Cultures of Innovation

Cultures of Innovation

I’ve worked at a few schools over the years and a few private companies. It’s interesting to see the difference on how each handles home-grown expertise.

In the private sector, the whole name of the game is making money. It’s all about saving overhead costs and leveraging every single little shred of expertise the people in your organization have. Sometimes it’s all about paying them far too little for the use of that expertise, and that’s not really fair on the employee at all, but that’s capitalism.

On the other hand, in Higher Ed, especially in the US, post 2008, we live in a world ruled by grants. Projects live and die, people keep jobs or don’t based on the ebb and flow of grant funds.

What I’ve see on this end of the spectrum is that grant funds always need to be spent, and the ways in which they were spent don’t always take advantage of homegrown expertise. Many times as part of a grant proposal a third party is always engaged to develop this or that, and a lot of money is spent hiring this outside contractor who has little investment with the institution, and doesn’t really have passion for the project besides the dollar signs it represents.

Inevitably, as the project goes on, tweaks and changes need to be made that require hiring this outside consultant again, overpaying them to do just a little bit of triage work.

Meanwhile, employees at the institution with that expertise are left to continue their daily grind, with little opportunity to expand their own expertise.

Wouldn’t it be great, instead of funding private contractors and third parties for content creation, building back end systems that are usually canned for all institutions, that we invest money in professional development for staff already at the institution who may be interested in taking on a project?

Need a new database built? Give professional development funds to an employee and set up a project timeline.

Need a new website for your school? Invest in training for some staff members to be a part of that team and build it in house.

Need a video made? Buy some equipment for your institution that can be used in future projects, and send an employee to a workshop to make them into a professional videographer.

I really don’t understand why this doesn’t happen that often.

Post GFC, schools around the country are looking at every dime they spend. Why would we continue to spend money on outside contractors, paying them every time the same task needs to be completed, instead of investing in employees that can fold these new skills into their jobs. Sure, you might need to pay them more per year based on these new skill sets and responsibilities, but it doesn’t need to be a salary increase — it could be a contract based payment.

I for one appreciate an employer who gives me a chance to grow, that gives me the opportunity to expand my current skill set. I don’t tend to stay with an employer that allows me to stagnate.

Long story short. Build as much as you can in house. It’s better for your employees, it’s cheaper in the long run, and maybe, just maybe, a culture of innovation will start to grow around these new projects folks are working on.

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