Powered by

Leading Organizational Change: FAU’s White, New Mexico’s Nuñez, And UCF’s Wood

Guest Brian White, Florida Atlantic; Eddie Nuñez, New Mexico; Eric Wood, UCF
20:36 min watch


FAU AD Brian White and New Mexico AD Eddie Nuñez join UCF Deputy AD Eric Wood to discuss their experiences leading new organizations. The trio reviews soliciting feedback, setting expectations for coaches and staff, evaluating progress, and key allies on campus to help move the mission and brand of the institution forward.


Click the timestamp below to jump to a specific question/topic. Scroll down to read the full transcript.

  • - How did you go about soliciting feedback?
  • - What would your advice be to an incoming AD who wants to meet everyone in the athletic department?
  • - How did you use the notes you took during meetings with leaders and coaches? (White)
  • - How did you set expectations to lead your new department through organizational change?
  • - When and how do you evaluate leading the change to move the organization forward?
  • - To strategic plan or not to strategic plan?
  • - Outside of the President or Chancellor, what is the one position or individual on campus that you need in your corner?
  • - Within the athletic department, what position(s) do you need to help move the brand and the mission forward?
  • - Closing remarks on leading organizational change.


Full Transcript


Eric Wood: Good morning, I’m Eric Wood, Deputy Athletics Director at UCF. And I’m here with Brian White from FAU, Eddie Nuñez from New Mexico. Welcome, gentlemen, to Orlando. How are you?


Brian White: Doing Great. Thank you for having us.


Eddie Nuñez: Doing great. Thank you.


EW: Good, good. Yeah, thank you for being here. Welcome to Orlando again. Today we’re talking a little bit about leading organizational change. And both of us recently assumed and earned your positions at your respective institutions. And I’m curious and for our viewers, how did you go about soliciting feedback as you led organizational change? Was, was there a document? Was there a method you used? Let’s talk a little bit about that. Brian, I’ll start with you.


BW: Sure. I would say there was an intentional process, but there was also kind of a feel component. You know, the intentional process, you, you do what I think most ADs do when you enter a new gadget, you meet with all your senior staff, you meet with all your department heads, you meet with every head coach individually. And I was pretty intentional about note taking. You’re doing a lot of listening, a lot of learning on the job, but you’re you want to get a feel for, for everything in play. But you also, you’re going to meet with campus leadership, all the other VPs. Obviously, you get feedback from your president. But I think in addition, you’re going to meet with deans. You’re going to meet with external constituents, anybody that’s really influenced by your department. You want to be very intentional about getting a feel for all components.


You know, that being said, there’s also a kind of a more of an informal aspect where you see things every day, and then you learn things every day. And so, with that, you’re building kind of a consensus. You do see trend lines. You pick up themes, both internally and externally. And sometimes you’ll pick up a theme early, and then that theme will be contradicted later. So sometimes you don’t… you don’t want to be quick to make a decision. You want to be slow to evaluate and, and really feel it out.


EW: Great. Thank you. Eddie, how about you?


EN: No, very much on… similar to what Brian said, I think it’s… when you take on the opportunity first you have to kind of digest everything, figure out what’s in place. But, but you do; you come in with a game plan and you figure out what individuals you want to sit down with. First and foremost, for me, it was my coaches. That first initial week and a half, I wanted to sit down with every one of them trying to get an opportunity to sit down and understand. And then slowly as, as it went on, trying to make sure that, that we hit everybody in the department. For me it was a little bit more of a challenge just because dealing with a lot of other circumstances that were involved within our department, it took a little more time to meet with everybody that I wanted to. But it was, it was definitely a planned approach in the beginning and then ultimately you have to improvise and you have to make adjustments.


But getting out in the community was very important for, for myself, for our institution, because UNM, similar to other institutions, you have to get out there and meet with your constituents.


EW: Right.


EN: And I think I did 48 events in the first 60 days.


EW: Wow.


EN: I mean, it was one after another after another. And the reason I did it was, as a listening tour. It was my opportunity to sit down, listen, ask questions, ask what we can do differently, and build that trust back with everybody else. So it’s a two-pronged approach. You have the guide, guiding principle, you come in, “Okay, this is what I want to do. These are stuffs I need to hit.” But then, ultimately, you have to go with what your feel is and who you need to hit more so than others—campus leaders, institutional, in-house. So I would tell you, we went in with a plan, but as everyone that have sat down and seen or even taken over a new unit or new department, you come with a plan, but you’re going to have to adjust on dealing with the situations at hand. 


EW: So, we’ve all been to a number of conferences and as you sit in your AD role, people are picking your brain on how to do things. What would you say to our viewers with the notion of, you know, those that say, “Well, I’m going to meet with everyone in the athletic department when I get there, I’m going to give them 15 minutes.” How would you respond?


EN: Well, first of all, you’re not going to have 15 minutes.


EW: Right.


EN: I would say, you have to, you have to go in with an open mind. It’s always good to be focused. It’s always good to have a task at hand. But you have to understand that 15 minutes might be 30 minutes, and that 30 minutes… somebody might need, you might need to give them a lot more time because of their area of expertise is something that’s really critical about where you’re going, how the department needs to move forward. So, stay with the mentality of, “Hey, I want to try to hit everybody because that was a goal,” and then probably Brian has the same, you want to hit everybody all the way down to the janitors, custodial, whomever is in the bottom or the top. You want to meet with everybody…


EW: Yeah.


EN: …but it’s the process is making sure everybody across the board knows that you’re accessible. And that’s, at least, something that I would push for every day.


EW: Brian, you want to chime in on that?


BW: Yeah, I would agree wholeheartedly. And I think it would be really difficult to sit down in your first, you know, three to six months, individual meetings with everybody, and I had the same mindset coming in and, and you do think about it, but then you got to prioritize. So for us, you know, a lot like we’ve experienced in other schools, you know, you’re going to want to get out early on. So we spend a lot of time out of the office, and then it’s… you’re going to have to prioritize internally. So we prioritize department heads, leadership, and head coaches. But that being said, you want your assistant coaches, you want anybody else to have a feel for you. So sometimes, it’s catching somebody in the hallway and asking them about their family for five minutes.


EW: Right.


BW: Sometimes it’s… we’ve had lunches where we meet with, for instance, our training staff, and we’ll have a lunch and well Chick-fil-A and we’ll talk about, you know, our favorite Christmas movies for 20 minutes. But it’s, you know, it’s just a way for us all to connect and get to know each other so that they do feel like they have access. They do feel like they know you. But it may not be realistic, you know, early on to have individual meetings with every member of the department.


EW: Great. Thank you. Now, Brian, I know you had mentioned more of a feel process or either of you taking notes that you followed up on later, and then we’ll move on to our next question.


BW: Absolutely. You know, and it would be way more than I even thought coming in, you know, because I think especially, you know, you’re meeting with, with, with head coaches early on, and, you know, you might end up with three pages of notes. But it’s, it is interesting to see then you go down and look at those themes. I look at them after the meetings, but then also would look at them after I met with all the head coaches. And you’re, “Okay, this is a theme,” and it does jog your memory pretty good. So you save it and you… and you remember it as you look for how you build that program. Ideally, every program you’re… there is a vision for what you need long term and coaches, I think, are pretty quick to come in and, and explain that vision…


EW: Yeah.


BW: …but, but I love that, you know, I think that’s important to know that they do have that on their mind, that they, they are competitive. And as all, all of our coaches are hyper competitive. So that to me is, that to me is really exciting.


EW: Got it. Okay. So we’ll move on to the next question. There’s research out there that suggest when you’re leading organizational change that you sort of tell people what to expect from you as the leader, in some, some ways just to alleviate some fear. Right. Speak to that. You know, was that… is that a method or an approach that you took when leading your respective departments?


EN: Absolutely, I think it was, again, you have to understand your department, what you’re getting into. And I think there’s… every situation is a little different. And I think you’re going to end up realizing that you’re going to take a different approach for the most part to different groups that you’re dealing with. But I will tell you that I… you have to kind of give them a baseline of what your expectations are. Everyone that I sat with understood, like this is my expectations. This is what I’m looking for. But I also had an opportunity to listen to them and what they expected from me. Because as the leader of this department now, I want to know what their expectations are, and how do we how do we work off each other, how do we be successful together.


So, yeah, we’ve taken different approaches. Some coaches, some staff members are a little bit different than others, and that… and I am, I’m fine with adjusting my methods…


EW: Right.


EN: …to suit them. But the actual message is still the same, always. And it’s so that we can establish that culture that we’re trying to establish within our department.


EW: Right. Same for you. There’s, there’s fear, right? A new leader, there’s fear. How did you handle that?


BW: Absolutely. And, you know, I think early on, you try to be self-aware and introspective, and I’ve been in two different departments where we had an AD change, where I was Associate AD under the change. So I’ve seen it twice. So I talked about that in my opening all-staff meeting. So there’s, there’s a formal setting where you, where you, I think, openly talk about change. But then there’s also informal settings. There’s… you talk about it regularly in your executive staff meeting. You, you talk about it individually. I think there are certain people that you know that you need to connect with and make sure that they’re… keep a pulse on people and you may informally pull somebody in that maybe doesn’t report to you but you want to make sure that they are in a good place and that they’re getting good communication. So there’s, there’s the informal, pull somebody in and connect with them. There’s also the connecting with different individual departments where maybe this certain department has had significant change. So you’re spending a little bit more time with that. So it’s not necessarily a cookie-cutter approach. But I do think it comes from, you know, intentionally from the all-staff meeting. It comes from the departmental meetings, but it also comes individual and maybe more in informal conversations about it, just being open, transparent. Making sure they understand expectations.


EW: So, you know, how do you… is there… is there a scorecard? Is there a point in this… in the academic year where you sort of revisit what you stated upon your arrival to your respective campuses to say, “Here’s where we are. Well, here’s what we said we were going to do. Here’s where we are,” is there a scorecard? Is there a time of the year? Is there a meeting? How do you keep the organization moving forward?


EN: I would say I don’t think there’s a scorecard per se, but at some point you understand when that change needs to start being implemented when that right-sizing of the department or kind of putting everything in place needs to occur. For me it was after my first year.


My first year, we had a lot of challenges, a lot of opportunities that were presenting themselves from every, every direction. So I took that information that I had gathered from my first initial meetings with everybody and reassessed it after the first year, made sure that not just meeting with coaches, individuals, that their, their goals were being, were being attained. And the challenge that we looked at in the beginning of my first year, were they still in place. So, for my, for myself, it was first year.


And I looked at back in where I started and where I was today, and where we needed to be. And now after that first year, now is when we… when my department is… understand that we’ve got to take that next step forward. We, we’ve started bit by bit. Now we really got to make that big push.


EW: All right, Eddie, thank you.


BW: You know, I break it down, and I look at it, it’s different for every sport program. And to me it’s different for, for every department. You know, there’s some… when we talk about a scorecard, I think of, you know, tangible results. For me, there are some areas that are much easier to look at it that way, you know, externally. We look at our fundraising numbers every day. We look at our ticket revenue numbers every day. We have a, you know, a daily tracker. So those… that would be more of a scorecard you can see, you know, marketing, you look at your, your impression numbers. But there’s other areas that are harder to, you know, put a scorecard per se on. But I do think it is a, you know, something where, where you want to… you want all programs… they’re equally important. You want all departments to be contributing at a very high level for the overall mission of the athletic department. So keeping a feel on are we highly efficient, are we contributing to the, to the greater good in every area. And then I think you get there with communication, understanding of expectations, and, and listening through time. You know, I’m still 10 months in, haven’t hit the one-year mark.


But I think in, in all those departments you want to, you want to make sure you’re, you’re not losing focus on, “This one is more important than the other. So we’re going to be okay here, but we’re going to be really good here.”


You want to be really, really good in, I think, every sport program and every department. So if you’re constantly looking at that, and then communicating what that means. Really good may mean, “We want… yes, there’s the results, be, let’s look at fundraising, these are results, really good, we want to raise more money. But how are we going to get there? We’re going to have more meetings.” So we track weekly meetings per development officer. And it might be different in compliance. And it might be different in the business office. But making sure that you have communication with the department head or with the head coach on what expectations are and what it means to be really good.


EN: I want to add though from an efficiency standpoint, departments like ours and the group of five that we do have other challenges that the Power Five don’t, being efficient, and being able to assess that on a day-to-day basis is important. Because for me, and I know very similar to probably Brian, you’re having to look at how you could be most efficient in your department with your staff, with, with your coaches, with the, with the units.


So really important that you can channel that and actually make, make an opportunity to see how we’re getting better every day.


EW: Right. So, so this question is, it’s on the spot a little bit, don’t need to go in-depth. To strategic plan or not to strategic plan? Not what it… what yours is, but to strategic plan or not to strategic plan?


BW: We are in the middle of our strategic planning process.


EW: Right.


BW: So we chose to strategic planning.


EW: Okay, right.


BW: Yes, we’re hoping to finish in mid-March and we’re hoping internally, we’re hoping to make something public in the mid-April. So this is very important for us. And, you know, we’re looking at a five-year window. But we feel it appropriate, we’ve involved… we have a pretty robust steering committee and we’ve involved a lot of internal and external constituents and I think it was definitely the right thing for, for FAU at this time.


EW: Thank you. Eddie?


EN: From my standpoint, it’s a yes and no.


EW: Okay.


EN: I, my first year as much as I wanted to get report and kind of started doing all the planning necessary, it just wasn’t in the cards.


EW: Yep.


EN: So we are now starting that process. Because that window of… they had a, they had a five-year plan that was in place that had two years remaining. We were now where we are reassessing it, looking at what we can do, what changes are different. So in the beginning, it was, I didn’t have that opportunity to be able to say, “Okay, let me spend the time and the effort.” It was more so get… circle the wagons, get our people in place. But now that we’ve got some things in place…


EW: Right.


EN: Now it’s time to make that change. So there’s, it’s, it definitely has to be a critical part of your department. Also making sure that you’re aligned with that strategic plan with the university.


EW: Excellent.


EN: The mission and strategic plan. So they’re going to there’s here in the next year. It’ll be an opportunity to really work together in conjunction with each other.


EW: Excellent. So both of you mentioned how important it is to be intertwined with your, your campus and overall university mission. What is the position on campus that unquestionably you need in your corner to move, to lead through organizational change and to move your brand forward?


EN: I think that one is easy. I don’t know if it’s the same for him but I’m going to start off…


EW: So besides the President or Chancellor.


EN: There you go, all about the president. Well, now, you can go off to that one.


BW: Man, you had a softball.


EN: That was… I was going to hit it first.


EW: Assuming, that’s a given, outside of that position, what’s the position on campus unquestionably you need in your corner to move?


BW: You know, for me, I don’t want to dodge the question, but I think all the other VPs, so, you know, outside of the president are extremely important. You know, we… if we make a decision in marketing, that affects our VP for communications, and vice versa. You know, I mean, I think, and that’s, that’s the case in advancement; that’s the case in facilities; that’s the case in compliance. So we’re… we are heavily aligned with our university, heavily integrated. And our President Dr. Kelly has kind of set it up that way. And I think it’s hugely beneficial, but we have to have the support of all the other VPs. And it’s depending on the area, but it’s, it’s critically important.


EN: Yeah, I would second that. Again, you know, being involved with all the VPs, everything from the CFO, to the marketing, the provost, I think having… being… making sure that there’s an understanding of what my vision is, what their vision is, make sure we’re talking about things that we feel comfortable with each other to be able to put things on the table that need to be discussed. So being aligned is very important. And it’s something that we as… at the University of New Mexico want to make sure that we do every day.


And then, lastly, I’ll add this because I think it’s very important is your faculty senate president, making sure the faculty is involved, because again, as we’re going through every institution is probably in a major challenge financially. So making sure that we’re aligned with our faculty, letting them know that we’re all in this together. This is a village approach, not just a silo approach, that’s important for us.


EW: Okay. Again, we’re here with Brian White, Athletics Director at FAU; Eddie Nuñez, Athletics Director at New Mexico talking about leading organizational change. Let me… so, so same question, inside the house, okay. So what position within your athletics department do you unquestionably need to move, or positions, to move your, your brand and your mission forward? I’ll start with you Brian.


BW: Sure, you know, I think, again, that, you know, I think it’s, it is your direct reports. It’s your senior staff. I don’t think that there’s an area that’s, that’s more important than another, you know. I mean, I think if you’re, if you’re highly successful in, in fundraising, but you don’t have a great compliance office, and then you’re not… then all of a sudden you’re not going to be highly successful in fundraising because you’re going to have an issue. So I think they’re all interconnected. I think it is your senior staff and your head coaches. You know, again, it’s hard to have success as an administration if you’re not having success with your head coaches. So I think that they’re all hugely important and critical to your success.


EW: Eddie?


EN: Yeah, your leadership team is really the nuts and bolts of what you’re trying to do. They’re trying to… they’re taking your message really and helping it every day. So, you know, leadership helps create that culture.


EW: Right.


EN: I look at my leadership team as one of those that have to help me get that culture that we’re trying to assess here. So there really isn’t one that’s more important from my perspective. It’s more so they all have to understand what we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to accomplish it, I will add two different groups, I guess, you would say is our student group, our leader within our student, athletic advisory group. That is very critical for me, because I want to make sure that they’re involved in a lot of our staff meetings as well. And then second to that is our FAR, you know, those two are, are really the voices that can be heard from our department outside of my direct employees. So I want to make sure that everybody that can help us get that messaging out, and how we’re trying to move forward is going to be extremely important for me.


EW: Excellent. Well, thank you, gentlemen. Those are all the questions I had. Any last-minute comments for our viewers on leading organizational change that you want to share before we close out today?


EN: You know, I think I would say be patient, be patient with an opportunity, understanding that there’s going to be challenges that you are unaware of, but understand and be positive, and be willing to roll up your sleeves and get after it. Because I’ve said it before, you know, these, these, these positions that we hold, it doesn’t matter where you are on the totem pole, they’re all going to be challenging, they’re all going to have their opportunities that are going to be, kind of pull you away at times and not understand why. Stay the course, be patient. Understand that if… that you need to stay true to who you want to be and what you’re looking to make out of your opportunity.


EW: Yeah. Thanks, Eddie. Brian?


BW: Eddie said it very well. You know, I think positive is a great word for it. You know, I think change is hard, being adaptable is very important. And I think remaining very, very positive in everything you do is critical. And I think also from a leadership standpoint, being very transparent, trying to be very sensitive for what the staff, not just the staff that reports directly to you, but what the culture of the entire staff is and, and trying to do everything you can to make it better for people.


EW: All right. Well, gentlemen, thank you for your time. I know your schedules at the NCAA convention are crazy. So I appreciate you carving out some time for us. Again. I’m Eric Wood, Deputy Athletics Director at UCF joined again by Brian White at FAU; Eddie Nuñez from New Mexico. Have a great day.