said, I could use the videos to talk with donors. And that was the point where I realized, okay, well now there’s a purpose and I understand what the marching orders are, so I’m gonna be producing videos, maybe not for the web, but for unique situations in which they’re fundraising with specific people.

And so I spent my summer working with faculty on producing these videos for the achievement gap. And at the end of the summer, I started sending out work products. And at first, it seemed as though everyone was really excited about them. But when the development officer saw them, she was horrified. She thought it could put the college at significant risk, because she was worried that it would politically position the college and the university in a bad light. So all of a sudden the project just fell by the wayside and people were actually really angry with me. And it was this time where I felt like I was accepting all this accountability for a project, but I had no authority over its creative direction.

OMG, I’m so mad for you.

It was a rough discovery. But so I would say that I’ve had lots and lots of these kinds of experiences. Even before that, I have like this very memorable experience working in a nonprofit arts organization where we had a survey go out to visitors of an event. And one of the questions was, what do you like or dislike about First Thursdays. And I brought it to my boss’s attention that when people write down a phrase or a few words, you don’t know whether they liked it or disliked it. So maybe let’s break these up into two. And she looked me dead in the face and she said, do you work for an agency? Agency people made this. And I just want to say, Phyllis, I work for an agency now!


Take that Phyllis.

Sorry Phyllis!

But it’s these silly things where it feels like hierarchies getting in the way from very common sense next steps. So over the course of my career, I’ve looked for solutions to this and lo and behold, the solution lay in me the whole time. I was misunderstanding my leadership. And I found a number of different organizational frameworks that can help me identify where my stakeholders are coming from and maybe amend the way that I approach my strategy discussions with them. So at PSEWEB, I talked about two and I could go over one today and maybe another one in a future session.

Well, I think people would benefit from hearing a little bit about both if, well, I’m asking, I’m talking as if we don’t have the time. We’re recording our own podcast.

Well, so the first one that I talked about was organizational frames, and they come from Bolman and Deal’s research. Bolman and Deal are two professors, I think that they worked together in a college in the Northeast, it was MIT or Harvard. They taught a business class together, and they come from different research paradigms. So one was more of like a psychologically nested professor. Another one was more organizationally nested professor. So they drew on different sciences. And the result was that they were constantly fighting in class about which way their students should really think about approaching problems with their organization.

And lo and behold, the students hated this process. They got really frustrated because they didn’t have a right, concrete answer. So together they wrote this book and they looked at organizations from the framework of sociology, from anthropology, from psychology, and from management sciences. And they came up with these different ways of approaching problems.

And so the first one is looking at a process through a structural lens. And structural people think about problems as being mapped out through hierarchy and processes. So what roles do you serve and does it fit in your job description to answer these questions or be responsible for this kind of decision? If not, we have to find the right person where it does fit in their job description. There’s a lot of rules and a lot of systems that you follow. And if you’re not following the rules or the systems, that’s the problem that you have to address. So you’ve probably run into people like that before where, you know, their instinct is to say, it’s not in my job description, I’m not responsible for this. Or he shouldn’t be making that decision, that’s my boss’s decision to make. You know, they’re relying on the structure or the organizational rules to solve problems.

Another one is political. So the political minded person will look at problems as being an issue of influence. So you’re gonna have office politics any time that you have you have limited resources and you have differing opinions on how those resources should be spent. And they look at the organization as this field of negotiation for how you decide how limited resources will be spent. And they look at influence as the process by which they gather the power or the authority to make those kinds of decisions to put into place their own. strategies or their own solutions.

So then there is a human resource frame and these are people that think a little bit more about the individuals that make up the organization. So they don’t see the organization as something abstract, they see it full of individuals that have certain talents and skills, that have certain motivations and desires, talent, skills, desires, and limitations with what the organization needs. And when they see a gap between what the organization is wanting to do and what its own people are capable and interested in doing, that’s where they feel this friction and probably a reduction in morale or frustration on behalf of the staff, or they might see high turnover. And so they look at the solution to problems as being about helping align the people that work in your organization with the organizational mission and vision.

And then finally, there’s symbolic. And symbolic is the group of people that see things in a very abstract way, but they see the history, the culture, the stories, the imagery of the organization as being this meaningful case for motivating people to do certain work. And so everything is about aligning with this vision of what the organization is really about. And so if you think about breakdown in culture, where a culture, an organization wants to be both really fast at doing something and they want to be really smart about getting it perfect the first time. Those two things are intention. And if you don’t have good stories about that time you did it really quickly, and you have great stories about that time that you took your time and got everything perfect the first time, and it was the biggest success of that organization’s history, then the people within that organization are gonna have trouble pushing through a new project where it has to go fast, fast.

It does, and I think there’s probably not a Higher Ed MarComm professional that exists in the world that hasn’t identified or experienced something similar to what you’ve just described in the story. So thank you for distilling it down the way you did, I guess to close, because I do think it’s important that everybody leaves with some advice, some tactical advice from you. How can they avoid being in a situation or finding themselves in this loop of not being able to do anything about this or maybe accessing one of the frameworks that you’ve described, like what can they do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to them or if it is happening, get out of it?

So it’s about finding the match of the organizational frame. to direct the conversation so you can appropriately advocate for your strategy and be heard by someone that’s operating in a different way from you.

Thank you for listening to Appendix B. If you enjoy the show at all, please consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And if you want more from Bravery, please check out our newsletter at Thank you so much and we’ll see you next week. Bye bye.