Do More, Do Better with a Theme

You know how there’s always too much to do, right? And you know how it feels to have everyone wanting everything done right now, ASAP or, preferably, yesterday. Yes, you do – I can see you nodding from here.

So how are we (you and me) supposed to get all this done? How can we do all this and still do more and do better than last year? Truth is, we can’t always do more but we can always do better, which sometimes makes room for more especially if we work smarter. And sometimes, frankly, with limited hours in a day doing more of something usually means doing less of something else.

One way to make it look and feel like I’m doing more and better is to have a theme, or emphasis, for a time. I usually pick a theme for a year. I try to put the theme in front of my eyes as much as possible so that it helps remember it and reminds me that whatever I’m doing, I should do with this emphasis in mind.

What does this look like? Here are my last 5 themes I’ve chosen since starting in the Office of the Registrar at Trinity Western University:

  • Teamwork (2007-08)
  • Simplify (2008-09)
  • Trust & Respect (2009-10)
  • Transparency (2010-11)
  • Outreach (2011-12)

I chose Teamwork for the first theme because I wanted to get a sense of the team I was brought in to lead, and to help them get to know me. I needed to gauge their strengths and to help them gauge mine. I didn’t care about weaknesses as much – I needed to know who we could tap to initiate, lead, complete, convince, etc.

I chose Simplify because I was at that frustrated stage when I knew enough about my new place of work to know that I couldn’t do everything – and because it seemed to me that people were deliberately making things complicated. I had a suspicion that this was for job security (“it’s too complex for just anyone – you need me”) but it was also the source of most of our inefficiency and inability to get things done. Actually, the theme became “Simply. Simply. Simplify!” which was a reflection of just how frustrated I was by the level of complexity at the university. I’m getting over it 🙂

Trust & Respect was my own personal theme, as I realized just how badly TWU was organized around political silos. Silos are another way of saying, “Don’t touch my stuff!” which is also another way of saying, “I don’t trust you with my stuff!” That is annoying and unprofessional, and can be tough to break down from a middle management position. Senior management can break down silos by structuring things in such a way as to avoid silos, but middle management also has some tools at its disposal. The primary one is interpersonal savvy: if you trust me, you’re more likely to include me. I worked hard at building trust.

Transparency was really an extension of Trust and Respect. As we’ve all heard, knowledge is power. We also know that hoarding power breeds distrust. Therefore, one way of extending trust is to provide information and knowledge as openly as possible. I believed that our office needed to provide reports, data, and general information as openly as possible, and in a non-political way.

Outreach is just emerging for me as a theme for this next year. It came to me a little differently than the previous ones, and that ‘s a good thing. It didn’t come as a recognition of a problem that needed addressing. It came to me via an article I read in the College & University Journal called, “The Evolving Office of the Registrar”.  Outreach in this context means finding ways to take the Registrar’s Office out from behind our desks into the areas of the university that can benefit from our service.

Choosing a theme for a year is my way of doing more and doing better. What are your ways of doing more and better?


Grant McMillan


2 thoughts on “Do More, Do Better with a Theme

  1. Grant, I really really like this. I have done this before (personally and with my basketball team in high school) and found it to be very successful. When you focus on a mindset (or in basketball – the things that you know will help you win) instead of a daunting list of things then I find that you can focus your time better. Plus having an overarching goal to always return to is exciting/motivating.

    I like your theme for 2011-2012. I think with the Alumni Association emerging there will be some neat opportunities for everyone in the university community to step outside of their normal boundaries to connect with and help others.


    1. Thanks Jeremy. And you’re right about the focus. Regarding stepping outside of normal boundaries, I find the hard part is actually finding the time. Our normal jobs fill our time quite nicely, thank-you-very-much 🙂 So, we’re going to have to find a way to structure it – perhaps by calling meetings long in advance and setting up regular training sessions or committee assignments or something like that. I too am excited about the Alumni Association’s development and their commitment to making the university a better place.


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