Building a Conducive Environment for Collective Success

Last Updated on May 3, 2022 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Making a career shift from the public sector to the private sector, Mike McCarthy finds that trust is a constant variable for success. As the chief financial and chief operating officer at Northern Essex Community College, he creates a conducive environment and implements the right systems to earn the trust of his team members and students.

Mike McCarthy is the guest in this episode of the Process Breakdown Podcast. He speaks with host Chad Franzen about the place of trust, leadership, and funding in running an educational institution.

Listen to the audio interview

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Key Resource List 

SweetProcess — Sign up for a 14-day free trial. No credit is required.

Northern Essex Community College

LinkedIn Mike McCarthy

Unleashed by Frances X. Frei

Cohesion Culture by Dr. Troy Hall.

Show Notes 

[0:26] Intro     

  • Chad Franzen mentions some of the past guests who have been on the show including David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of the E-Myth.  
  • Chad Franzen introduces SweetProcess, a workflow tool that helps businesses to streamline their operations even in life-or-death situations.     
  • SweetProcess offers a 14-day free trial without a credit card.   

[1:22] Chad Franzen introduces the guest, Mike McCarthy.  

[1:50] Mike gives an overview of Northern Essex Community College.

  • Based in Massachusetts, Northern Essex Community College is an educational institution that serves about 5,000 students.
  • The institution operates in credit, non-credit, and professional development. Its campus is in Haver, MA.

[2:17] What does Mike’s daily role as the COO at Northern Essex Community College entail?

  • As COO and CFO, Mike oversees the organization’s finances, human resources, and IT.
  • He ensures that the right operational processes are in place to support the academic sidelines.

[2:49] Mike talks about some of the operational process improvements that he is focused on at the moment.

  • Due to COVID-19, the organization is currently focused on reducing its deferred maintenance and investment in the campus building and infrastructure.
  • It has spent more than $7 million on the project, implementing a new budget process and software for accountability.

[4:18] Mike talks about his career path before coming into the education industry.

  • Mike worked for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department for about 17 years before coming into education.
  • He served as a chief financial officer, chief administrative officer, and the special sheriff and chief executive officer at the Essex County Sheriff’s Department.

[5:00] Are there any similarities between education and law enforcement?

  • Earning people’s trust and building that trust is essential to thriving in both education and law enforcement.
  • The ability to make good financial and operational decisions is necessary for both industries.

[6:17] Mike highlights the primary differences between operations in the private sector and the public sector.

  • One of the biggest differences between operations in the private and public sectors is the funding sources.

[7:51] How can one earn people’s trust as a leader?

  • It’s important to interact with your team to understand what they are going through on the job.
  • Create room for them to ask you questions and be as responsive as you can.
  • Answering your team’s questions helps to clarify assumptions and wrong perceptions and removes barriers.

[9:39] Mike talks about the biggest benefit and challenge of operating in the public sector.

  • The biggest benefit of operating in the public sector is revenue generation—there’s state commitment and funding.
  • The biggest challenge of operating in the public sector is the long process that you must go through. The rules designed to avoid corruption slow down the whole process.

[10:36] How can people find out more about Northern Essex Community College?

  • You can find out more about the organization on its official website.

[11:24] Mike mentions some of his favorite books, career-wise.

[12:54] What has been the experience with getting people back to the campus after the pandemic?

  • The college has a vaccine and mask mandate as people return to campus.
  • Northern Essex Community College offers its students and employees online options, so they aren’t compelled to be on campus.

[13:53] Outro

About Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy is the chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Northern Essex Community College. A visionary leader, he provides financial and administrative management for a large multi-campus college and facilitates fully-engaged community relationships and collaboration.

Mike serves as a change agent who brings about positive development in his environment. He’s passionate about diversity and inclusion initiatives, creating equal opportunities for everyone.

Transcript of the interview

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your employees all the information they need to be successful at their jobs. Now let’s get started with the show.

Chad Franzen: Chad Franzen here, co-host of the Process Breakdown Podcast, where we talk about streamlining and scaling operations of your company, getting rid of bottlenecks and giving your staff everything they need to be successful at their job. Past guests include David Allen of Getting Things Done and Michael Gerber of The E-Myth and many more.

Chad Franzen: This episode is brought to you by SweetProcess, have you had team members ask you the same questions over and over again and this is the 10th time you spent explaining it? There’s a better way and a solution, SweetProcess is a software that makes it drop dead easy to train an onboard new staff and save time with existing staff. Not only do universities, banks, hospitals, and software companies use them, but first responder government agencies use them in life or death situations to run their operations. Use SweetProcess to document all the repetitive tasks that eat up your precious time, so you can focus on growing your team and empowering them to do their best work. Sign up for a 14 day free trial, no credit card required. Go to that sweet like candy

Chad Franzen: Mike McCarthy is the chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Northern Essex Community College. He’s been a successful change agent in two different industries and has been recognized for his commitment to organizational improvements, supporting the local communities he serves, and working to enhance opportunities for adults with learning disabilities. Mike, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Mike McCarthy: Great, Chad. Thank you for having me.

Chad Franzen: Hey, tell me just a little bit more about Northern Essex Community College.

Mike McCarthy: Sure. Northern Essex Community College serves about 5,000 students up in Massachusetts where North of Boston, along the New Hampshire border out towards the seacoast. We work in credit and non credit plus a lot of professional development and we have campuses in Haver, Massachusetts.

Chad Franzen: What is kind of your day to day role as COO?

Mike McCarthy: As the chief financial and operating officer, I oversee finances, human resources, IT. It’s kind of a fun group, I have public safety, athletics, and facilities. So in all operational process improvements to support the academics sidelines.

Chad Franzen: Can you give me an example or two of some of those operational process improvements that you are kind of focused on now?

Mike McCarthy: Right now, we’re doing a lot of focus, especially with the COVID situation on reducing our deferred maintenance and investment into the campus and the building and the infrastructure. Actually, we spent over seven million of project money on campus. So we have things such as that to implementing new budget process and software, to help make it more accountable and streamline budget process.

Chad Franzen: Share with us some things that you’re doing to make that happen.

Mike McCarthy: Sure. Northern Essex Community College is one of 15 community colleges. So we went out to try and do a shared purchase, a number of the other schools on this budget tracking system. And we’ve implemented it we’re in year one, so this now enables us to have projections quarter one, quarter two, timely data on spends, but also helps tracking positions and as we’re building our budget for next year, it helps us provide actuals and what it looks like future projections would be on various spend. I’m sure most people have those systems, but it was a new endeavor.

Chad Franzen: Sure, sure. Hey, I mentioned that you’ve worked now in two different industries. You worked for in the education industry, what did you do before this?

Mike McCarthy: Prior to coming into an Essex, had the pleasure of working for the Essex County Sheriff’s Department for about 17 years. Interesting history, that Sheriff’s Department goes back to Salem, Massachusetts. So it’s one of the original Sheriff’s Departments in the country, the old Salem witch trials, Yale was associated with that. But there I served as a Chief Financial Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, and then I left as the Special Sheriff and Chief Executive Officer.

Chad Franzen: Would you say that there are some similar kind of trends with education and law enforcement as you’re moving forward here?

Mike McCarthy: Yeah, I think the thing that’s been most helpful was that using the approach of building people’s trust and having to earn that trust. So, especially when dealing with things such as COVID pandemics or looking at implementing change, people have to trust you. Sometimes people think you can just be made to give that to you, it doesn’t work.

Mike McCarthy: So you have that you also, both organizations were public sector Organizations. They have the similarities of working across the unions and working to facilitate the bargaining agreements and how those affect operations, making decisions, as well as the funding sources are very similar. They are broken down by a combination of state appropriation as well as revenue from the public.

Chad Franzen: So what are some of the primary differences between public, between operations and the public sector and the private sector and how do they affect you now?

Mike McCarthy: I think one of the biggest would be probably your funding sources. So for example, at the college, we’re roughly a third state funded, a third revenue tuition, and a third outside revenue sources. We’ve worked very hard to increase our outside revenue sources as there’s a national, I don’t want to say decline in enrollment, but you’ve heard about it in higher ed because of birth rates, because numbers change. So we’ve had to be more creative, to not just rely on the state funding, but to actually come up other revenues. You also, the piece would be, I think the collective bargaining, especially in Massachusetts, that’s a strong group. We have, at the college it’s the unions are across the institutions that [inaudible 00:07:13], and having to make sure that you follow those rules and impact bargain, and all of that as you’re again implementing change, technology enhancements and things of that nature.

Chad Franzen: You know, you mentioned earlier that a large part of your job was kind of building people’s trust. I’m sure a lot of people, in kind of leadership roles like yourself, CFO, COO, most COO’s have to kind of earn people’s trust. Is it kind of an intuitive where you just have to be yourself? Is there some way that you would recommend the people to do that?

Mike McCarthy: So I’m a fan of management by walking around. So where I have facilities, I like to be out and about and try to spend some time, try to schedule it once a week to be out on either one of the campuses, for example. And that by doing that, you get seen, you get to speak to people, you get to meet them and break down any perceived barriers there may be, I think it’s helpful. Also, you can be responsive to what they may ask you and you get back to them with a quick answer to the question and basically just be yourself with them, be the difference.

Mike McCarthy: It’s challenging to get up and do it, because it’s easy to just have your head down and want to get down and go. But I think it’s helpful and it also allows you to see the campus and allows the employees to show you what they’re doing. A lot of them which will have a have great pride in the work they’re doing to benefit the students we serve. And I think it’s a neutral ground, so it’s not like they’re in your office or in an environment.

Mike McCarthy: Another thing we implemented before COVID was we worked with the unions actually to have an open forum where basically, I was standing there with members of the team and we would answer questions. People might have perceived something or thought something, then we would give you the answers on why decisions made, how it was done and move it forward that way to try and neutralize on any potential uncertainty or questions on why we do.

Chad Franzen: What would you say is maybe the biggest challenge involved in doing operations in the public sector and maybe something where you’re or something where you might say, “Oh, luckily I work in the public sector and not the private sector regarding this,” if you can think of those off the top of your head?

Mike McCarthy: Well, I think it’s, I’m guessing the biggest benefit of the public sector is the revenue piece we talked about before. So you have some state commitment of funding and you work that way. I guess the biggest difference is going to be the processes that you have to go through. There’s best practices and then there’s law. For example, trying to find leased space. You have to go through a whole process through the state and there are various rules designed to avoid corruption. They’re obviously there because it’s happened in the past, but they really have a tendency to slow down the process trying to be nimble and adapt [inaudible 00:10:28].

Chad Franzen: I have one more question for you, but first, how can people find out more about Northern Essex Community College?

Mike McCarthy: Geez, that would be great. Well a few ways, happy and hopefully if you’re a fan of the sports pages, you’re going to see our baseball team is ranked number 10 in the country in division three junior colleges. So they’re heading off to Florida, so that’s a good way. But I think the best way is on our website. I would encourage you to please look at that. It’s www.NECC, so that’s Nick, Eric, Charlie, I think you’ll find as much pride in us as I find in ourselves for the services we do and the great team we have.

Chad Franzen: Last question for you. Are there any books that you have found particularly enjoyable or valuable as you’ve gone through your career?

Mike McCarthy: So I actually keep it on my desk. If you don’t mind, there’s two books that I’ve come across lately that I’ve enjoyed. First one is that I had an opportunity, it’s called Unleashed by Francis Frei. She’s a professor over at Harvard, and it really changed my perspective as we’re looking to do a better job of diversity and inclusion and the hiring that we do, that she provides a very unique perspective that I’ve enjoyed. And I’m happy to say in my time overseeing human resources, we’ve increased our diversity hires and management. The second one is I just recently had a chance to hear a guy with Dr. Tony Hall, speak about a cohesive culture in the workforce. And both of them, having get to hear them as well as read their books, it helps you see a pattern of getting through some of the tough challenges we’re all facing today, especially with trying to get people back into the office as the pandemic and the numbers are adjusting in a positive way. People have gotten used to being home, addressing those concerns with trying to create the right work environment.

Chad Franzen: Yeah, since you bring that up, I don’t hear about it much in universities or in community college or things like that, but you know, like elementary schools, high schools, a lot of teachers were really worried about coming back in. Has that affected you guys?

Mike McCarthy: So right now, we’re trying to be as back as much as possible. We had, I think it was 63% of our offerings had some form of in person or hybrid model. We do have a vaccine mandate, we do have a mask mandate when out and about, and those things are being evaluated. Well, the vaccine mandate’s in, but mask that will be evaluated and we’re looking to have more people back come well in service support. But also the pandemic has shown us because you had move so quickly that the people, the kids, and employees, they like the online options. So we try to make sure that it’s specifically on the registration of courses that we allow people flexibility to choose what works best for them and we try to follow that with the enrollment.

Chad Franzen: Hey Mike, it’s been great talking to you today. Thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure to hear your insights and your thoughts. Really appreciate it.

Mike McCarthy: Thank you so much for having me Chad.

Chad Franzen: So long everybody.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the process breakdown podcast. Before you go, quick question. Do you want a tool that makes it easy to document processes, procedures, and or policies for your company so that your employees have all the information they need to be successful at their job? If yes, sign up for a free 14 day trial of SweetProcess. No credit card is required to sign up, go to, “sweet” like candy and “process” like Go now to and sign up for your risk free 14 day trial.

Owen Mcgab Enaohwo: Hi, this is Owen, the CEO and Co-Founder here at SweetProcess. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this podcast interview… Actually, you know what I want you to do? Go ahead and leave us a five star review on iTunes. That way we get more people aware of the good stuff that you get here on this podcast. Again, go on to iTunes and leave us a five star review, looking forward to reading your review. Have a good day.

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