Upcoming Virtual Professional Development Courses

Whether you’ve jumped into the new year with a list of goals to work on or need a little inspiration, HR Organization and Professional Development (OPD) has a variety of online, live courses to help you. Find a list of upcoming courses sorted by topic below. You’ll see some familiar course names now offered in a virtual format, alongside some newer courses like Managing Employees Remotely and The Power of Habit.

Communication

Customer Service

Human Resources

Leadership

Management

  • Managing Employees Remotely – January 20: Shifting to remote work has required changes in our perspectives and approaches to work, and successfully managing employees in this environment means strengthening new and different skills. Learn more about how to do just that in this new, one-hour virtual course.

Operations

  • Query Studio – January 27: Query Studio is an ad hoc reporting tool that can be used to produce queries against enterprise data (HR and Finance) as well as additional data that has been added to the dimensional models in MSU’s enterprise data warehouse.
  • Records Management and Retention at MSU – February 25: Learn the rules, regulations, and strategies to help manage university records. Class will cover both electronic and print documents.

Personal Development

  • Everything DiSC: Behavior Styles at Work – January 14: Everything DiSC® helps you build more effective working relationships based on an understanding of different behavioral styles.
  • The Power of Habit – February 23: In this course you will learn how habits are created and how to replace undesirable habits with productive ones. You will learn how to spot your habit loop, turn bad days into good data, and create habits that get the results you want.

You can find all the current virtual Organization and Professional Development courses on the HR website. Class enrollment is completed within the EBS Portal. Employees may use available educational assistance funds towards course fees (if any).

Mentorship Resources and Tips

Over the past year, the workplace has changed dramatically with most of us working remotely and dealing with rapidly changing priorities. As we say goodbye to a challenging year and look forward to 2021, take some time to reflect on your experiences with co-workers over the past year; they may influence the goals or skills you choose to work on moving forward.

Do you admire a colleague’s ability to patiently manage a project during this period of rapid change? Or maybe you have a co-worker with a talent for staying on task and engaging team members during virtual meetings? Many of the qualities you appreciate in others are skills that anyone can develop with proper coaching through mentorship.

Beyond developing your skillset, mentorship is an opportunity to broaden your network and ability to see issues from multiple points of view. Among the many things we’ve learned this past year, one key take-away is how important cross-team support and collaboration is to creative problem-solving and innovation, especially during crisis.

Whether you’re looking for a mentor or you’d like to become one, the following articles written by Senior HR Professional Kathie Elliott can help you get started:

  • Mentoring in the Workplace: Think mentorship is just one-on-one help from a more experienced colleague? Think again! There are many mentoring structures to choose from, depending on the goals of the mentors and mentees. Identify which structures may help you in your career.
  • Finding a Professional Mentor: Finding the right mentor can make a big difference in your career. Once you find a potential mentor, how should you approach them? Find ideas for turning a current professional relationship into a mentorship.
  • How to Become a Mentor: You may want to consider becoming a mentor if you have experiences and skills to offer. Even if you are early in your career or new to your position, you still have knowledge to share. Find steps to take to be ready when a mentorship opportunity arises.

Additionally, as you think about the goals or skills you want to work on and how mentorship could play a role in achieving them, consider tying them to your Performance Excellence goals (for support staff). For more information about how to set yourself up for success as you identify goals, check out this When SMART Meets HARD: Setting Goals that Matter article. 

Leading Change with Emotional Intelligence

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

Emotions tend to run high during times of change, and to navigate effectively for themselves and others, leaders need emotional intelligence (EQ). At its essence, EQ is the ability to regulate oneself and effectively interact with others. To help leaders assess all essential EQ traits, Harvard researcher Daniel Goleman shares that EQ is comprised of these four key components (Goleman, 2020):

  • Self-Awareness: To understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as personal strengths and limitations
  • Self-Management: To demonstrate emotional self-control, adaptability, striving for excellence, an appreciation of feedback and a positive outlook.
  • Social Awareness: To have the capacity and demonstrate an ability for empathy and to read the dynamics of a group or organization.
  • Relationship Management: To deal effectively with conflict, facilitate teamwork, and demonstrate the capacity to influence, mentor and inspire others.

While these skills can be more natural for some leaders than others, all can be learned and are critical as we lead the way through changing times. The article Using Emotional Intelligence to Lead in Higher Education notes, “when leaders apply the principles of Emotional Intelligence in their daily leadership practices, a myriad of congruent studies on working environments and job satisfaction revealed that self-efficacy is heightened. Essentially, not only do people feel more valued, they feel a heightened sense of empowerment and confidence in their ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals” (Vinciguerra, 2017). All of this is particularly critical when leading through change, when people tend to be stressed and fearful. Conversely, leaders who are lacking in these skills tend to struggle with behavioral problems within the team and a lack of progress in the change effort.

It should also be noted that while essential, EQ skills are not all that is required for leaders to advance a changing organization. Dwindling budgets have to be managed, data must be analyzed and critical decisions must be made. This is not an either/or proposition. Leaders must balance the analytic responsibilities of their position within a socio-emotional context. This requires a conscious effort as each is processed through different neural networks in the brain, and we tend to get stuck in one or the other. The article The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence by Melvin Smith describes these two neural networks as the analytic network and the empathetic network (Smith, 2020). Smith also provides the following strategies for increasing your capacity to attend to both:

  1. Be aware of your “go-to” neural network. This requires mindfulness. Questions for reflection include:
    • How am I processing the situation at this moment? Am I thinking about concrete facts? Creative possibilities?
    • What types of situations tend to pull me to the analytic network and when am I most likely to be pulled to the empathetic network?
    • On the whole, which do I tend to go to more naturally?
  2. Exercise the neural network that isn’t your “go-to.”
    • To exercise your empathetic network: practice having conversations where your goal is to fully understand the other person, as opposed to solving their problem or changing their mind. Really tune into that person, noting their body language, tone of voice, etc. Practice challenging your own assumptions and considering other possibilities.
    • To exercise your analytic network: Set a timeline for a task you need to complete and hold yourself to it. Identify a situation at work that needs a creative outcome. Do research, list pros and cons of options, look at risks and benefits and compile information to develop a framework.
  3. Practice balancing both.
    • Be clear on your intention to consider both.
    • Think about the implications of your decisions from both a relational and technical perspective.

The need for this balance and the importance of EQ in leadership has only magnified through the current pandemic. Continually changing data points, additional task force work, change fatigue and more have made the job of leaders more difficult, in addition to dealing with the fears, stressors and work changes for their teams. In exploring how EQ can be most helpful in this environment, the article Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders encourages leaders to focus on creating psychological safety, welcoming respectful dissent while not tolerating personal attacks, modeling empathy, and inviting challenges to the status quo (Clark, 2020). Frequent communication continues to be essential as well, both to communicate potential changes and to check in with others to see how they are doing. By strengthening connections with peers and employees and actively working to create a positive environment, we will weather the storm and be positioned for a successful future.

The following resources in elevateU provide additional learning opportunities:

Sources:

Clark, T. (2020,April 29) Emotional intelligence during the pandemic: 5 tips for leaders. Retrieved November 10, 2020 from https://enterprisersproject.com/article/2020/4/emotional-intelligence-crisis

Goleman, D. (2020, June 9) Harvard researcher says the most emotionally intelligent people have these 12 traits. Which do you have? Retrieved November 10, 2020 from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/09/harvard-psychology-researcher-biggest-traits-of-emotional-intelligence-do-you-have-them.html

Smith, M., Van Oosten, E., Boyatzis, R. (2020, June 12) The Best Managers Balance Analytical and Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved November 10, 2020 from https://hbr.org/2020/06/the-best-managers-balance-analytical-and-emotional-intelligence

Vinciguerra, S. (2020, October 20) Using Emotional Intelligence to Lead in Higher Education. Retrieved November 10, 2020 from https://sunysail.org/2017/10/20/using-emotional-intelligence-to-lead-in-higher-education/

Advancing Team Problem Solving

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

It is common for leaders to lament the lack of problem-solving ability on their team, which then leads them to spend time and effort to step in and do it themselves. There can be a number of reasons team members are hesitant to dive in, but making an effort to figure out why can save leaders tremendous time, empower and better engage their staff, and help the team function more effectively and expediently. This is new territory for many teams, so how do you get the ball rolling in the right direction?

Greg Schinkel of Front-Line Leadership points out, “there are two dynamics happening at the same time when it comes to team problem solving: The rational, logical part of solving the problem and the interpersonal dynamic at play within the team” (Schinkel, 2017). The logical portion must include clarifying the goal, otherwise it is common to only address symptoms of the bigger problem. If the interpersonal side of the problem solving is lacking, the acceptance of the solution won’t occur, and the team won’t buy-in. Be sure to draw out ideas from all team members, otherwise those who are more assertive and confident will push their ideas through, even when they may not be best. The following information provides some other foundational pieces to consider.

Eliminating Common Barriers

People are creatures of habit, and many are not accustomed to being actively engaged in problem solving for their unit. The article Strengthen the Problem-Solving Skills of Your Team by Art Petty identifies three different leadership practices that can unintentionally contribute to the habit of waiting to be told what to do (Petty, 2019):

  • Micromanagement: Leaders often have difficulty staying out of the weeds and too readily jump in to tell employees what to do. Set parameters and timelines but trust them to do the work of figuring out solutions.
  • No Mistakes Allowed: Encouraging risk taking and innovation, but then jumping all over people when they make a mistake will do nothing but shut them down. Focus on how to help people quickly learn from mistakes without demeaning them.
  • No Team Development: Some teams are just individuals grouped together in an organizational chart. If there has been no effort to develop team collaboration and working together to address issues it will be an uphill battle. Put some effort into helping your team gel. For example, have them work together through case studies of common issues that face the unit.

Setting the Stage

In addition to eliminating barriers, it is also important to assess the make-up, climate, and how work gets done on your team. The article 3 Surprising Ways to Develop Problem-Solving Teams by Jeff Pruitt outlines the following areas to consider (Pruitt, 2018):

  • Cognitive Diversity: There is a tendency to hire people who think like you do, but having a team full of people who are always in agreement leads to a stagnant, repetitive approach to the challenges you face. According to Pruitt, “It’s been shown time and again that putting people with different personality types, strengths, knowledge banks, and leadership styles together to work through an issue results in better collaboration, problem identification, discipline, out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation” (Pruitt, 2018).
  • Psychological Safety: Even if you have diversity in thinking on your team, it won’t get you far if people fear repercussions (career or social) for speaking out. As the leader you must set the example of being inclusive and respectful, while also setting that expectation of ongoing support for new ideas among team members.
  • Cut Out Complexity: This can be challenging in a large, complex organization but not impossible. Are people held to tight hierarchical arrangements or are they allowed to reach out to whoever is needed to gain information for the problem at hand? Are your processes outdated and keeping people stuck? Step back and look at these issues to see where people might have anchors that keep them from forwarding their effort. Encourage them to talk about any barriers they are experiencing and help to remove them when you can.

Discussing the Process

It’s best not to assume that people are familiar with a solid process for problem solving. Reviewing a process can help them all be on the same page as they address issues. The article Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace by Tim Hicks offers one model to consider (Hicks, 2019):

  1. Identify the Issues: As noted above, you want to be clear about what the problem is, not just the symptoms.
  2. Understand Everyone’s Interests: It is critical to consider the interests of individual team members and stakeholders. Active listening is critical.
  3. List the Possible Solutions: This is the time for creative brainstorming without shooting any ideas down.
  4. Evaluate the Options: Honestly discuss pros and cons of each approach. Make sure that all are heard.
  5. Select an Option or Options: The best option may not be ideal for every stakeholder but is able to meet priority needs. Consider whether it is feasible to bundle more than one option for a more satisfactory solution.
  6. Document the Agreement(s): Writing it down will make it clear to all and help you think through all the details.
  7. Agree on Contingencies, Monitoring and Evaluation: Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (this is particularly relevant right now). Determine how you’ll monitor follow-through and evaluate outcomes (such as, “Let’s try this for three months and re-evaluate.”)

Prompting the Team with Questions

It is tempting for leaders to take over when team members don’t move ahead. For long term gains, it is much better to ask some key questions that further their own critical thinking as they approach problems. The article 9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems on Their Own by David Dye shares a list to keep in mind (Dye, 2019):

  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried?
  • What happened?
  • What did you learn from this?
  • What else do you need?
  • What else can you do?
  • What do you think will happen if you try option A? What about option B?
  • What will you do?

If someone responds to questions with “I don’t know,” your response should then be, “what would you do if you did know?” It may sound strange but making it more hypothetical frees people up to share ideas they were keeping dormant, and it is often very productive.

Problem solving is a learnable skill and something all can benefit from throughout their career. You probably wouldn’t be in a leadership position if you didn’t have the skill yourself, but if individual team members don’t learn to think strategically and problem solve on their own and collectively, you’ll spend a lot of wasted time and they won’t grow. With the rapidly changing world before us, you can’t afford to ignore that need.

ElevateU Resources for Further Learning

Use the following resources in the elevateU learning platform to continue learning about this topic:

Dye, D. (2019, May 1) 9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems on Their Own. Retrieved October 26, 2020 from https://letsgrowleaders.com/2018/05/01/9-questions-to-help-your-team-solve-problems-on-their-own/

Hicks, T. (2019, July 1) Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace. Retrieved October 26, 2020 from https://www.mediate.com/articles/thicks.cfm

Petty, A. (2019, October 7). Strengthen the Problem-Solving Skills of Your Team. Retrieved October 26, 2020 from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-strengthen-team-problem-solving-skills-4123663

Pruitt, J., (2018, April 26). 3 Surprising Ways to Develop Problem Solving Teams. Retrieved October 26, 2020 from  https://www.inc.com/jeff-pruitt/3-surprising-ways-to-develop-problem-solving-teams.html

Schinkel, G. (2017). How to Solve Problems as a Team. Retrieved October 26, 2020 from https://uniquedevelopment.com/blog/how-to-solve-problems-as-a-team/

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.