While working as a Broad Resident, Madeleine Merchant served as Senior Director, Organizational Strategy, Human Resources and Talent Management with the NYC DoE
I am with my early bird (my toddler son) as usual. We enjoy our morning routine – hanging out, breakfast, then out the door to school. After dropping him off, I jump on the subway and commute to work. It’s already toasty out, so I treat myself to an iced coffee at the cart in front of the office.
Our organization hired a new CIO a couple months ago when my old boss left. Although he is new to the role, he has been in the organization for a couple years and we worked closely on a project earlier this year. During these first few months, we have a standing working session every morning from 8-9. We use the time to share project updates, track the status on major initiatives, and talk through open items.
Our new CIO has instituted bi-weekly leadership meetings (every Monday and Wednesday morning) with his cabinet (10 leaders in the organization). Today’s meeting is focused on the budget for Fiscal Year 2014. At the NYCDOE, the Fiscal Year starts on July 1st. It makes things a little tricky because we operate on three different calendars: the school year, the calendar year and the fiscal year.
In year two of the residency, my role will be changing a bit. As part of that, I am transitioning off my major project from year 1 which was overseeing the IT capital plan. I meet with the new project manager to go through milestones, timelines, and other documentation. I make a mental note to leverage some of these materials for my Year 1 capstone project. The capstone project is a mandatory assignment that all the Residents do at the end of their first year – it is an opportunity to reflect on the first year and share lessons learned and resources. I am hoping that pulling this together for the new PM will also help me get organized when the time comes to write my capstone!
I meet with the talent manager to discuss employee engagement initiatives in our organization. Two years ago, an employee engagement survey was rolled out to the organization as part of a larger internal review. Based on the results of the review and survey, several opportunities were launched for employees including professional development opportunities and a performance management tool. We discuss the option of re-running the survey again to see how the results have changed. We also talk through some of the drivers of employee engagement and come up with some ideas to implement within our organization.
Grab a quick lunch and run an errand. After a long winter, it’s nice to be outside as much as possible.
I have a welcome two-hour block of open time before my next meeting. I use the time to type up notes from a couple of my morning meetings and cross-out a few items on my to-do list. I also have a check-in with my Leadership Fellow who is here for the summer. Finally, I put together an agenda for my next meeting.
Each quarter we run a Town Hall/business update for our employees (almost 600!). The town hall is in a couple weeks, so the planning committee meets weekly to make sure that preparations are progressing. One of the exciting things we are planning for this coming session is a principal’s panel. Many of our employees have never done a school visit so this is our way of bringing the school visit to them. We plan to have a panel of 5 principals who will give some insight into a day in the life.
Coffee with the COO’s Chief of Staff. We ran into each other at Tweed a couple days ago and realized that we went to college together so we set up a coffee/check-in to learn a little more about each other’s backgrounds and talk about ways that our organizations can work together.
Catch up on emails before heading out for the evening.
It’s a beautiful night so I run home instead of taking the subway. I get my son from day care and we head home for our nightly routine: dinner, bath, bed.
Eat dinner, have a phone date, putter around the house…then go to bed early.
Wake up to hear my son calling for me…or more importantly asking for milk. We usually have time as a family to hang out in the mornings, but our quarterly division town hall is this morning and I need to make some final changes to the deck. I multi-task by feeding my son breakfast while I do some last minute edits to the presentation.
Usually I drop my son off at day care and then head to our Brooklyn office, but today I leave home a little early and go straight to the town hall location which is at a high school in Brooklyn. I get there early to oversee the set up and make sure the speakers are ready to go.
Our division has about 600 employees and it is rare for everyone to be in the same place, so these events are always fun. As the project manager on these events, it gives me satisfaction to see it come together. Today we have a business update from our CIO and then a special presentation with a panel of our high school interns. Being at such a large district, it can be easy to feel removed from the students we are serving. Hearing these high school interns field questions was very refreshing. I am so impressed by how poised, articulate and candid they are at 16!
I head back to the office and use this time to catch up on emails.
As I eat lunch at my desk, I use the time to kick off my 360 review process. As we enter our second year, Broad Residents are set up with an executive coach and a 360 review. We identify people across the organization who we work with who can provide feedback as part of the 360 review process. The idea is that we can start to get a deeper understanding of how people perceive us, play to our strengths, and work on our gaps. I use this time to call, email, or drop by the office of people who I would like to provide feedback. As I get responses, I enter them into the system.
I want to tie up all the loose ends around the town hall, so I start tackling my list of follow ups: send thank you notes, create and send out a survey, write a follow up email for the CIO to send to employees, etc.
Even though the fiscal year doesn’t end for a couple more months, the budget wind down starts now. All the CIO’s directs come together to look at the current budget snapshot and discuss what needs to be done over the next few weeks to make sure that we closeout properly. I don’t have any direct reports or specific budget items, but attending these meetings gives me additional context and helps me understand the business more holistically.
Hurricane Sandy taught us some important lessons on preparation, so there is now a committee working on disaster recovery preparation. The goal is to create a manual for schools. In case any type of disaster takes their technology down (mainly phones and internet) they have business processes and contingencies in place so that the school can meet critical business functions. My role is to project manage the process – which includes making sure everyone is clear on next steps and start synthesizing and compiling the information.
Back at my desk I spend the final hour catching up on emails and crossing a few things off my to-do list. I also take a quick look at meetings for the next day so I have an idea about some of the prep work I need to do in advance.
Run home. A few nights a week, I pack running clothes and run the three miles home rather than take the subway. It takes roughly the same amount of time and gives me the rare opportunity to clear my head. I get my son from day care and we head home for our nightly routine. While he eats dinner in his high chair, I use the time to pack his lunch for the next day and clean up the apartment.
My husband is working a little late tonight, so I use the time to start dinner for us and pull together some materials for my meetings the next day. I work on a financial model for another group and make sure that I have all my backup materials at my fingertips in case I need to reference the details. When I am done, I pack my bag for the morning – when I know everything is ready to go for the next morning, then I can truly relax!
Eat dinner with my husband and relax before bed. We catch up on a couple shows and go to bed early.
Get woken up by the alarm – my toddler son. I always get him in the morning, which means a full hour or more of hang time. It’s my favorite part of the day and reminds me why I am doing this work.
Commute to work. Usually it takes me less than half-an-hour to get to the office, but New York City is still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, so transportation options are spotty. Instead of taking my usual subway (which is temporarily shut down), I walk the three miles to the office. The hurricane hit three days ago, and the aftermath is evident around me – trees down everywhere blocking off roads, huge snaking lines for the buses, grid-lock on even the quietest side streets.
Catch up with my boss. She’s asked me to help with her post-hurricane communications strategy and planning, including operating as single point of contact for the technology division in filtering information to other groups. From a technology stand-point, the effects of the Hurricane are wide-spread: 200+ schools without power, 100 more without phones or internet, two central offices temporarily closed (including headquarters), and several hundred employees “hoteling” at various locations. We sit down and map out a few of the major communications that need to go out to various stakeholders. Then we head to a nearby office for an impromptu cabinet meeting.
The entire cabinet (the twelve top DOE decision makers – which includes my boss) and the Chancellor have convened in a make-shift war room to take inventory of what’s going on and develop a plan so that schools can open this coming Monday (4 days!). In this meeting, I grab a chair in the back and am a fly on the wall. It’s so interesting to hear the issues and action items by division: operations had 5 percent of their bus fleet wiped out and needs to figure out alternate transportation options, labor and talent are in discussions with the union about when teachers can report back to work, and the portfolio team needs to decide which schools can host students from schools that are inoperable. In two hours I feel like I have learned so much about the organization. The technology division walks away with one new action item: create a micro-site on the Internet so parents, students and school employees can get all the information they need in one place.
My boss and I grab sandwiches and walk back to the office. On our way, we de-brief on the meeting. I am lucky to have a recent Broad graduate as a supervisor; she has endless patience for my questions and is always willing to talk through things.
Eat lunch in my boss’ office as we story board the content we may need for our micro-site. Soon, the web development team joins us and we start bringing our vision to life on a white board and with PowerPoint mock-ups. The team decides to create a simple interactive school finder tool that parents can use to determine if their kid’s school is open, closed or temporarily re-located. After the meeting, I type up quick notes and next steps and send them out to the team.
I’m settled at my desk for the first time today. I draft the three communications that need to go out (one to cabinet, one to central staff, and one to the technology division). I get a phone call pertaining to my largest on-going project. Even though I am a little stressed about time, I take the half-hour call to make sure the project isn’t stalled. We are in the process of drafting proposals for our major capital efforts so we can get funding. My finance liaison called to give me the next round of feedback that I will take back to our project teams.
Jump on a call with our infrastructure team – they are the ones who monitor the internet and phone connectivity issues in real-time from our network operations center. Owners of various action items give their updates while I gather the important statistics and information needed for the next cabinet update
Attend the second cabinet meeting. We give a status update on the major technology issues the team is monitoring and share some mock-ups of the micro-site design. It’s amazing to hear how much progress has been made from all divisions in the six hours since the last cabinet meeting.
Commute home – I try an alternate subway route that is up and running then walk the rest of the way. Get home in time for the bath/bedtime routine with my son. My husband and I then have a quick dinner before I get back to work. Usually I do about an hour or so of emails and project catch-up after my son has gone to sleep, but with Hurricane Recovery mode in full swing I know I will be working until bedtime.
The technology leadership team jumps on a call. I debrief the team on the major takeaways and discussions that happened during the cabinet meeting. There is a heated debate over some of the decisions that cabinet made (one member of the team thinks it is not feasible to open schools on Monday)…but things quickly settle down and we get back to discussing the next steps. There is a round robin so each leader can give a status update – the infrastructure team is monitoring the number of schools without internet or phone service and tracking them against the school opening lists, the web applications team is finalizing the design of the school finder tool, and the telecom team is creating a plan to distribute emergency cell phones to schools with no phone service.
After the call, I stay up to monitor all the emails flying around and finish up a couple tasks. Generally I try to get to bed by 11, but tonight I want to make sure I am available. In the background, I catch up on a TV show my husband refuses to watch (Revenge!). When I can’t fight sleep any longer, I drop into bed.
It’s been an unusually long day due to the intense Hurricane Recovery that is under way – but I have never felt more confident in my choice to switch industries and join the Broad Residency. This week I have seen New York and the NYCDOE at their best – unified, resilient, and resourceful. I couldn’t be prouder to live in this city and be part of this meaningful work.