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The Right Staff

A year-long professional development program at Prairie View A&M University aims to fortify the university’s leadership pipeline and serves as one of its primary succession planning tools.

By Apryl Motley

"Our president identified the university as having a 'thin bench,'" says Terence L. Finley, leadership development and organizational excellence officer in the office of business affairs at Prairie View A&M University, Texas. "We hadn't done a good of job developing talent internally."

Prairie View is not unique in identifying and facing the challenge of filling leadership positions internally, particularly when it comes to the business office. In NACUBO's most recent CBO Profile survey, 2016 National Profile of Higher Education Chief Business Officers, 37 percent of CBOs reported that no succession plan was in place for their positions. Many institutions, including Prairie View, recognize the need to put plans in place sooner rather than later. Read also, "Who's Up Next" in the July/August 2016 issue of Business Officer magazine. 

A Primary Tool

Almost two years ago, the university launched Leadership PVAMU, a year-long professional development program designed to fortify the university's leadership pipeline. This new initiative serves as one of the university's primary succession planning tools. As such, developing the program was a 12-month process that involved soliciting input from the university's executive office managers, who are all members of the president's leadership team.

"We want to train individuals in the Prairie View way," Finley says. "The program gives participants the opportunity to develop professionally while being exposed to people with whom they may not normally interact."

For example, one of the unique opportunities that program participants benefit from is the President's Reading Series. Prairie View President George C. Wright selects one book for each Leadership PVAMU class to read. "He then meets with the participants and discusses the book from the standpoint of the university, our community, and leadership," Finley says. According to him, experiences like this "open the door for participants, knowing that they can talk to these leaders outside the program."

To allow for intimate interactions like this one, the program, open to both faculty and staff, is limited to 20 participants. "Each vice president or dean can nominate up to two candidates, who must have been employed at the university for at least three years and have high performance ratings," says Rebecca L. Faison, director of the university's office of continuing education, who serves as co-director for Leadership PVAMU.

Once nominated, potential program participants undergo a competitive selection process, which includes the review of their applications by a seven-member selection committee. "The committee is composed of internal and external members who vet the applications to determine who will be in the program," Faison explains. "They include representatives from the student government association, the faculty senate, the alumni organization, and the staff council."

"No one knows who serves on the selection committee, so there is no undue pressure placed on committee members during the selection process," she continues.

There has been no shortage of applications for the committee to review. "People want to get into this program," notes Corey S. Bradford, senior vice president for business affairs at the university. "It's a high-quality program that we developed to invest in participants."

And it's an investment that Finley and Faison feel certain will pay the university dividends for quite some time because of the relationships that Leadership PVAMU participants build with each other and throughout the institution.

Cohorts and Comradery

To date, two cohorts or classes consisting of 25 participants (12 faculty and 13 staff)  have completed the program. Regular meetings help the cohorts build comradery. "We normally meet once or twice a month for an entire day," Finley says. "We take participants to different venues, and they get exposed to different aspects of the university community."

"During that process, they learn to be there for one another and support each other outside the program," he says. "One of our goals is for them to make connections and develop networks to expand their reach on campus."

This was Cleveland O. Lane's experience with the program. Lane, an assistant professor in the department of biology, participated in cohort one, which he describes as "a diverse group of individuals that produced a strong network to support projects and policy development for the university."

Since participating in the program, Lane says he has "benefited from being placed on universitywide committees while also having the opportunity to have a dialogue with university and Texas A&M system administrators."

Equilla Jackson, director of treasury services, also established valuable relationships during her time in the program as a participant in cohort two. "I have gained connections with other peers as well as with other higher administrative leaders with whom I did not have a working connection prior to the program," she says. 

Goals and Growth

While Leadership PVAMU gives participants valuable opportunities to build their networks and achieve their long-term professional goals, with those opportunities comes responsibility as well.

"From day one of the program, participants are expected to add value to their areas," Finley says. "It's their responsibility to not only learn and gain leadership capabilities, but to take that knowledge back to their departments. Part of your responsibility as you learn and grow is to share it with others as well."

In this way, the program helps participants gain new perspective about their roles at the university. "The activities of the program aided me in understanding how decisions were made for the university from fiscal to academic policy," Lane says. "This made me personally appreciate my contributions to department and university committees that develop university policies."

Jackson's response was similar. "Hearing the presentations from leaders across the campus motivated me to do more as a leader in helping the university reach its goals for continuous growth," she says. "I have now applied for admission into the educational leadership Ph.D. program, with a focus on higher education administration, which will assist me in obtaining my future goal of becoming a chief business officer." 

More Projects, Less Politics

Participation in Leadership PVAMU is directly applicable to individuals' professional goals because each cohort has projects to complete that benefit the university.        

"The program helps break down silos between departments," Faison says. "A variety of departments come together through the program, learn about each other, and how they can work together."

For example, cohort two is starting a food bank on campus for students. As a team, the group reviewed models at other institutions and then contacted them for suggestions. The plan is to launch Prairie View's student food bank on October 16, World Food Day. "We have the opportunity to change the lives of students," says Jackson of her cohort's community service project.

Elements of cohort one's project, which focused on improving customer service on campus, have already been put into practice. "The participants did a lot of internal research," Faison explains, "which was presented to an executive officer who implemented some of their recommendations."

Even after their projects are finished and their participation in the program is "technically" complete, the work of Leadership PVAMU participants is never really finished. They are viewed as a resource upon which the university can continue to draw for assistance in developing university policy and programs.

"When we were pulling together a committee to work on the strategic plan for 2016–2021, we drew on Leadership PVAMU participants," Finley says. "They're never truly done. Once you're in the program, you're always in the program."

APRYL MOTLEY, Columbia, Md., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

Business of the University

Prairie View A&M University, Texas, has invited NACUBO and SACUBO to collaborate on a new business officer training series, "Business of the University," designed to serve CFOs and other administrators in a business affairs or related function at a minority serving institution.

The event will be held November 9-11 at the PVAMU campus near Houston. Tijuana R. Hudson, vice president of fiscal affairs, Claflin University, Orangeburg, S.C., who serves on NACUBO's Small Institutions Council, is representing SACUBO and helping plan the program.