Leadership Blog Series: The Value of Meaningful Work

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for HR Organization and Professional Development

Have you had the opportunity to engage recently with a project or team that inspired you and connected you to the larger significance of the leadership work you do here at MSU? One of my favorite teams I had the opportunity to work with over the past couple of years is the team for “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” which jointly developed the series of the same name. The magic in this project was how everyone involved recognized that the problem we wanted to address was complex and more extensive than any single department could attempt to resolve. Creating this series together was cathartic as well as synergistic as we leveraged our growing trust and each person’s expertise.

The series was offered through modules for all leaders at MSU because we realized administrative and academic leaders did not always understand their roles and responsibility to the organization in shaping the desired culture and being accountable for the results. Commitment to helping MSU move forward to fulfill our promise as a premier institution remains at the core of this team’s focus.

We were reflecting on the challenges of work — namely the compounding pressures of behavior issues, finding great candidates, disengagement, burnout, and how leadership impacts all of these. Participating on this organic team greatly enhanced my work life, resilience and engagement, especially during the pandemic, and reminded me of the critical importance of meaningful work.

Discover Meaningful Work for Yourself

Meaningful work does not have to be one big project; often, small opportunities can make all the difference to our work lives, help stem the “great resignation,” and enhance our collective wisdom to help make MSU a great place to work.

Recent research focused on working populations around the world found the most powerful predictors of retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion in employees’ answers to these three questions:

  1. Was I excited to work every day last week?
  2. Did I have a chance to use my strengths every day?
  3. At work, do I get a chance to do what I’m good at and something I love?

Within the “Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace” collaborative team, the group saw the greater purpose behind creating resources helpful to staff and faculty throughout the organization. The personal impact of creating something that transcended our work gave many of us a renewed sense of purpose and engagement — particularly during very challenging circumstances when the work is stressful and thankless. Trust was built through a series of circumstances, and trust contributes to greater resilience and engagement.

Help Your Team Discover Meaningful Work

The truth is, we are not going to love everything about our work. However, if we can continually commit to building trust in our teams and help ourselves and others connect our work with what we love and value, we will reduce burnout and increase engagement. These sound like lofty goals, but strengthening this approach with your team can be as simple as committing to ask your direct reports and teams these four questions regularly:

  1. What did you love about last week?
  2. What did you loathe about last week?
  3. What are your priorities for the coming week?
  4. How can I best help?

I am interested in how this deceptively simple activity helps you and your teams. Feel free to use the comments section or contact me at prodev@hr.msu.edu. Looking to dive deeper into building trust and creating meaningful work? Resources to get you started are included below.

Additional Resources

Sources

Members of the Creating and Sustaining a Respectful Workplace team included representatives from:

  • Faculty and Academic Staff Development
  • Faculty and Academic Staff Affairs
  • Office of Employee Relations
  • Organization and Professional Development
  • Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
  • Prevention Outreach and Education
  • MSU Department of Police and Public Safety
  • MSU Office of the University Ombudsperson

Buckingham, Marcus, 2022. Designing work that people love. Harvard Business Review, Vol 100 issue 3, pg. 68-75.

Gladwell, M. 2022.  “Love+Work: How to find what you love, love what you do, and do it for the rest of your life. Harvard Business Review Press.

Leadership Blog Series: Happiness, Well-Being and Psychological Wealth

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for Organization and Professional Development

Am I happy?

How do I know if someone is happy?

What can I do to influence the happiness of others?

Happiness is subjective — each of us has our own vision of what happiness means to us. The many definitions of happiness and the different topics connected to it can lead us to more questions than answers. As such, is it worth your time as a leader to consider whether your employees are happy and take action to increase happiness within your team?

Happiness and Well-Being

Let’s consider the relationship between happiness and well-being. Happiness is a component of well-being; it can exist without well-being, but well-being can’t exist without happiness.

Happiness contributes toward health and longevity, which can be measured with a number of physiological tests including immune system strength, plaque build-up, and healthier behaviors such as a propensity toward physical activity or wearing a seatbelt.

As a supervisor, this is worth noting as happy employees can lead to lower healthcare costs, fewer sick days, lower turnover, and greater productivity and creativity.

Happiness and Psychological Wealth

Dr. Ed Diener, recognized as an expert on Subjective Well-Being (SWB), posits that being happy provides psychological wealth, stating, “Psychological wealth is your true total net worth, and includes your attitudes toward life, social support, spiritual development, material resources, health, and the activities in which you engage.”

SWB is good for work, families and society as a whole, but it’s important to note SWB doesn’t replace workplace basics: flexibility, respect, having the right tools, knowing the goals…these are all still contributors toward one’s psychological wealth.

Happiness in the Workplace

What brings someone happiness may change over time. Fulfillment in your early 20s often looks different than in your retirement years. What was most critical such as family and employment may eventually transition to health and leisure.

Regardless of where your employees are in their professional and personal journeys, there are key ways you can create an environment that supports their happiness and well-being.

  1. Empower employees to craft their jobs. Provide training and build relationships that are connected to a purpose. Do your employees know how what they do serves the greater good? Can you honor flexibility in working conditions? Research has shown flexibility can contribute to reduced turnover and physical and mental health improvements.
  2. Honor core organizational values and encourage employees to define their own personal core values. While we each have our own core values, organizational values that are practiced, observed, and honored foster happier employees.
  3. Ask employees for help in problem solving workplace issues — then actually implement the improvements to reduce stress and help retain employees.
  4. Foster social belonging. Each work environment has its own microcultures but recognizing each other should be a regular feature. Leading with kudos — both internal and external — can foster happiness and well-being by building positive relationships.
  5. Think positive. Self-sabotaging a positive mindset affects you personally, but as a leader, it also has the added impact of influencing others. You are worthy of success and adequate. You can do hard things. When you feel the need to lament on something — and let’s face it, we all have our moments — be sure you are reaching out to a neutral party to vent or process.
  6. Build healthy habits. From stretch breaks to healthy snack choices, lean into fostering a healthy environment by engaging with Health4U and other resources for MSU staff and faculty. Below are a few ideas to help you get started.

Recommended Resources

Mental Health Matters: Resources from MSU

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

Recognizing and Managing Stress During Times of Change

References

Diener, E., Diener-Biswas, R., Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (Blackwell, 2008). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdxbmVbr3NY

Kelly, L., Berkman, L., Kubzanksky, L., Lovejoy, M. (2021). 7 Strategies to improve your employees’ health and well-being. https://hbr.org/2021/10/7-strategies-to-improve-your-employees-health-and-well-being

Leadership Blog Series: Leading Strategic Planning

Written by Sharri Margraves, HR Associate Director for Organization and Professional Development 

Strategic planning is a critical aspect for leaders in all organizations, and now that MSU has recently introduced its first strategic plan in decades, you have an opportunity to help drive the results that will continue the upward trajectory of the university. Strategic planning is about change, and as with any change effort, communication and clarity of purpose are essential throughout the process.

It can be helpful to recognize the process of strategic planning as four typical phases: pre-planning, assessment, implementation, and measuring and monitoring.

Pre-Planning

The pre-planning phase is a lot like trying out a new recipe, and the first rule of cooking is to read through the entire recipe before you start. Be sure you have everything you need, and you understand what you need to do. Similarly, with strategic planning, first make sure you have the people, tools, and clarity that will allow your team to be successful before you formally begin. Consider all aspects including who will be on the planning team, general timing, communication cadence and how you will ensure DEI throughout the planning process.

Assessment: Begin Where you Are

Assessment will take the greatest amount of time.

  • What is your organization’s readiness for change?
  • Do you have a current and valid Mission, Vision and Values (MVV, for short)?
  • Can you hear the truth from your employees and stakeholders?
  • Do you need to provide training?

Assessing the organization is a part of the plan that is vital to get right—and your organizational context matters. All the tools in the world will not help if you or your team is defensive about what you might hear. From here, you will begin to develop the tactical plan.

Implementation: Building the Document

Going from assessment to writing the plan… well, let’s just say it takes time. Gleaning the most essential strategic goals or themes from your assessment effort is an iterative process, and multiple people will be involved. You will need to align your MVV and framework and produce a clear and concise “living” document.

For each strategic goal, you will have key objectives. From there, you need to have the tactics that will be needed to reach the objective. Often forgotten: leaders need to connect the dots. These tactics tell teams and individuals what needs to be done by when.

Implementation: Communication

Sure, you’ve thought about the day when your plan would be done. The reality is, now is the point where the real work begins. Cascading the information throughout your organization for implementation while also communicating with your external stakeholders is critical.

Establishing the priority while allowing your team to contribute to the “how” is important because the strategic plan should be parallel to the normal work you are already doing. On an individual level, each person in the organization should know how they will contribute to the responsibilities and tasks that will roll up from tactics to objectives to goal achievement.

Measuring and Monitoring: Review and Revise

What will success look like? As you develop your tactical plan, you will have time/milestones, key performance indicators (KPI) and other measures to indicate you are achieving your goals. Establishing a regular cadence for reporting progress is important to your internal and external stakeholders. Some objectives have a bit of a lag before data can be obtained, which is why you want to have other indicators to ensure you are progressing. Including the measurement in the building phase is important. It’s easy to get excited over goals, only to realize measuring progress is not so easy.

Interested in learning more? Recommended resources are listed below, and the Organization and Professional Development department can be reached at prodev@hr.msu.edu for specialized support.

Recommended Resources

MSU Strategic Plan

Strategic Planning Checklist

Business Orientation: Strategic Organizational Goals | elevateU course (50 minutes)

Leadership Blog Series: Team Essentials

Written by Sharri Margraves, Director for HR Organization and Professional Development

Before you had your first formal leadership role, did you believe you would “finally” have the power and authority to get things done the way you want them, when you want them? Or did you think, “What have I done?”

One of the most significant adjustments in leaning into leadership is that there are multiple ways to handle situations, and there are many variables with respect to authority, responsibility and empowerment. Cohesive teams communicate and build trust and one of the most critical teams is the relationship you have with other leaders in your unit.

Your Role in the Team

The truth of the matter is that we all play different team roles across our careers and in every position. Consider this: what have you done to make a new leader (especially new to MSU) welcome and valued, especially when that leader is also a peer? How we participate and engage with others can change depending on the circumstances and our own beliefs about our roles and the influence we carry, but trust me, everyone is watching what you do and say to make your team and colleagues successful.

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, shares that leaders lead up, across, and down in a complex system of teams. Can you picture a leader who leads only through power? A leader who made it very difficult for a new colleague, or minimally, less than helpful? Likewise, you can likely picture an effective leader that does not have positional authority yet is very effective.

Regardless of position, title, or role, everyone has leadership capabilities that can be developed, practiced and honed when they consider leveraging the skills and talents of the team. Helping others see the importance of their roles and contributions will help maximize effectiveness, results and enjoyment for the whole team.

Define Your Strengths and Areas for Growth

Remember, it takes patience and practice to develop. How would you rate yourself on the following questions adapted from HIGH5 leadership?

  1. I take responsibility for the teams I’m on and don’t play the blame game.
  2. I listen more than I talk in team meetings.
  3. I don’t interrupt others or talk over them. I add to the conversation, acknowledging and building on   others’ contributions.
  4. I am reliable and consistent, and my work is on time and of good quality.
  5. I help others if they are struggling.
  6. I can focus on positive solutions rather than making others feel wrong.
  7. I have a connection with the people on the team, knowing about their lives and what is important to them.
  8. I bring enthusiasm and energy to the team rather than bringing people down.
  9. I have worked hard to build trust between me, all my teams, and my organization in general.
  10. I can apologize to my team.

Another helpful resource is the free Team Roles test from Psychology Today. Take this 20-minute assessment to help you summarize your strengths in being a team player. As it’s not geared specifically to leaders, the quiz covers a wide range of team-based situations to share with your staff.

Organization and Professional Development Resources

A number of options—everything from short videos to live, online courses—are available through OPD to assist you in developing as a leader. Looking for further assistance? Contact OPD at prodev@hr.msu.edu for additional course information and customized solutions for you and your team.

Sources

Maxwell, John. The 360° Leader. Summary and excerpt available at https://edadm821.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/360_leader.pdf

https://www.high5leadership.com/are-you-a-good-team-player/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests/career/team-roles-test

Communicate with Impact: Tips for Leaders

Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager for HR Organization and Professional Development.

Communicating effectively is always an important skill for leaders to demonstrate, but in this time of massive, rapid change it is more critical than ever. The basics, such as clarity, transparency, and being intentional about what you want to convey, all hold true. Authenticity, along with displaying empathy and compassion, will boost the impact of anything you communicate. Here are a few additional pointers that can make a difference:

Consider Your Audience

Executives generally get information first and the amount people know about high levels decisions tends to decrease the further down the hierarchy their position lands. Before sharing information with staff, think about what they have been briefed on so far and start from there. Remember that issues you have been dealing with for some time may be new to others, and they may need a minute to work through their reaction. Also, provide information (if able) regarding what the journey has been to get to that decision. Gaps in communication tend to fuel distrust and make it difficult for employees to take needed action; it’s hard to fix what you don’t understand.

Provide Translation

As a leader, it is important to share (nonconfidential) information you receive that would help your employees better understand the broader context of what is happening within the university. Having this understanding can help people make the sacrifices and changes needed with less resistance. Aside from being insulting, the “because I said so” approach doesn’t help people move forward. So, for example, forwarding that DDC email can be very useful; but that isn’t enough. It is also important to explain how that information relates to your employees. We have been so decentralized that often people see themselves in the vacuum of their unit or even their particular job. Drawing the lines between high-level decisions and their work helps people to understand the broader system and how their role fits. They still may not like decisions that are made, but it is easier to accept what you understand.

Once isn’t Enough

Communications specialists can affirm that if you truly want something to stick, you must repeat the message multiple times, in multiple ways. Leaders need to heed this lesson. If something is important, sending one email isn’t enough. People are inundated with information, so if you want something to stand out make sure you utilize multiple avenues. Send that email, but also weave it into staff meetings, clarify understanding in one-on-one’s, and tie it to other initiatives. Also, if it is important, make sure you utilize language that reflects that it is a priority, and why it matters.

Watch Out for Bias

Bias awareness is always important, and in this time of video conferencing, the potential pitfalls are numerous. While it is common to hear that we are “all in this together,” individual experiences during the pandemic can be vastly different. Socio-economic differences are highlighted in video (unless backgrounds are used), people may be experiencing grief due to sick or deceased loved ones, others may be completely alone and struggle when they hear coworkers discuss family fun. In a recent MSUToday article, MSU professor Amy Bonomi suggests we “approach conversations with sensitivity to differences. Instead of opening with the typical “tell us what your lives are like during shelter in place,” consider framing a question around what participants are noticing about communities around them.”  She also recommends challenging microaggressions. “This can be done by naming microaggressions on the spot or addressing them privately. It is important to share how the microaggression affected you and may have affected others and to provide tools for improving skills.”

Clarify Expectations

When you share information, be sure to clarify if action is needed, and if so by whom and when. Don’t expect people to read your mind, or that they will be clear on exactly what they are empowered to do in response to a need. Also, consider the extent of the need. Is this a simple action? Is it a full-blown project that needs to be managed? If so, what else do people need to know? Is there a budget? Are adequate resources available? Are there deadlines? Will other stakeholders potentially be impacted? Finally, think about whether your staff members currently have the skills needed to be successful. Are they experienced with project management? Are they capable and willing to handle potentially difficult conversations? Many skill-building resources are available at no cost through elevateU and you can reach out to Organization & Professional Development (prodev@hr.msu.edu) for help with development planning.

Emphasize Shared Responsibility

Leaders have a responsibility to share information and communicate effectively, and they should make it clear that employees also have a responsibility to seek information and stay informed. Most have internet access and can be expected to check email at set intervals, read updates from President Stanley and other executives, and periodically check the MSU 2019 Novel Coronovirus site for updates. This shared responsibility allows all to be more prepared for coming changes and increase the likelihood of innovative responses from every level of the organization. Never write anyone off regarding their ability to contribute meaningful options for addressing the issues we face.

There are many effective strategies that leaders and teams across campus have been using to stay on top of changes in this challenging time including things like daily huddles, weekly video conferencing, virtual coffee hours to strengthen relationships, and utilizing Spartan365 to chat, meet, and share content. Leaders are also encouraged to network across the university to share best practices and new ideas. One of the great things about working at this university is that we have many opportunities for shared learning and support. Together, we can do this.