Craig Hockenberry

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Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Finds Ways to Have Important Conversations


Craig Hockenberry Finding Our Values

Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Finds Ways to Have Important Conversations

By Craig Hockenberry

When I was selected as the Superintendent of Three Rivers School District in Southwestern Ohio, I knew I was facing some new and interesting challenges.

First, the district spread across multiple municipalities and governing structures, which meant that it was difficult to get the community to rally behind the schools. This was not because they didn’t like the schools, they did. However, each village was its own entity with its own mayor, and the larger township had its own elected leadership. There were multiple layers of authority and thus multiple opinions about the best way forward in most matters.

The second challenge is our proximity to Cincinnati and highly-regarded Catholic school system. This meant that some families of means opted out of our public system and were not invested in our success.

Third, the district had never taken the time and energy to identify their core values.

As an experienced leader, I knew that tackling this third problem could help address the first two.

I set out to do that early in my tenure.

Getting the right partner

Though I lived in nearby Price Hill, I was not familiar with the Three Rivers community. I set about meeting with as many people who would meet with me to learn about the community.

This work led to the surprising finding that the community wanted a swimming pool. I wrote about this previously in a different series of posts.

As I met with members of the community to learn what they valued and wanted from the school system, I kept in mind my understanding that we needed core values to create a unified sense of what made Three Rivers unique. I also knew that as a relative outsider, I needed to find trusted brokers in the community to help gather people together to identify our core values.

Pretty quickly I met Tim Urmston. He was active in the community and also happened to be the founder of a Cincinnati company called SEEK. They are world-class community-builders. Most interesting is their willingness to see empathy not as merely an emotion, but as a tool for problem-solving.

Importantly, he had done core value work with several Fortune 500 companies.

Perhaps more importantly, though he could afford to send his kids up the hill to the Catholic schools, he loved and sent his children to Three Rivers Schools.

I had found the perfect ally to help us have a conversation about our core values.

Scheduling the conversation

Tim was clear from the beginning that the core values work could not be piecemeal. That is, we couldn’t do it in a series of meetings with different people over many weeks or months. Sure, doing that would yield core values, but no one would feel passionate about them, because no one would feel real ownership of them.

He insisted that the work needed to be done in one day.

This was important work, and I wanted to capture a paid day for my staff without losing a day of instruction, so I got creative.

Saturdays are busy, especially for educators and parents, so I knew this would have to happen on a Sunday. Additionally, it required 8 hours, so I proposed a time after church.

Sunday 12:00 - 8:00pm.

This, of course, caused some Three Rivers staff to balk.

So I offered a day of personal leave to central office staff who attended.

Personal leave is a paid day off to handle personal matters. It is essentially a “no questions asked” day off, though there are some negotiated rules about how it can and can’t be used.

Tim also insisted that we work in a beautiful, comfortable, and unique location. For that, I booked the Cincinnati Observatory.

He also required that we be able to work without stopping, even through meals. I hired caterers for lunch and dinner.

One by one we tackled the obstacles to setting up a concentration day to hammer out our core values.

I believe it was my flexibility in meeting the needs of the individuals involved that helped our process go so smoothly. Instead of asking people to donate their time and energy to the district, I used the district’s resources to answer their questions and meet their needs.

No one was there because I bought lunch and dinner. But the people who needed to be there got lunch and dinner, and a beautiful location, as a measure of our gratitude for their service and time.

Then we had to do the hard work of actually identifying our core values.

Craig Hockenberry

Craig Hockenberry: A Leader Finds Ways to Have Important Conversations
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