Decision Making Through Constant Change

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization and Professional Development

Remember the good old days, pre-COVID, when we talked about the stress of rapid change? Sure, we talked about VUCA, but only now do we truly understand what Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous means for ourselves and our organization. The last six months have been a never-ending test of our stamina, courage, and ability to pivot quickly, and many of our tried and true methods of approaching work and leadership have been challenged. As stated in the McKinsey & Company article Decision Making in Uncertain Times, “The typical approach of many companies, big and small, will be far too slow to keep up in such turbulence. Postponing decisions to wait for more information might make sense during business as usual. But when the environment is uncertain—and defined by urgency and imperfect information—waiting to decide is a decision in itself” (Alexander et al., 2020).

To move forward in this environment, here are some principles to keep in mind:

  1. Take a breath. To make good decisions, you need oxygen going to your brain. You might feel a sense of urgency, or even panic, but it is worthwhile to take some deep breaths and reflect on the situation at hand before brainstorming solutions or making decisions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  2. Collect information. Do you have any data? Past precedence? Do a quick literature scan on best practices to get ideas. Consider impacts to stakeholders and get their perspectives. You likely won’t have a great deal of time to explore every possible option but do your homework to the best of your ability, given the urgency of the need.
  3. Involve others. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that none of us can do it all alone. Talk to your peers to see who else is facing this challenge so that you can share ideas or partner on a solution. Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Tap the wisdom of your team or other groups on campus or even other institutions (Alexander et al., 2020).
  4. Mitigate bias. The NeuroLeadership Institute offers some key types of bias to be aware of as you make decisions (2019):
    • Similarity bias. Simply put, we prefer what is like us over what is different. An example is hiring people who they perceive to be like them. Make an active effort to get input and feedback from those who are different, or you’ll likely be short-sighted.
    • Expedience bias. We choose the quickest alternative. Make sure you are not going just on one data point without considering options.
    • Experience bias. We see our perception as truth. How would a new employee view this? Someone from another generation? Seek feedback and don’t assume your view is the only one.
    • Distance bias. We prefer what’s closer over what’s farther away and, as a result, can miss some unique solutions.
    • Safety bias. We protect against loss more than we seek to gain. When it comes to COVID-19, we need to take every safety precaution. In non-health related issues, taking calculated risks helps to propel us forward and innovate.
  5. Consider alternatives. Look not only at how your decisions will impact the current situation, but where they might fit in after the pandemic. Weigh out potential risks and benefits for both the short and long game. Weigh options through the lens of broader organizational priorities and realities, considering values, impact on students, budget, staff engagement and more.
  6. Make the decision. After expediently doing all the above, you must decide and then make that decision clear to others. Remember, you will make the best decision you can with the time and information you have at that moment.
  7. Execute and evaluate. Some leaders forget that the real work begins after the decision is made. Be clear on who will execute the decision, timelines and parameters. Check in to see how things are going, if informing variables have changed or if support is needed. Empower your leaders as much as possible to make the day to day decisions to get the job done.
  8. Reflect. After implementation, take a few moments to consider how the decision went and what you and others can learn.

I’m sure we’ll all have much to reflect on once we move past this incredible time in history. Until then, the challenges keep coming, and we’ll continue to take them on. Don’t forget to lean on each other. You are not alone in feeling the weight of the work and decisions that face you. Talking with trusted colleagues can lighten the load. As this Inside Higher Ed article says, “Unlike many external critics, they understand that one ‘good’ often conflicts with another, and that choices are inevitably made among flawed options in imperfect conditions with limited information. You do the best you can, and you live with it” (Dean Dad, 2012). Good luck and good health to you all.

Sources:

Alexander, A., De Smet, A., and Weiss, L., (March 24, 2020) Decision Making in Uncertain Times, Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/decision-making-in-uncertain-times

Benjamin, D. Komlos, D., (July 20, 2020) The Pandemic is Teachings to Embrace Uncertainty and Build it into Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminkomlos/2020/07/20/the-pandemic-is-teaching-us-to-embrace-uncertainty-and-build-it-into-decision-making/#710a1d1a6faa

NeuroLeadership Institute (April 9, 2019) The 5 Biggest Biases that Affect Decision Making. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from  https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/seeds-model-biases-affect-decision-making/

Cole, B. M. (April 14, 2020) Seven Simple Steps for Good Decision Making During a Crisis. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/biancamillercole/2020/04/14/follow-these-7-steps-for-good-decision-making-in-a-crisis/#5dd83f933fe4

Dean Dad (March, 2012) Ask the Administrator: If I Become a Dean, Will my Faculty Colleagues Shun Me? Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/ask-administrator-if-i-become-dean-will-my-faculty

Workforce Planning during the Pandemic and Beyond

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

While it was true before the pandemic, it is now abundantly clear that we need to examine the way we do work, the structures that support it, and the skills needed to be successful. It is not uncommon for structures and processes to stay the same for many years, even though the work has expanded or changed. This generally results in high performers picking up additional work, ineffective workflows, and dropped balls due to inadequate expectations or skills. It also contributes to burn out and low morale as some are overworked, others appear to contribute very little, and new employees are often disappointed as the work they are doing does not match their promised job descriptions. This situation calls on leaders to ask the questions: What has changed in the last several years? What does the work entail today? Do our current roles and structure support that work now and into the future?

Here are some points to keep in mind as you evaluate your organization:

  • Start with mission, vision and strategic plans as the foundation for your work. Examining the priorities for your area of work, your department or college, and the university at large helps to ensure alignment and that you are building something sustainable.
  • Consider changes that have occurred. Has the department or college grown or the work shifted? Is there new technology being utilized and/or new data collection? Is there a new leader in place with new expectations? Do you have a role in new university or college initiatives that would impact workloads or work needed? Have positions and practices changed to meet that need or does it just keep getting cobbled on to the existing structure?
  • Review current work. What work is being done today, by whom, and what are the pain points?  Have position descriptions been updated to reflect actual responsibilities? Are responsibilities grouped in a way that makes sense? Do some people have incredible workloads while others carry very little? Does the work being done align with the stated priorities? What work can be done remotely and what requires employees to be onsite? Are there glaring inefficiencies and risks with the current structure and assignment of duties? Include your people in the effort, as they will likely be a wealth of information about what is working well and where the gaps are. Engaging a cross-functional team for the analysis can help to ensure that you are getting a systemic view with reduced bias.
  • Consider upcoming changes. Identify any anticipated variables that could change the work that is needed in the future. Where are opportunities to innovate? Will new technology be adapted in the next couple of years? Is there a new executive coming in who may have new priorities that you need to be prepared for? Has a new, large research grant been awarded that will need to be maintained and accounted for? How will these changes impact the day-to-day work?
  • Analyze possible changes to workflow, structure and positions. Work with MSU HR to review what positions and structures make sense going forward, rather than just filling open positions. Design your structure, not only for efficiency, but for resilience and responsiveness. For example, one college identified that they increased their number of events by 300% in the past few years. No one was clearly identified to manage that new work and so several staff just picked up pieces of it, which took them away from their other priorities. When a position opened, they decided to repurpose the role to a new Event Planner position that would meet their needs. The people who had previously been doing parts of the work could then serve as back up for that role.
  • Evaluate skill gaps that will be barriers to moving forward. Organizations “also face a learning curve as managers figure out how to lead their teams virtually as they build social capital and how to maintain cohesion without the benefit of informal coffee, lunch, or corridor chats. As companies contemplate returning to the workplace, a new set of skills is also likely to emerge for the transition“ (McKinsey, 2020). You can utilize this list of questions as you develop learning plans for each of your staff. Remember, you make these workforce plans based on the work that needs to be done, not on what tasks people prefer to complete. It’s great when those two things align, but ultimately the work needs to get done. Create a plan to help individuals and teams strengthen their behavioral and technical skill sets, establish clear expectations, and hold people accountable. Building new skills not only helps the unit but the individual strengthens their career prospects as well.
  • Communicate often. Make sure you are keeping people updated as changes are made, explaining why they were needed and the gains you hope to achieve. Check in frequently to see how individuals and teams are doing with the changes, looking for any tweaks that would be helpful or additional support needed.
  • Adjust any practices, processes or policies that will be impacted by the new structure. Workflows may be different after staffing changes. Not only should that be clarified within your area, but with other stakeholders or customers who may need that information. Will forms be submitted to someone new, is there a process change that others will need to abide by? Does it affect any project plans? While doing that analysis it is also a great time to document and improve processes as you go. Look at this systemically to avoid items falling through the cracks.

As flexible work arrangements, remote learning and tight budgets continue to impact how work is done, it is up to leaders to create plans to address those needs in ways that are thoughtful, adaptive, and allow employees to be responsive to changing situations. “Gartner research shows many employees want to be responsive, and believe they know how to be, but a huge amount of work ‘friction’ stands in the way.”  They define “friction” as misaligned work design, overwhelmed teams, trapped resources and rigid processes.  Gartner found that “two-thirds of employees are hacking their work to get around these obstacles, and that’s costing organizations time, money and energy” (Wiles, 2020). Together with your team, you can set a path so that all can be more effective and adaptive going forward.

Sources:

McKinsey & Co. (2020, May 7). To Emerge Stronger from the Covid-19 Crisis, Companies Should Start Reskilling Their Workforces Now. Retrieved September 30, 2020 from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/to-emerge-stronger-from-the-covid-19-crisis-companies-should-start-reskilling-their-workforces-now.

Wiles, J. (2020, September 23). Design Work to Help Employees be Responsive. Retrieved September 30, 2020 from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/design-work-to-help-employees-be-responsive/.

Strategic Thinking in Turbulent Times

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSWProgram Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development 

Strategic thinking has always been an important leadership skill, but as we make our way through the pandemic, it is a must. “A danger for many organizations is that in the rush to get back to business, managers will reinforce yesterday’s way of doing business when the world around them has changed. The challenge therefore for managers is to develop a clear view of what they need to change, why, and when” (Healey, May 2020). The temptation when stress and uncertainty are high is to grasp on to what you know. If instead you can embrace the unknown and expand your thinking, you’ll be further ahead.  

Fortunately, our brains are designed to help us with this. In normal times our brains work on default mode, with our routines and ways of doing work flowing without much conscious thought on our part. In times of upheaval, it is a different story. When your brain can’t make sense of the environment “it scours our surroundings, trying to connect the dots between ideas that were right in front of us all along, but that we just never noticed before” (Tasler, May 2020). It is precisely in these disorienting periods of fear, frustration, and loneliness that we can see everything with new eyes, lending itself to new opportunities.  

From Crisis to Strategy 

“Turning attention to the short term is no doubt essential to survival as we work our way through this crisis. However, at some point soon leaders need to turn their attention to the future state. Leaders need to actively start to assess the external environmental forces at work today that will shape their industry structural ecosystem tomorrow” (Hodes, May 2020). 

Here are some big picture questions to consider ensuring you have the right business model and capabilities for the post-pandemic era:  

  • How will higher education change? 
  • Will new funding sources be needed? 
  • Will customers and stakeholders require new or different ways to connect? 
  • What level of working remotely will be the new normal? 
  • How much faster will some segments of the university grow while others struggle? 
  • What do we as an organization do particularly well, and how can we deploy that capability to serve unmet needs?   
  • What existing or new technologies will be critical? 

As you ask yourself these questions, be sure to invite your colleagues into the conversation. Getting diverse viewpoints, experiences and perspectives strengthens the opportunity for creativity and ingenuity. The strategic choices we make today will be incredibly important as we emerge from this crisis so “take time to look across the internal boundaries of your organization and talk to colleagues who are in close contact with customers, suppliers, and emerging technologies. Now is the time to widen your information channels” (Healy, May 2020). 

Here are some additional tips to consider as you move forward: 

1) Upskilling may be needed. For a workforce to be agile, they need to possess the right skills and be empowered to utilize them. Strategic employee development is more important than ever, and that includes not only classes, but experiential opportunities that let employees spread their wings, test their skills, and make decisions. As a formal leader, you need to make sure that those granted decision-making authority have business acumen and understand the organization enough to make wise decisions, and have the needed leadership skills to bring ideas forward effectively. 

2) Reassess business priorities, given the new world. Look at your goals from last year. What worked well? What is no longer applicable? What have we learned? What will continue to be important going forward? What new priorities do we have given the situation and its impact? 

3) Don’t stay stuck on what was. Learn from the past and put energy into your vision of a different future.(Nevins, August 2020). 

  • What opportunities might exist in the industry? 
  • Based on what we know now, why have past strategies worked—not worked?  And can we re-frame how we think about the future based on those insights? 
  • What strategies have not been tried?  Why not? 
  • What do we as an organization do particularly well, and how can we deploy that capability to serve unmet needs?  (Especially if that skill or capability is hard for others to copy.) 

4) Think differently. Instead of thinking logically, practice thinking analogically, drawing lessons from one setting, and applying them to another. Going with the tried and true methods may not get you where we need to go now. Increased collaboration and thoughtful risk-taking may be in order.  

There is no doubt that this is a time of incredible challenge, while also one of tremendous opportunity. In order to be able to think strategically to effectively meet these challenges, it is imperative to assure that you are taking good care of yourself. These are not normal times, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and off-center. Keep doing the things that you know can help you to be at your best: getting enough sleep and exercise, eating healthy food, connecting with friends and loved ones, all can help us to access the stamina and creativity needed as we move forward. None of us will be perfect, but together we can meet the needs of today while building an exciting future for MSU. 

Sources: 

Healy, M. (2020, May 28). Strategic Thinking in a Crisis. Retrieved September 16, 2020 from  

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alliancembs/2020/05/28/strategic-thinking-in-a-crisis/#17ce3a4e6be5

Hodes, B. (2020, May 8). Strategic Thinking for a Post-pandemic Era. Retrieved September 16, 2020 from  

https://cmiteamwork.com/blog/guest-blog-strategic-thinking-for-a-post-pandemic-era/

Nevins, M. (2020, August 12). It’s Time to Re-Set Your Strategic Thinking Post-Covid. Retrieved September 16, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/hillennevins/2020/08/12/its-time-to-re-set-your-strategic-thinking-post-covid/#23f3263f3801 

Project Management Institute. (2020, August 31). Change Makers Step Up During the Pandemic. Retrieved September 16, 2020 from 

https://www.reuters.com/sponsored/article/change-makers-step-up

Tasler, N. (2020, May 5). Is the Pandemic Making You Smarter? Retrieved September 16, 2020 from 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/strategic-thinking/202005/is-the-pandemic-making-you-smarter

Happy National Online Learning Day!

September 15 is National Online Learning Day! Online learning provides convenience, flexibility, and personalization for all learners. Did you know MSU offers FREE online learning opportunities for all faculty and staff? Get access to online resources including books, videos, courses, and more via elevateU. During these times when more MSU employees are working remotely, access to these resources is more valuable than ever.

Access elevateU here or log into EBS and look for the “elevateU” tile under the “My Career & Training” tab. You can access elevateU from your computer or through the Skillsoft Learning App for Android and iOS devices.  

There are programs that cover leadership, IT & desktop, business, finance, human resources, change management, project management, interpersonal skills and so much more. Resources are available in a variety of formats: 

  • Video-based and interactive courses 
  • Videos 
  • Books 
  • Resources to prepare for various professional certifications 

Watch the following video for a general overview of the resources available to you and how to access them:

Need help navigating elevateU? Click here for an additional video on how to use the search function and navigate through the resources available. 

Utilize the resources as reference tools to help answer your day-to-day job questions or as part of your ongoing personal and professional development. Many of the courses are even approved for Continuing Education credits! Remember, all courses are available to current staff and faculty at no charge.  

Happy National Online Learning Day!

Motivational Monday Round-Up

As the summer winds down to a close, it can be tough to transition back to a productive work routine, especially after the countless challenges and hardships this summer has brought about with the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Although this summer has been different, we are fortunate to have had a continuous source of motivation to keep our spirits high from MSU HR’s own Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist, Todd Bradley.

Designed to encourage you during a time with many stressors and unknowns, Todd’s Motivational Monday videos have provided employees with quick and easy inspiration to start their days off right throughout the entirety of this long and difficult summer. Todd concluded his series last week with his final video of the series; however, his full video series will still be available to all in need of some extra motivation on the MSU HR Youtube channel.

Motivational Monday: Transitions

Todd explores the topic of transitions in this video and provides tips on how to guide yourself through difficult transitions.

Motivational Monday: Masking Up

Todd discusses the importance of wearing a face mask during this time and how to navigate asking others to wear a mask.

Motivational Monday: Conclusion

Todd’s final Motivational Monday video of the series.

Visit the MSU HR YouTube channel to view all of Todd’s Motivational Monday videos.

How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture While Working in Virtual Teams

Written in collaboration with Kathie Elliot, MSU HR’s Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist.

As the pandemic persists, many employees will continue working remotely in virtual teams with their coworkers for the foreseeable future. During this time, it is not uncommon for the culture of a workplace to change as the shared set of values, social norms, goals and practices employees have already established by working together in person are now drastically different. Successful collaboration with coworkers can be challenging while working remotely, but it is still possible for employees working in virtual teams to develop a positive and inclusive remote work culture that ensures the same level of quality and productivity as if the team was still in person.

Why is Remote Work Culture Important?

“The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams” describes remote work culture as an unconditional feeling of connection coworkers experience when they’re bonded by similar priorities, interests, and attitudes (Bell 2020). When people are not able to see each other on a regular basis, this feeling of connection can dwindle. Strong remote work culture is equivalent to how strong your workplace culture already is. By creating a strong remote work culture in addition to what your virtual team might already have had in person, employees can continue to feel united around a shared sense of purpose while being on their own.

Your team’s culture is surely different than it was six months ago, and with the continually unexpected changes COVID-19 has brought into the world, it might continue to change rapidly. Even if you are unaware of it, your team does have a culture that is influenced by the work you do, your work location, your team’s composition and your individual team members’ histories. Having a strong remote work culture doesn’t require team members to be in the same location if you are aware of the priorities, interests and attitudes that your team shares.

How to Develop a Strong Remote Work Culture

There are many ways to go about developing a strong remote work culture, but one of the most impactful ways to do so is through effective communication. It is easy for misunderstandings to occur while employees are working together virtually, often causing the quality and timeliness of the team’s work to suffer. By practicing methods of effective communication such as these, you can strengthen your individual relationships with your team members in hopes of creating a unified and cohesive remote work culture with your team as a whole.

  1. Frequently inquire about your employee’s social and professional needs. Knowledge and information sharing may be inconsistent due to business, lack of attention, misunderstanding what info is valuable to the team (and why). And information sharing may be imbalanced (for some) due to such factors as work style or personality differences, supervisor or co-worker preferences or bias toward certain employees (whether or not consciously known), or technology access and skill differences of the team members.
  1. Ask specific questions using multiple formats. Frequently ask specific questions, using multiple formats. “How is it going?” is not going to get a fulsome response from many employees. But, “Do you feel the communication you receive from me is frequent and thorough enough, timely, and helpful? What can I do to improve my communication with you?” is very specific.
  1. Discuss and set standards for scheduling meetings, work hours, time off, etc. What sort of communications require visual meetings, phone, text, email, messaging? Is there a priority or urgency assigned to the methods? For example, is a phone call only used when an immediate response is needed? Do all messages need to be acknowledged? Within what period? Are there “blackout” hours or days when you won’t send work-related communication unless necessary. (Use the delay send feature in an email if you think you may forget.)
  1. If something isn’t working, try something new! Whether it’s approaching a work task differently or planning a unique social event, mix it up and look for ways to keep things fresh and use this time to grow as a team. Look for ways to build in relaxing or fun team activities; identify other units or colleagues that might appreciate support or outreach “just because”.

Sources:

Bell, Ashley. “The 9-Step Definitive Guide For Building Remote Work Culture in Virtual Teams.” SnackNation, 2020, snacknation.com/blog/remote-work-culture/.

“The 2020 State of Remote Work.” Buffer, 2020, https://lp.buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2020.

When SMART Meets HARD: Setting Goals that Matter

Written by Andrea Williams, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

Increased engagement. Improved performance. Greater job satisfaction. We can all agree these are desirable states for ourselves, and if we’re supervisors, for our employees as well. Goal setting, when thoughtfully conducted, is a primary way we set up ourselves and others for achievement, innovation and fulfillment. So, how do we create meaningful goals? Goal-setting methodologies like the SMART and HARD frameworks can help.

Setting Goals

At MSU, goals are often established as a component of Performance Excellence, with clear performance goals and objectives identified and communicated at the beginning, as well as throughout, the performance process. Goals identify what is expected and create ways to strive for improvement and growth.

There are two types of goals to consider: performance goals and development goals.

  • Performance goals are typically short-term objectives that could be accomplished in a fiscal year and are related to current position job duties.
  • Development goals are related to a skill or knowledge area that will be strengthened. They might include training or experiences that will help the individual develop further into their role or career.

In other words, performance goals are something you will achieve, and development goals are something you will learn. Whether the goal is related to performance or development, it should support the mission of the university, your department and/or a specific project or program.

Making Goals SMART

To create meaningful goals, one approach is to make the goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

  • Specific: well defined, clear and unambiguous; specifically defining what’s expected to be done/delivered. 
  • Measurable: specific criteria for measuring progress toward accomplishing each established goal.
  • Achievable: requires effort — a stretch — but are not impossible to achieve.
  • Relevant: goals are related to the department’s mission and/or a specific project or program.
  • Timely: the time frame is clearly defined or progress toward achievement is tracked at regular intervals.

For example, an initial goal to Complete report on time could be reworked as a SMART goal by adding an action verb and specific details. The goal then becomes Complete finance report, without errors, by COB on the first Friday of each month. SMART goals follow achievable and realistic guidelines and typically make it easy to demonstrate whether a goal ultimately is reached.

The potential downside? With a primary focus on being realistic and achievable, SMART goals may encourage us to “play it safe” and work within set limitations, which can feel counterproductive and uninspiring in the current culture of innovation and boldness.

Beyond SMART: HARD

If you or your employees find yourself lacking motivation when using SMART goals, try creating goals that are HARD: Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult.

  • Heartfelt: achieving the goal will enrich the lives of others (e.g., customers, the community); attachment can be formed to the goal on a deep, meaningful level.
  • Animated:vivid picture is created of how it will feel when the goal is achieved; the results and impact of the goal can be visualized, and a strong emotional connection is established.
  • Required: a sense of urgency is present, and we want to take action right away; the goals are necessary to help our organization.
  • Difficult: new skills must be learned, and we’re challenged to stretch beyond our comfort zones for success.

The potential downside? Setting HARD goals typically cannot be done with the speed and simplicity of creating SMART goals, leading to a greater time and energy investment.

Creating Goals that Matter

If you find the goals you set are not leading to the results you want, try utilizing the SMART or HARD frameworks or, even better, apply elements from both to create goals that drive and engage fully. Creating “stretch” goals makes our objectives vital to the university and allows us to drive innovation and boldness. Whether you prefer SMART or HARD, strive to create goals that don’t just look good on paper but leap off the page to truly inspire.

Sources:

MSU Human Resources. Goal Setting Tips. Retrieved August 15, 2020 from https://hr.msu.edu/ua/performanceexcellence/tools-goalsetting.html

Murphy, M. Are SMART Goals Dumb? Retrieved August 18, 2020 from https://www.leadershipiq.com/blogs/leadershipiq/35353793-are-smart-goals-dumb

Compassionate Leadership: Awareness of Mental Health Needs as the Pandemic Continues

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

The last few months have been a long haul, and from all indications, it will still be quite some time before the COVID-19 crisis is behind us. Information changes daily, forcing us to shift gears quickly and adjust plans in virtually every role we have — be it employee, leader, parent, caretaker, or even citizen given our current sociopolitical landscape. As time goes on, the continually shifting ground can be disorienting, and emotional overload can impact our mental health. It is not uncommon for people to feel motivated and focused one day (or week) and then burned out and struggling the next. For those experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions pre-COVID — perhaps silently — the impact may be even more severe. 

In addition, “employees who have had to adjust to new vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and business practices from COVID-19 are now being re-traumatized through repeated exposure to images and threats of violence. For some, this moment is a wakeup call to make important and necessary changes, but for many, there is a cumulative deep emotional overload and exhaustion. Coping with these two huge social forces in the context of social distancing and greater financial uncertainty leaves people feeling frightened.” (Goodson, 2020) What can leaders do to support their team members and colleagues, while attempting to navigate this terrain? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Commit to your own self-care and encourage your staff to do the same. If you don’t take the time and effort for self-care, you will not be able to do the other items on this list effectively. Here’s the rundown:  
    • Get enough sleep and keep a consistent schedule as much as possible.  
    • Take breaks. Get outside, go for a walk, meditate, get away from your screens even if it’s just for a few minutes. 
    • Move. Do something that you enjoy to get some exercise. Walking, yoga, running, strength training, golfing, dancing, whatever you like.  
    • Connect. We all have an innate need to connect with others. Suggestions: call that friend who makes you laugh, reach out to brighten someone’s day, do something fun with your family (instead of just the to-do list), or meet with a colleague for a socially distanced, outdoor coffee hour. 
    • Take time off as you are able. Even a long weekend or a few hours here and there to get away from work — and social media — can be rejuvenating. 
  2. Stay aware. If you notice that a staff member or colleague shifts from being engaged and productive to detached or agitated, check-in. Not to judge or diagnose, but to see how they are and listen. 
  3. Show compassion and reassurance. Normalize these ups and downs and the impact on everyone’s psyche — though, it may look somewhat different from person to person. Demonstrate empathy and allow for flexibility when possible as people try to meet the demands of caretaking, financial struggles, and more. 
  4. Provide structure and continuity where possible. Talk about what isn’t changing, have project plans so that expectations are clear, keep people briefed on the latest information as you become aware, focus on vision, values, and mission as driving factors regardless of other changes. 
  5. Stay realistic while maintaining some base expectations. Productivity may not be as high or consistent as it was pre-pandemic. There may be points of higher output and other times when family or emotional demands take a toll. Communication is key. What are the priority items that must be completed on time? Where can there be flexibility? How do you prefer people communicate with you if a deadline is at risk?  
  6. Support skill-building. Most employees (and likely you, too) have needed to do their jobs in new ways to meet current needs. Some have put off this learning, hoping that they could ride it out until this situation passes. That is no longer an option. Covering for not having the skills to do the work needed adds to the stress. Do skills inventories with staff to see what areas to strengthen to do the work at hand in this environment. Support people in finding the skill-building opportunities they need and follow up to make sure they’ve followed through and found it helpful. Call MSU HR, Organization & Professional Development and/or Academic Advancement Network for guidance or read some of these questions to help assess learning needs. 
  7. Communicate openly, honoring what is difficult while staying optimistic about the future. Share information you can promptly. If you are having a particularly bad day, it is probably best not to share all your worst thoughts with your staff. Talk to a trusted friend to get perspective first. As new announcements come out, check in with staff to see what their reactions are, what questions they have and discuss how the news could impact them. 
  8. Provide referrals. If you notice that people are struggling, be sure to remind them of the resources available.  

“Leaders set the tone and culture of organizations. They should remind people to take care of themselves and share what they are doing to stay healthy and well. This may mean leaders must get outside their comfort zone. Employees are likely to be reassured by the willingness of leaders to show vulnerability and share how they are coping. This conveys to employees that they are not alone in what they are feeling and experiencing. Ideally, it communicates we are in this together and you are supported. Also, it demonstrates the organization’s commitment to transparency and continuous communication.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2020)  

So grant yourself and others some grace as we move through this imperfectly. Take time to relax and connect with others to further resiliency, set realistic goals and give yourself credit for all that you’ve managed thus far in a challenging situation. Take care, Spartans. Together we can do this. 

Sources:

Scott Goodson (2020, June 25). How to Lead Through Employee Mental Health Issues During Covid. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.inc.com/scott-goodson-chip-walker/how-to-lead-through-employee-mental-health-issues-during-covid.html

Employee Mental Health & Well-being During & Beyond COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Employer-Resources/Employee-Mental-Health-Well-being-During-Beyon

Culture Building: It’s On All of Us

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

The topic of workplace culture often comes up when people are unhappy, or significant problems have occurred. Leaders get blamed, and we wish for the proverbial magic wand that will transform a troubled culture into a good one. There is no doubt that leaders have a vital role in setting the tone, practices, and behaviors that shape a culture. According to a 2019 research from the Society of Human Resource Management, “58 percent of employees who quit a job due to workplace culture say that their managers are the main reason they ultimately left. And the cost of this turnover? $223 billion in the past five years” (Mirza, 2019). Leaders can be underequipped to step into that responsibility in a meaningful, conscious way, and as a result, may also look up and down the chain for someone to blame. When no one takes responsibility for the culture, the accepted norms of behavior in an organization contribute to its deterioration. When all take responsibility and work in concert with informed leaders, transformation is within reach.

What can we do to help ensure MSU develops and maintains a culture that lives up to the University’s ideals and best serves its mission? The NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) points to three key variables that make all the difference:

  1. Priorities. Leaders may have different priorities for their area of oversight, but what are the priorities for our institution at large, and how do the two intersect? We can start by looking at our mission statement, identified values, and strategic plan (all of which are currently being evaluated). These foundational priorities are particularly important in times of significant change when we need to be flexible and adaptive to a situation that seems to shift by the minute. It is also essential to act rather than waiting to see what priorities are determined by others. Take advantage of opportunities to have influence where you can. For example:
  • Use this link to let the Strategic Planning Steering Committee know what you think is important as MSU moves forward.
  • Let the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee know what your priorities are by clicking here.
  • Provide input to the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Committee here.
  1. Habits. Our ideals and beliefs are important, but actual behaviors are what change a culture. We must ask ourselves, what habits do we need to embody to reinforce our stated values and priorities? For example, if we say that having a safe, inclusive workplace is a priority, what actions do we consistently take to make that happen? Habits related to this topic might include:
  • Speaking up to remind someone to follow safety guidelines and/or thanking someone who reminds you to do so
  • Directly addressing the use of stereotypes and derogatory language
  • Inviting those who are being ignored to share their perspective
  • Seeking out diverse opinions to broaden one’s own perspective
  • Saying “thank you” and honestly considering the constructive feedback someone provides you
  • Expressing empathy to those who share a painful experience
  • Demonstrating civil, respectful behavior to all, regardless of level, title, or perspective

In some cases, moving something from being an idea or belief to an actionable habit takes practice and skill-building. In fact, the habit of being a continual learner can magnify the other habits you identify as priorities. Training and other learning activities can support the creation of new practices. NLI has found that “scaling learning by giving people managers small bites of compelling content to share with their teams a few minutes a week” has resulted in significant behavior change (Rock, 2019). To try this approach, check out Team Talks in elevateU, which provides a discussion guide (under the “custom tab”) and video for key topic areas.

  1. Systems. Systems are basically how the work of the organization gets done. They can be formal, like policies or defined processes, or informal, “it’s just ‘how we do things around here’”. If systems don’t change with the desired culture, they will become barriers to creating the habits that further our priorities. For example:
  • If we say that having a diverse workforce is a priority yet continue with the same recruiting and hiring practices we’ve used in the past, nothing is likely to change.
  • If we say that we want a culture in which speaking up about problematic situations is the norm, but we don’t hold offenders at all levels accountable, or reporters are retaliated against, people will not speak up.
  • If we say strong leadership is the key to a healthy culture, but we don’t have a systemic method to set and measure expectations or strategically develop our leaders, we are leaving it to chance.

We need to analyze our systems to see if they reinforce our stated values and make changes as required (Weller, 2019).

Perhaps a good starting point is striving to understand the current culture. While not necessarily easy, given how decentralized MSU is with a variety of subcultures, we do have information that provides direction, such as the 2019 KnowMore@MSU Campus Climate Survey results. We can also be thoughtful about our own experiences and observations. The article, 5 Simple Ways to Assess Company Culture suggests reflecting on the following questions:

  • What didn’t go so well last year?
  • Were there any cringe-worthy moments?
  • What is the one thing your organization was worst at last year?
  • What did we learn from our mistakes?
  • What lessons can our organization leverage?
  • What could our organization do differently over the next 12 months?
  • What break-through moments did we experience last year?
  • What is holding our organization back?
  • What can each of us do to be more helpful to the team?

The mission, values, and priorities established organization-wide must be informed by and reflected throughout the organization’s breadth (Thiefels, 2018). Individual leaders at all levels then have a responsibility to connect those dots and make it real for all in the important work they do and interactions they have. All of us, regardless of role, have a responsibility to each other and to making the organization the best it can be. Together We Will.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -Barack Obama

Sources:

Murza, B. (2019, September 25). Toxic Workplace Cultures Hurt Workers and Company Profits. Retrieved August 4, 2020 from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/toxic-workplace-culture-report.aspx

Rock, D. (2019, May 24). The Fastest Way To Change A Culture. Retrieved August 4, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrock/2019/05/24/fastest-way-to-change-culture/#4f0c85f23d50

Thiefels, J. (2018, April 24). 5 Simple Ways to Assess Company Culture. Retrieved August 4, 2020 from https://www.achievers.com/blog/5-simple-ways-assess-company-culture/

Weller, C. (2019, June 20). The 3 Key Components of Behavior Change. Retrieved August 4, 2020 from https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/priorities-habits-systems-behavior-change

Tips for Creating an Effective Remote Work Schedule

Whether you’re now working from home during this time period alongside your family members, or if you’ve got a furry friend by your side begging for your attention, working remotely can be a challenge. Stepping out of your daily routine at the office may be bringing added stressors to your work life as you try to effectively manage your workload from home while adjusting to new methods of collaboration with your coworkers. 

Figuring out what works best for you during this time is far from easy, but after already practicing working away from campus these past few months, many MSU employees have been able to find ways to bring structure and efficiency into their remote workdays. We asked employees to tell us what tips, tricks, or tools they’ve been using to help them effectively succeed at remote work, and here are some common themes we found.

  1. Utilizing flexible work hours where possible

Some employees have been able to coordinate a flexible work schedule with their supervisors that helps the employees as they work remotely.

“Since COVID-19 and working from home, I start my workday at 7:30 a.m. I also take a 30-minute lunch and these two easy changes allow me to finish my workday at 4:00 p.m… I feel very blessed to have some control over my workday schedule.” – Jackie Hohenstein

“A lesson from this remote work is, work does not necessarily have to be 8-5. Work needs to get done, but depending on your preferences and home situation, perhaps starting at 6 a.m. is better, or resuming at 8 p.m. As long as the work gets done, schedules can and should be flexible.” – Rick McNeil

“I learned in a training that working at your peak performance hours leads to better productivity. For example, if you’re a morning person, you work better and complete more during your peak times. I also found that stepping away from the computer for five or 10 minutes every two hours keeps your momentum going. Overall, I like the new things I have learned becoming a remote worker.” – Natasha Williams

  1. Build Breaks Into Your Schedule

As Natasha mentions above, taking breaks keeps the momentum going. Other employees agreed that building breaks into their schedule helps them work remote more successfully.

“Working from home means that when I’m working, that pretty much means I’m looking at a computer screen. In the office, meetings used to give my eyes a break but now most meetings are on Zoom or Teams so I’m looking at a screen even then. I try to give my eyes a break by getting up from my seat and away from the computer for at least a few minutes every hour or so…I make myself take a lunch break every day where I’m not looking at my computer or phone screen. I also still take notes and brainstorm in a notebook, so that also gives me a screen break.” – Courtney Chapin

  1. Continue Your Regular Morning Routine

“One thing I have done to combat “quarantine fog” is to try to stick to my normal work schedule while also integrating time to care for my child and animals every couple of hours. Sometimes this extends the workday, but I have found I am better able to focus on my work after I have taken the dogs outside and played with them for a little bit. In addition, my 10-year-old daughter and I have been using our time in quarantine to have some good quality ‘talks.’” – Mary Keyes

  1. Keep Track of Your Workload

“I keep a document that I plan my work for the coming week on Friday. During that workweek, I keep track of the things I accomplish and the new things that come up that need to be done. I leave future action items on the list. I find this to be more effective than a paper list.” – Renee Graff

  1. Limit Distractions in Your Workplace

“Set aside a work area and leave work in the work area.  Don’t invite it into other areas of your home life.” – Jayme Miller

After hearing from other MSU employees, it is clear there are many ways to navigate remote working schedules. However you go about working remotely, looking to other coworkers or your supervisor for guidance can be one of the most helpful ways to ensure future success for yourself and your team.