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Episode 51

transformed: Quality-minded Transformation

In this episode, Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi – President of Central College in the Houston Community College System – offers perspective on Digital Transformation as viewed through the lens of quality management.

Joe Gottlieb: (00:01)
Welcome to Transformed a higher digital podcast focused on the new why’s, the new what’s, and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed, while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence. Culture, strategy and tactics, planning and execution, people, process, and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us for this special presidential series episode of Transformed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, President and CTO of Higher Digital, and today I am joined by Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi, president of Central College in the Houston Community College system. Muddassir, welcome to Transformed. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (00:56)
Thanks, Joe, and happy to be here. What do you want to talk about? 

Joe Gottlieb: (01:02)
Glad you asked. I wanna talk about, I wanna talk about your views on quality minded transformation, but first, tell me a bit about your personal journey and how it has shaped your perspective and passion for the work that you do in higher education. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (01:17)
Thanks, Joe. Uh, I think, uh, it’s a long history or story I would say, but let me try to be brief. Uh, I born and raised in, uh, Pakistan, and, uh, of course I share, uh, uh, my students ma many of my students’ background and experience as a first generation college going student. Uh, you know, uh, from a modest background, uh, education funding was always a problem. So I’m very, I’m very, uh, proud to say that I share my students, many of my students, uh, background and experiences, uh, grew up and, uh, see my engineering degree in electrical technology. Uh, of course after a lot, a lot of success. And it started working for, uh, a manufacturing company. Phillips, uh, you know, it’s a very famous company. Used to be famous company in Dutch company, and I worked for Phillips for at least 12 years. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (02:15)
And during that time, uh, I was deployed in different places for short term, and that provided me a great deal of opportunity to learn about different cultures and, you know, work in multicultural environment, uh, working with people from different background, a lot of global, uh, insights I gained, uh, during this time. And I think when I was in, when I came to United States as an immigrant, I started, uh, working in manufacturing industry in automotive sector. And, uh, you know, one fine seminar. Uh, so I was presenting at a seminar, uh, hosted by Illinois Manufacturer Association. And I was representing my company, uh, presenting on, uh, skill, uh, required, uh, by modern manufacturing. And during the break time, I was stopped by the chancellor of City College Chicago, and he said, , you wanna work for us? And I said, what I’m gonna do in in community college, because I have no experience, of course, I have work experience, but no higher education experience. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (03:21)
And he saw at my face and said, no, you can do it. So after long deliberation, uh, thinking process and identify, uh, what is more meaningful for me in my life, I decided to quit my, uh, corporate career, very juicy corporate career, I would say, and joined, uh, surgical Chicago as, uh, their workforce person. And, uh, over the period of last, uh, 15, 16 years, uh, is a progressive, uh, uh, you know, working experience. And that brought me to Houston in 2017 as a, uh, as a president of Central College. And I’m very proud of my journey. I’m very proud of my decision leaving corporate sector, looking for money, uh, then in public ServiceNow. 

Joe Gottlieb: (04:09)
Uh, I love that story. Trading the juicy corporate career for a life serving in higher ed. Uh, it, it’s, it’s really, it’s really interesting to hear that. And, and yet you come to higher ed with a really rich and, and diverse set of experiences. And so I wanna, I wanna talk about that. That really is really the, the, the root of this conversation, which is, you mentioned how earlier in your career, you, you, you were working in the manufacturing industry, and I know you see parallels between what you learned in manufacturing and what you see in, in the higher ed industry today, particularly with regard to how data is essential to continuous improvement. So let’s, let’s start right there. I think that’s a, what do you, what would you say about that? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (04:58)
So, uh, Joe, as I explained, uh, uh, I have, uh, extensive experience in global manufacturing, high tech, and the prime, primarily, our focus was always on the data, right? Data to improve our product, our customer experience, uh, our, uh, velocity of our transactions, uh, you know, and cost efficiency. Uh, if you see all these factors, uh, which are, which were relevant to manufacturing, are now relevant to higher education, uh, you know, if you, if you think about it, and, and we can talk like an hour on this subject, of course, the, the, the, the, the mission is different. You know, when manufacturing, I was responsible for making money for my company, right? In higher education, this is mission-based public service, uh, servant or, uh, servant leadership orientation. It’s a different kind of work, but you can see, but both are businesses and both requires efficiency, and efficiency is achieved by knowing and learning how you are doing. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (06:07)
So how do you know, how do you, you are doing through the data analysis of the data root cause analysis, uh, and, you know, all kind of tools. We have Lean Six Sigma as such. I was in the A A C C conference, uh, uh, last week, and I learned that, uh, community college used, uh, principle of Lean Six Sigma to improve their dual credit, uh, registration process. And they save money. They, uh, they seriously impacted a student success. And, and I was so excited to see that we are using, uh, these kind of technologies, which, uh, prove to be very effective and efficient in American manufacturing, right? Mm-hmm. . So if you recall 1980s and nineties, uh, manufacturing was, manufacturing industry was a big portion of, of United States, G d p, uh, it was well established, well funded markets were pretty stable, right? Uh, whatever you make, you can sell in the market. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (07:12)
And what happened because of the Japanese and Korean manufacturers, they try to come, uh, they intervene in the market, and you, you rested the story, right? Yeah. Now you see the market share of Tesla and other Japanese brands and General Motor Fordham Chrysler. So it, it is, it is a, it’s a difference. So, but manufacturing adopted, uh, different kind of strategies and philosophies based on advert, uh, Deming, uh, process improvement. And they saved their money and they were able to compete with, uh, Japanese manufacturers. I think in higher education, we have, we spend a lot of money on our operations, and there are always room for improvement. Our goal in higher education is to enhance student experience. You know, they receive what they’re looking for. So like manufacturing, move from mass customization to, uh, mass production, to customization. We are moving toward personal personalized learning in higher ed, right? Because that’s what our students are looking for. And it cannot be achieved without looking into the data, gaining some insight from the data and, uh, act upon on the data. And there are different methodologies, uh, we use in higher education. Uh, we can always use, uh, you know, lean Six Sigma and others. So I think that’s why I see some parallel, of course, the mission are different, some parallel between the two industry. 

Joe Gottlieb: (08:50)
So would you go so far as to say that like, uh, you know, when the Japanese and Korean manufacturers really raised the bar for quality of manufacturing and really forced the whole in the global industry to respond, and, and in some cases we did and we rose the challenge, and we, we, we continued that sort of manufacturing, but in some cases, we, we chose not to, right? We, we, we, we sort of let some of that manufacturing volume go, and those other nations have acquired market share in the case of higher ed. Do you see, um, I know, I know you see a similar, um, opportunity, but do we also see a little bit of a disruption, higher education reform, and, and do you observe challenges in leading an or, uh, leading a, an institution on a path that is exposing itself to more honest measurement, self-assessment and commitment to continuous improvement 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (09:52)
Of, of course, uh, Euro Joe, if you see our landscape in 2023, uh, in terms of, um, competition in the market, uh, we have so many independent contact, uh, content creators in the market, right? Uh, you have all these, uh, Coursera and, uh, other, other, other kind of, uh, uh, companies offering very flexible training, uh, and contents and certification opportunities in Google and Microsoft and I B m, uh, you know, uh, you have four year schools who are expending their reach. I’m, I’m taking a perspective of two year community college, right? Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. . So there are four year schools who are reaching, uh, students, and the students can take classes from anywhere, you know, uh, my son took, uh, a class online, uh, from Washington State University, and he’s living with me in Houston. So, so you can, the students have more option to go anywhere. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (10:54)
Uh, yes. They can also go, uh, for, uh, industry credentials. You see what Google and Amazon and I B m, uh, telling, uh, prospective employees, you know, just, just get the credential, just get these certification short-term, and we bring you to, uh, to the job, right? Are there are opportunities for, uh, operating as an independent consultant or contractor by learning few languages and coding and, you know, stuff like that. So it’s a challenge. And, uh, but our students need more than technical knowledge, you know, the need, uh, to be the part of, uh, our society. They need to learn the hi, our history, uh, arts and music and all the liberal arts thing, and also a camaraderie, uh, social integration that a college campus can provide, uh, either online or, you know, face-to-face. So yes, we have challenges, and community colleges has been very responsive to these challenges. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (11:56)
You know, they are at the forefront of, uh, producing, uh, skillful, uh, uh, labor force to their regional markets. I’ll give you example. Recently, Houston Community College, uh, launch a bachelor’s degree program in artificial intelligence and also in health information technology. So both are high wage, high growth, uh, high, uh, intensity industry or sector or occupations. Uh, but we are not, we are not leaving behind our students. Uh, we are, we, we are insistent on providing them high quality education with, in partnership with topknot industry. Like, for example, last week we had, uh, visit from, uh, Intel c e o, uh, visiting our, uh, artificial intelligence program. So you can see we are bringing all these kind of relationships, uh, in the best interest of our students, and we are ready to compete in addressing those challenges, uh, which are, uh, put on our systems. 

Joe Gottlieb: (13:02)
I couldn’t agree more about the importance of the role of the community college inserting that last mile in the community, right, to students that need to have more than just training, more than just technical knowledge as you point out. So, with that in mind, um, based on your, your adjunct teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels, what sort of universal skills are you reinforcing for students, um, here at h c? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (13:34)
So, uh, you know, Joe, I, uh, my job in the higher education, uh, my full-time job, uh, has always been in administration, uh, not as a faculty. And, you know, we have different, uh, roles and responsibilities in higher education institutions. So I, however, I had a great opportunity when I was leading a workforce program in Chicago. Uh, we were desperately looking for an instructor for our supply chain program. Uh, I’m talking about 2007 and eight, you know, the, the supply chain, of course, supply chain exists for a long time, but it was, uh, little new, relatively newer term in, in higher ed, and especially community colleges. Of course, community colleges have been offering classes in warehousing and logistic for a long time. Uh, so my, with the special permission of my chancellor, I was allowed, and with, with agreement with the teachers union, uh, I was allowed to teach, uh, undergrad courses in logistics and supply chain, because we could not find a part-time instructor in certain times. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (14:42)
So I say, you know, I’m gonna teach because I love teaching. Teaching is my passion. And I can tell you that was a very, very good experience. I taught a couple of semesters in the evening, hours after my full-time job. Of course. Yeah. And it was a wonderful experience because that provided me a great opportunity to understand my students, their learning experience, their outside the class challenges, and, and, and provided me an opportunity, how can I serve them? Uh, you know, how can I connect them with, uh, with the best knowledge I have? So, in the class, I brought, uh, senior leadership from U p s, FedEx, uh, railroad, uh, services in Chicago. And I can tell you some of these students completed their program. They graduated, and I’m still in touch with them, uh, whenever they need any reference. It’s long time ago, Emma, right? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (15:38)
Some are working in, uh, logistic companies, some are working in trucking companies, some in railroads. I’m very happy about their, uh, uh, about their success. In addition to that, uh, because as I said, teaching is my passion. Uh, I’ve been teaching as a adjunct professor in, uh, four year schools, uh, in, in topics like, uh, change management, uh, and other courses. Uh, and I always emphasize the need of critical thinking, uh, taking a system perspective to my students, right? Uh, how to operate in a multicultural, diverse society. Those are areas of my emphasis all the time. Uh, 

Joe Gottlieb: (16:21)
Interesting. I know also that, um, uh, the best courses and programs and institutions are increasingly more aligned with employer requirements. So tell me, let’s talk a little bit about how you’ve rev leveraged the role of corporate fellows to advance the, the sort of enrichment of your course courses and programs there. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (16:43)
So, so Joe, this is, uh, based on my teaching at MBA level program as a visiting professor at one university, and the university, uh, allowed me to bring corporate fellow. So corporate fellows are, are, uh, accomplish leader in industry. Uh, those people who want to share, they want to, uh, give back, uh, to the community at large, right? Not for money, or not for, you know, any other reason. Uh, so I had a great opportunity to bring leaders from industry, like, uh, oil and gas manufacturing, digital technology, construction, and others. And they, uh, taught with me students, uh, courses. Uh, so my job was to go over key concepts, you know, like course management and, you know, presentations and homework and assignment, whatever projects their job was to, was to context contextualize the, the, the concept, what I’m teaching, and bring their industry experience to enrich student learning. So this experience has been very, very helpful because a student can see a content expert like me and, uh, industry expert in corporate faculty. Mm-hmm. So there is an integration of two knowledges, two knowledge, uh, two people knowledge, right. And it really benefit students. 

Joe Gottlieb: (18:11)
Interesting. Um, any particular examples worth sharing? Like particular industries that you found where that resonated particularly well? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (18:19)
I think it resonated well, especially during the, uh, uh, tight job market. Uh, several corporate fellow, uh, encourage students to apply for jobs in their companies. So actually they were the messenger corporate, fellow service and messenger, or even as a recruiter am right, uh, for their own companies. Uh, and several students applied for jobs. I do not have any hard data right now, uh, but, uh, some of them were successful in getting jobs at the corporate fellows, companies, and organization. 

Joe Gottlieb: (18:54)
Nice. What, so then what, uh, what other, um, evidence, um, and remaining challenges do you see on this broader topic of student employability? That’s something that you have to be thinking about all the time in, in guiding, uh, uh, in your role at hcc. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (19:15)
I would say there are two different dimensions. Uh, we, we need to look, uh, student success in the market. Number one is, uh, industry relevant, uh, curriculum and instruction. Uh, at s e c, we are, we are committed to prepare students for 21st century job. So they have no challenge when they graduate and join a company for that. We have a state-of-the-art labs at all s e c locations. Uh, we have, uh, best in class curriculum that entail, uh, that has lot of, uh, intervention, uh, exponential learning projects for students. So we, we always prefer, uh, exponential learning, right? Uh, the third thing is we have, uh, we have well-rounded placement service that helps a student in placing in different companies, right? They share job posting and stuff like that because, uh, majority of our students are minority students, first generation. They may not have the social connection, uh, to get into the job. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (20:21)
Somebody call and say, yo, are you interested in the job? So we don’t want our students to be, uh, to, to lose because they do not have a role model, or they do not have connection in industry. So our placement services, career services, placement services, are doing a wonderful job in placing people. The another thing is connection with industry. So industry knows what you are offering at icc, every workforce program at S C C has a very robust and active advisory committee that consists of, uh, representative from industry. So industry representatives know what SCCs is, uh, is doing in order to make students successful. And it will, it is not difficult for them to making hiring decision when time comes for hiring employees in their companies. So it is relevance and connection. There are two different dimensions, I would say that, uh, critically impact, uh, student employability, uh, at S C C. 

Joe Gottlieb: (21:26)
Nice. So, I wanna shift gears a little bit. You wrote a great article for Ed. Cause in February of last year on the topic of organizational change management and support of digital transformation, uh, a topic that’s, um, a, a favorite of mine, . And in that article, you, you shared some of the plays that you like to run when guiding change and, and digital transformation. So would you mind sharing a few highlights with our listeners? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (21:52)
Of course. Uh, uh, Joe is, uh, I, I have a deep interest in, uh, digital transformation or, uh, tech technology integration in improving our, uh, our business processes. Uh, because irrespective of industry, you rely on processes to deliver value in, in our case, deliver value to our students. Yeah. So, uh, my article was based on a couple of steps, uh, which I thought may be important for, uh, organizations, uh, higher education organizations. Um, for example, uh, I started with creating a, a compelling vision, uh, that present a picture, uh, of the future and explain why, uh, members and, uh, members of an organization should, uh, strive to create that future. That compelling vision for change is very, very important. Uh, if you, if you refer to John Carter, uh, change management model, uh, he says, uh, he, uh, he used the term sense of urgency. Uh, and, and there is, this is the responsibility of the leadership, for example, at S e c, our chancellor, uh, who is very innovative and, uh, visionary, uh, in his thinking. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (23:13)
Uh, he provided a compelling vision on, uh, you know, we need to change, uh, in terms of how we do our business in order to enrich student experience. So he always talk about student experience, student experience, and, and so that is, that’s the vision. So we all follow and we all craft our strategies to enrich student experience. Uh, in this case, in my article I refer to specifically to, uh, digital transformation, which is also an aspect of enhancing student experience. Then I talk about how should we work together as a system, uh, instead of like, you know, this is it, this is it responsibility to, uh, change, uh, business processes to provide this kind of services to understand Eastern dynamics am Right? You know, in information technology department, in, in, historically, they, they used to be a department at the corner. Am I right? No longer, you can see they play a critical role in the organization’s success, including the change and transformation process, because we all rely on technology. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (24:28)
So breaking the silos is very important. Uh, re the reason is suppose a student, uh, go to registration. I’m giving you a very simple example, right? Online, it is not a student services department responsible for registration, right? You have to have right courses in the schedule, uh, that go, they, that pop out. When a student looking for surge, right? IT infrastructure, your, uh, your window operating system, your student services processes that help a student to register in a timely manner, right? It’s a cross-functional efforts. Mm-hmm. . So what I said in my article is, breaking silos is very, very important and right, engagement and collaborative process. So, for example, we are working on system-wide, uh, customer relation management process, and, and we have representation from all departments, uh, at a c, c, from student services to procurement to marketing and sale. Everyone, everyone is on the table. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (25:34)
We want to make sure, uh, we break the silos, uh, around the same goal that our, a chancellor identified enhancing student experience. Uh, then I talk about, uh, creating short-term events. Uh, this is very important because sometime, uh, large project, like c r m project at S E C, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a large project, and sometime these projects span several months or years. So celebrating short-term wins, uh, convey a message that things are happening here, right? It bring more people on board. It, it gives more confidence to people. Uh, and, and this is also from John Carter’s model where he talk about celebrating short-term wins, uh, to gain trust of people. Because when people start seeing, uh, that things are happening here, they tend to collaborate and join your team for change. Then I talk about in my article, uh, converting project into competencies. For example, you know, many, many organizations are moving toward, uh, project ize based organization rather than operational based. Uh, so when, when, when you are in a project, you start building, uh, uh, competencies and, and those competencies, uh, ensure sustainable gains and prepare people for future challenges in the organization. So these are four or five items I talk about. 

Joe Gottlieb: (27:14)
I, I love them. I, I, in fact, if I may, I love, I like the way they string together. They, they definitely track with a lot of the best practices that we see working with a variety of institutions. So, you know, that transformative vision is what actually helps you break down the silos, because it, it is thing, it is something everyone can relate to, right? So if you get up above the focus of each department or silo, whatever it is, and you can all agree that this is an exciting vision to pursue, it helps, it helps you move out of that parochial view. Um, sometimes there’s still challenges and you have to keep sustaining that, but, uh, but that’s a good connection point. And then once you have those that cross-functional, um, set of resources engaged, short-term wins help, help make sure that that rhythm gets established, right? 

Joe Gottlieb: (28:09)
The short-term worms literally helps people experience, yes, the payoff for getting out of their comfort zone for maybe, you know, dis deferring some of their departmental view for the broader view that can be shared, um, to make progress on something that is gonna allow the vision to occur. And then last but not least, I love this notion of converting projects into competencies. In my words, I would, I would say it in the form of, you know, transformation’s not a one-time event. Change is not a one-time event. And, uh, but some, but projects are, are semi durable events that happen to us or that we engage in, right? And, but like you said, they, they’re an opportunity. They are a forcing function to learn new things or to grapple with new problems. But if we’re smart, we, we, we take our learnings and we accrue them to sustainable competencies, processes, competencies, et cetera, right? That can be repeated. And now the next quote unquote project that rolls around that is relevant to those competencies, there’s less learning to do. We should always be learning, but there, we, we, we might be able to go, go execute it with more confidence, perhaps with letter less ramp up time, um, perhaps with a more diverse team, because we have that confidence and the skills to engage it, et cetera. So, great dividends coming out of all those things. Um, I don’t know if I’ve sparked any, any redirect from my words, but 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (29:47)
No, I think you used, you, you summarized well. So , I’m, I’m taking Norse, , . 

Joe Gottlieb: (29:54)
Well, it’s a, like I said, it’s a topic we enjoy quite well. So with that, uh, I, I know the, the time is getting a little long here, so why don’t we, what, how would you summarize some takeaways for our listeners on this topic of, of quality minded transformation? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (30:12)
So, you know, Joe, I would, I would like to talk about two or three things, which I consider, uh, critical for us, uh, higher education community, and I consider them also very important for me. So I’m talking from my own self, right? What is important for me? First thing I would say that we are, I mean, uh, historical challenges right now am right? High education. Uh, we have enrollment issues, declining enrollment after covid 19, COVID 19 hit hard, our students and, uh, and, and staff. Uh, we have, uh, technology challenges, which, which, which is ever changing phenomena. Uh, we have, um, we have students, uh, who come from different backgrounds, do not have enough support and, uh, to, to continue their education. How can we keep them? So we have, we have multiple challenges, I would say we need to recognize and, uh, refresh our perspective on our environment in which we are, right? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (31:17)
Uh, we cannot use our old lenses or old models, uh, in a, in a new environment. Uh, for example, uh, you see this, uh, invention of, uh, chat, G P D for example, right? It’s still point of debate from community colleges to all these four year schools and Ivy leagues and globally. Uh, you know, the question is, uh, how we can adapt to, uh, to chat G B T, right? Uh, if we not use at our level, our student will use it, right? How to adapt. And there are a lot of discussion around, uh, how can we live with chair G P D without sacrificing the integrity or rigor of teaching and learning. Uh, so it’s very important. The second thing I would say is, uh, avoid projecting tomorrow to Murder yesterday, right? It is, it is ever-changing environment. We never experienced so many education provider in our service area, right? 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (32:18)
It’s a simple example, right? We never experienced such a technology boom, uh, in our lifetime. Uh, you know, this generative AI and other things. And the, and the last thing I would say is, uh, focus on impact outcome rather than too much stress in the process, right? Uh, what we are doing is really impacting our constituents, our community, our students. How do we know? We need to rely on data, authentic data. We need to gain insight. And this is a never ending process. So these are some of my, uh, my perspectives about this changing environment, 21st century. Uh, and, uh, I think it’s relevant to all organization, not only limited to higher education organizations. 

Joe Gottlieb: (33:10)
Great points to end on. Muddassir, thank you so much for joining me today. 

Dr. Muddassir Siddiqi: (33:16)
And, and thanks. Go ahead. Thank you, Joe. Thank you for, for having me here, um, for this wonderful conversation. 

Joe Gottlieb: (33:24)
It’s been a pleasure, and thanks to our guests for joining us as well. I hope you have a great day, and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of Transformed.

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As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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