The Higher Ed Podcast Series: Organizational Health in Higher Ed

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On this week’s episode of The Higher Ed Podcast, Kamaar and George speak with Todd Cellini, Chief Academic and Operations Officer at Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology. At Spartan, Todd oversees multiple campuses, ranging from California to Colorado and Oklahoma. Being a leader in an executive position of the colleges and having 20 years of experience in education, Todd brings insight to the podcast on how to be a champion of your institution through organizational health and how having a healthy organization structure helped Spartan Colleges navigate through the rapid changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is Organizational Health? 

Organizational health is an organization’s ability to function, change, and grow internally. An institution’s ability to adapt and grow depending on outside conditions is a key part of organizational health. Todd Cellini tells Kamaar and George about his philosophy on organizational health on the podcast this week, saying, “The number one component that I’ve seen in strong organizations is always organizational health. The quality drives the quantity.” Cellini discusses the importance of organizational health and how it affects the entire structure and success of an institution, and the numbers agree. A study by McKinsey & Company saw that about 80% of companies who took actions to improve their organizational health saw improvements in their institutions overall. Cellini unpacks this statement thoroughly during the podcast, explaining how a small group of executive decision makers allow Spartan Colleges to succeed on all levels.

Small Group of Smart People 

During this week’s episode, Todd Cellini brings up a quote Steve Jobs said about business, “A small group of smart people do a lot of great things.” Cellini brings up this quote to support the idea that executive decisions should be made by a small group, rather than a large leadership group. He says that “A lot of organizations end up with 30 people on their leadership team. And it feels more like a vote in Congress than it feels like a leadership team. And you understand that when that happens, it’s hard to make the decision and move forward.” A key part of organizational health for Cellini is this concept that decisions are better made by a select few and implemented throughout the organization. Many executives agree with this philosophy, for example, Jeff Bezos says that “individual teams shouldn’t be larger than two pizzas can feed.” Whether you gauge your team by the number of pizzas or the number of people, small groups can greatly benefit organizational health.

Of course, the select few small groups of smart people can change depending on the decisions that must be made. Todd, Kamaar, and George bring in a baseball analogy during the podcast, relating leadership positions below the executive decision makers as the Triple A league. They can be brought up to the big leagues at any point and sent back down to Triple A when necessary. Mobilizing who is in the small group helps it remain versatile and able to adapt to changes as they come. Cellini says, “You know, you got some great players in Triple A, sometimes they get called up and called in. Other times, they’re staying down there, and they’re ready.” Supporting your Triple A team in your organization will ensure that they’re ready to step up when you need them, but comfortable in their leadership position as well.

Organizational Health During the COVID-19 Era 

As the COVID-19 pandemic caused many colleges to shut down and adapt to changes before they reopened, Todd Cellini notes that organizational health was and is more important than ever. On adapting to COVID-19 and changing the learning model at Spartan, Cellini says, “The plan came from the top of a really small group of people and we were able to scale Zoom, we were able to scale Canvas, we were able to get faculty trained.” While the plan affected everyone, from executives, to faculty and students, the small group at the top were able to make big decisions quickly because they worked closely together.

This idea of small groups making big decisions quickly is common among organizations during the COVID-19 era. Institutions have had to embrace technology and data and adapt quickly and often to the changes. A McKinsey report shows that through the pandemic companies have learned “it is possible to make decisions faster, without breaking the business.” Todd Cellini and Spartan College showed this is true through their quick actions during the transition to online learning. He champions his executive team on the podcast, saying, “They were truly the major league players in this in this operation. And they helped continue education for our sector, continue education for students, and they helped a lot of jobs stay stable.” His team is a testament to the fact that a small group of smart people can help organizational health from the top all the way down to the students.

Todd Cellini brought insight regarding organizational health and successful higher education institutions to George and Kamaar on this week’s episode of The Higher Ed Podcast. He showed that, while some organizations choose to have a large leadership team, having a smaller, mobile leadership team of executives will affect the rest of the organization’s health in a positive way. Make sure to listen to the full podcast for more and subscribe to The Higher Ed Podcast to hear a new guest speaker each week.

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