e011. Culture Shift with Lisa Sanchez

Lisa M. Sanchez is Vice President for the Office of Employee Experience & Engagement (HR) at ArtCenter College of Design. Located in Pasadena, California, ArtCenter serves approximately 2,000 students with nearly 1,000 full-time and part-time faculty and staff.

In this episode, Ms. Sanchez explains how the college is effecting a culture shift with evolving language and interpersonal skills.


Full episode available below…

Full Interview with Lisa Sanchez

Interview Transcript

[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m Amy C. Waninger the host of the show and the founder and CEO of lead at any level. My guest today is Lisa M. Sanchez. Lisa is the vice president for the office of employee experience and engagement or HR at Art Center college of design located in Pasadena, California, Art Center serves approximately 2000 students with nearly a thousand part-time and full-time faculty and staff.

[00:01:12] Amy: Lisa, welcome to the show.

[00:01:13] Lisa: Thank you so much for having me, and I’m so glad to be here.

[00:01:19] Amy: I am so excited to talk to you. I love talking to folks in higher ed institutions, finding out what’s going on because in higher ed’s really the future of the workforce, and whatever you all are doing is going to have ripple effects throughout our economy for a generation, at least.

[00:01:35] Amy: Can you tell us why? DEIAB diversity equity inclusion access and belonging are so important at art center. What’s the driver behind your work there?

[00:01:46] Lisa: Absolutely thank you for that question, and thank you for this platform to have this very important conversation. You always hear people say DEI or D and I, and from our perspective, DEIAB, you must add on access and belong.

[00:02:06] Lisa: Because all of those values must run together to impact your organizational experience, the members of your community. In our case, in higher ed it’s faculty, staff, students, board of trustees, alum, and if we are not thinking about this as a priority, we are going to miss the mark on experiences, and so that means you have to take into consideration how people feel about their environment.

[00:02:38] Lisa: Do they have a sense of belonging? Are they welcome there? And so, for us, it’s a priority because we have decided as a college that we are weaving the DEIAB into the fabric of who we are as a college. Now, I once heard that diversity is who you invite to the party inclusion is, about who’s welcome there

[00:03:05] Lisa: and you only include part of the equation if you’re not thinking about equity, who gets to choose the songs, right? How are those songs distributed? And what about access? Are there barriers to the dance floor? And then finally belonging. Can I show up being my authentic self in a welcoming environment?

[00:03:29] Amy: This is so important everywhere, and in when we were talking before the show started, you were talking about this notion of organizational culture as being the linchpin of all of these things. Can you talk a little bit about how you are infusing these values into your culture and what that looks like for you?

[00:03:47] Lisa: Absolutely, culture is the driver. It is the foundation, always say that culture is the heartbeat or the rhythm of the organization, and so that culture has to support all of your DEIAB efforts because otherwise you’re working for not, the culture has to recognize those values, that it’s important, why you’re doing it.

[00:04:12] Lisa: Otherwise programming around DEIAB becomes a window curtain. Some sort of facade and not authentic, and so culture is the driver. Now one might say that culture is driven from the top. I like to say everybody drives culture. Culture is always moving because people are moving in and out of the organization.

[00:04:38] Lisa: And so, when you invest in strengthening your organizational foundation, which is culture, then you can have some impact on all of your DEIAB efforts, and so the work that I do on culture shift is working with the C-suite, working with management and then cascading down into the rest of the organization to hear their voices, to hear their experiences.

[00:05:08] Lisa: So, for me, Culture shift at Art Center is having those conversations. This is the early stages of our work, focus groups, listening sessions, holding management meetings, to understand what is in our culture that is effective. And what are those things in the culture that we need to really work on the language of our culture, the vocabulary

[00:05:37] Lisa: of our culture, how we communicate, interact and engage. All of those things are important because if you don’t correct that’s where microaggression sit unconscious biases tend to show themselves, and so you have to get to a space of realigning values and then getting everyone on board to support that.

[00:06:05] Amy: Those things are so important, but why do you really do it? Because people, if you have two people in a room and you give them a list of, and they have the same values, right? You give them the same five values and you say sort, these in order of importance, you will not get the same five values back in the same order.

[00:06:23] Amy: Between the two people. So how do you get consensus and clarity around those values and how they’re gonna show up in the workplace and in the classroom?

[00:06:32] Lisa: You may not ever reach consensus, but what you can do as an organization is realign the values that are important for the institution.

[00:06:43] Lisa: And quite frankly, it might boil down to, there might be people who won’t survive that, that new value or those new values, right? People who may not survive the realigned culture, and so at best, what I think we can do is create a space of understanding, mutual understanding about what we will accept, not accept what we will tolerate, not tolerate,

[00:07:09] Lisa: and typically, the things we see in organizations as bad behavior around what people say publicly calling people out on things that are inappropriate. Those things, if they’re not corrected, they get they’re given permission, and so what I like to focus on is calling people into a conversation, not calling them out because calling out seems confrontational.

[00:07:38] Lisa: But when you call people into a conversation about what you just heard so that they understand that what they said was appropriate, that’s how you get to a place of understanding a place to shifting the culture because people are now getting on board with that, and what I’m saying in my own organization is hearing people speak a different language.

[00:08:04] Lisa: We’re speaking out loud, DEIAB, because it matters. We’re hearing people talk out loud about culture because it matters, and so the more you give voice to something, people understand that it becomes the realigned values, and so for me, it’s about calling people in. So, you may not ever agree, but you can mutually disagree or agree to disagree, but understand that the college now is moving in this direction,

[00:08:40] Lisa: and so that’s how we get to it, it’s open and ongoing conversation. The listening and learning aspect of it is very important. Getting people involved is very important because you don’t want leadership just leading this effort. So, one of the things right now that we’re doing, and I hired a new director of organizational development, this individual is helping me cascade this conversation wide up, down all throughout the organization.

[00:09:14] Lisa: We infuse in that pulse surveys so that we understand what our community members are feeling and also involvement asking people to serve on work groups, to help us move this effort forward.

[00:09:32] Amy: Is this effort complicated by the fact that you have, the bulk of your staff is part-time, and so they’re not people who are physically there all the time. Full-time resources, I would imagine it’s a little harder. Correct me if I’m wrong to, to reinforce or to get these things to stick when you’ve got people going in, students going in and out, first of all, every semester, new students in and out all the time, and then you’ve got faculty who may rotate in and out or faculty who are part-time, you’ve got support staff who are part-time as well. Can you talk a little bit about how you make this real and tangible and sticky, even in a population and an environment that’s so fluid?

[00:10:16] Lisa: It’s difficult and you raise a very important question. It’s difficult on all of those levels that you just mentioned. We have faculty who are in other countries who can teach in the zoom room and never have to step foot on our campuses. You also want to factor in that we have generational differences.

[00:10:39] Lisa: Your millennials, your gen Xers and your gen Zs all the way up to what we call the veterans. And so that’s why this work is not a one stop shop, it’s not a one size fits all, it’s learning to understand the perspectives of others and how we fold that diversity of thought into our programming. So, while it is difficult, I think the way you get around that is to make sure that there’s inclusion,

[00:11:09] Lisa: that you have the right people at the table having conversations. Oftentimes you’ve got people in leadership, making decisions around, across the whole organization where you don’t have other voices at the table, and so to get to all of those different nuances, part-time, full-time generations out of state, out of country, it is about communication,

[00:11:36] Lisa: it is about inclusion, it is inviting the right people to the table, it’s creating ambassadors who are carrying down message, it’s making sure that management and leaders are onboard it so that they are having the right conversations with their teams, and also, we can’t forget the students, they are the reason why we’re there,

[00:12:02] Lisa: and so, making sure that we are touching base with those student councils to get their voice as well, and also getting them involved in some campaigning as well.

[00:12:14] Amy: And so how you, with all of that, that you have going on, all those moving parts, how do you measure success in your work?

[00:12:20] Lisa: Very good question, because the story always lies in the data, right?

[00:12:25] Lisa: and so, for us, we like to use pulse surveys, periodic check-ins, or temperature checks, to understand how we’re doing, understand how our community members are feeling, and we use that data to either step up our programming or add new programming. So that’s very important, the other points of data are how we recruit,

[00:12:56] Lisa: are we asking the right questions? Oftentimes people might answer a DEIAB question as, oh, that’s very important to me, but from our perspective, the questioning is very important. We wanna know what you’ve done, what are you doing? How do you fold that into your teaching? How do you fold that into managing and leading others?

[00:13:20] Lisa: Very important information. Starting at higher performance evaluations, we have adjusted our performance evaluation questions or categories to account for how people are doing ongoing learning. I don’t call it training because training is for dogs, ongoing learning on DEIAB. So, we have programs that we implement that are mandatory

[00:13:48] Lisa: and then we add in supplemental programming, so people have continuous learning on DEIAB, and so we are assessing that in the performance evaluation process.

[00:14:04] Amy: It sounds like there’s a lot of accountability baked into this, which is critical I think, for any sort of sustainable result in an initiative, are you starting to see those results show up in your pulse surveys?

[00:14:17] Amy: Are you starting to see people internalizing that level of accountability?

[00:14:21] Lisa: Yes, because what I’m hearing now, as I’m working on a particular investigative case is that people are more empowered to call people in to conversations when they hear something that doesn’t sit right with them, whether it’s a protected category or some other type of comment.

[00:14:41] Lisa: We’re hearing people’s vocabulary change. As I said earlier, people are saying culture shift, it’s embedded in the culture, their problem is the culture, they’re using DEIAB more often because they are embedding that into how they operationalize their departments, whether it’s teaching it’s the curriculum hiring and all of it.

[00:15:05] Lisa: So that’s where we’re seeing a change, are we perfect? Are we exactly where we need to be? No, because there’s no end date to culture. Culture is fluid. It’s constantly changing because people are moving in and out of the organization. But the more we put this in front of our community, the more that they see that it is important, it is something that represents our values

[00:15:33] Lisa: and we’re beginning to see people adopt, adapt, and implement practices and programs that align with DEIAB and organizational culture, as well as the shift.

[00:15:45] Amy: And I would imagine because of the work that you do, because you’re teaching young people primarily in spaces of art and design that there are ripple effects from this work that are going to carry out broadly.

[00:16:00] Amy: Just thinking about things like accessible design. Which I’m sure is incorporated into your curriculum makes such a difference for, having an impact outside of the university as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:16:12] Lisa: Yeah, this is what I love about being in an art and design school because,

[00:16:19] Lisa: when I worked in another university system, the way you hired faculty were all based on their degrees, right? A doctorate in this, a doctorate in ad, and all of these layers of degrees. For us, we hired faculty from industry. They may be studio owners, filmmakers, artists of this and that, or car designers.

[00:16:43] Lisa: And they may not have all of those degrees that are stacked up, and so there’s a perspective from the classroom perspective that is imparted on our students that is very conscious or aware of the earth, the environment, social justice, and we see that through art and design that we can make a difference early on when this pandemic started, our students were right out of the gate.

[00:17:15] Lisa: Engaging in making mask, and as we are doing graduation now, in person, you could, because we were all doing it in the zoom room of course, you see the influence of this current time, this pandemic find its way to the films that they make to the art that they design and students are of course, the future.

[00:17:38] Lisa: They’re much different from my generation, baby boomers and beyond, and so they are expecting that type of learning, and so that’s exciting to see.

[00:17:51] Amy: Yeah, and what’s exciting to me about that is that your students in particular are not just expecting the world to be that way. They’re actively creating a world that will be that way for them.

[00:18:02] Lisa: Exactly, our mission statement is about creating change, influence change, right? And that’s what these students are doing, and when you see their work, it is so rewarding. Now someone might say you work in HR, maybe you don’t really connect to the student experience and make it a point to connect to the student experience, going to grad show, going to graduation.

[00:18:28] Lisa: Seeing or actually participating in the zoom room when some of our department chairs, as we call them some schools call them deans. They bring in these guest speakers from all kinds of industries to speak to our students. Now that we are hybrid and remote, I now have an opportunity to click on the zoom link and participate, and it’s been fantastic.

[00:18:55] Lisa: So that has been a very rewarding aspect of working in art and design, seeing how we influence change and create change.

[00:19:07] Amy: This is, this is so beautiful and I’m so grateful that you are, you’ve been here. What’s next at Art Center. I know that the culture work continues but are there initiatives on the horizon that you really excited?

[00:19:17] Lisa: I am, I’m very excited about the fact that we are driven really by what we call our DEI action plan. And that covers everything from curriculum design to recruitment, but also what’s exciting is something that came out of COVID and that is being a remote or hybrid working and learning environment. So now we have the opportunity to have people experience Art Center

[00:19:47] Lisa: where they may not have been able to do that before. So learning from another country, for example, they could do that in the zoom room. We’re creating opportunities for executive learning, executive certifications, and really trying to infuse or create our culture into this new way of working and learning higher ed is so used to

[00:20:14] Lisa: on campus life, right? It’s that humming and buzzing of campus life, where we’re doing it differently now, and so that’s, what’s exciting. It’s how do we not just think outside the box, but how do we blow it up? How do we reimagine the future of work in school? And I just love being a part of that, which is why I change my department name, human resources sounds so old and outdated.

[00:20:43] Lisa: But what I’m really excited about is how I impact the employee experience and their engagement while they are employed, or while they are students at Art Center.

[00:20:58] Amy: I love that you have taken all of the disruption that you’ve experienced over the last two years, and really harnessed it into an opportunity, not just to expand the footprint of the school, but to expand the impact of the school and, to reach more

[00:21:15] Amy: people, to reach a more diverse student population, a more diverse employee population, but then also to feed back to them, a different kind of experience, a different kind of impact than a different campus might. I think that’s absolutely phenomenal.

[00:21:30] Lisa: Absolutely, and I think what attributes to that is I don’t do this work in isolation.

[00:21:36] Lisa: I don’t wanna sit in this interview and make it seem like I’m the person that’s doing all of this move. This is a collective collaborative process between my department, our center for DEI, yes we have a standalone center for DEI that was created by our campus president. I also partner with faculty affairs with student affairs, with our title IX office, with the director of organizational development, a new hire in my department,

[00:22:10] Lisa: and we are working together for this cause, and so make no mistake, this work cannot be done in isolation. It really does take strong internal partnerships to really make a difference.

[00:22:28] Amy: Lisa, thank you so much for your time, for your expertise for your candor and your insights today. I really appreciate it

[00:22:34] Amy: and I can’t wait to catch up with you again and find out, how this expansion of hybrid has continued to shift your culture.

[00:22:43] Lisa: Absolutely. Thank you for having me, I love this topic and I look forward to continuing this work. Thank you.

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at www.LeadAtAnyLevel.com

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