Leadership Blog Series: Lean Into Leading — Remote Work Edition

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

At the retirement party for one of my former colleagues, they reflected that the main thing they were looking forward to was “never being responsible for another human being again.” And they meant it. As leaders, it’s important to recognize the significant responsibilities of our roles, with impacts on both the organization and the individuals with whom we serve.

It has always been challenging to be a good leader, and this is not going to get easier anytime soon. The incredible shifts in the past two years will continue to play out within our teams, departments and units as we move to understand the full capabilities of remote work (including “hybrid” work) and learn what our stakeholders want from their experiences with us.

Fulfilling the Goals and Objectives of MSU’s Strategic Plan

As you consider MSU’s strategic goals and objectives, leaning into new concepts about work, productivity and satisfaction will require a paradigm shift. Not only are external forces pushing this, but the university is also pulling us toward a new mindset focused on growth, and this means change.

Consider MSU’s strategic goal of faculty and staff success: Creating an environment in which excellence and opportunity thrive will attract and keep talent and create conditions where staff and faculty can do their best work, individually and collaboratively. We will develop the flexible, supportive, inclusive workplace required to respond to the aspirations and needs of every employee.

As employees integrate career goals with efforts to create a meaningful life for themselves and their families, they will expect — and we, as supervisors, will deliver — ongoing opportunities to grow and develop.

Related resource: MSU 2030 Strategic Plan

Remote Work and Flexibility

We are working in the most disruptive workforce changes since WWII, dubbed “The Great Resignation”. Research shows that 90% of employees expect to have flexibility in their work, and 54% are planning to leave their position if they don’t get it.

In the coming weeks, you will hear more about what MSU intends to do about remote work from a policy perspective, but that is only part of the equation. As with every policy, you can either hide behind it, or you can embrace it. I challenge you to embrace the new remote work policy in the spirit of our strategic goals. We are working with, and are, professional adults — and adults know when something does not make sense and know they need to be accountable for their actions. Be creative and innovative as you lean into implementing this new policy in your area and working toward better fulfilling the university’s goals and objectives for staff success.

A word about flexibility: not all jobs are going to be remote-friendly. Approximately one-third of our jobs will not offer remote work capability. However, most jobs can have some flexibility, at least at some point in the year. Think broadly about the organizational culture you want to thrive in — thrive…not simply endure — and do the same for your staff. It may be more challenging, but it also can also lead to greater rewards.

Related resource: Remote Work Guidance for Employees and Supervisors at MSU

Take a Deeper Dive

Consider the following ways that you, as a leader, can help MSU meet our collective strategic goals and objectives through the lens of the updated remote work policy:

  1. Examine the value of an employee’s work and not the “busy work” a person brings to their role. How can you maximize that value?
  2. What is the maximum and minimum flexibility for each position? Each team?
  3. Is the flexibility the same during the full year, or can summer months or breaks be different than the academic year?
  4. Do you really know what your stakeholders want and expect and the services they need?
  5. Can you flex starting times, hours, days?
  6. Have you already decided what is “right” or are you open to new possibilities?
  7. Consider the individual as well as the team dynamics. What can change to provide flexibility for all? Did you ask your team to help devise the strategy?
  8. What are the core times you might expect people to attend meetings (and is the meeting effective and productive, or is it casual and meant to just connect)?  Global working hours help everyone be flexible.
  9. Can you accommodate a “split shift”, with the employee able to have alternate times?
  10. What communication plans will make you more effective? Effective communication isn’t a one-way process, and employees have responsibilities here as well.
  11. What role do expectations have for the team? Individuals?
  12. What collective development and individual development will foster the kind of organizational culture that will help us meet our strategic goal?

Additional resources are available to support you as you navigate integrating MSU’s new remote work policies with your team.

MSU Remote Work PolicyImportant documents, resources and FAQs

Remote Work Supervisors’ Discussion Guides

Instructor-Led HR OPD Courses

elevateU Resources

Leading From Anywhere: How to Build High Performing Remote and Hybrid Teams (56-minute recording of live event)

Working Remotely – Curated Resources (Self-paced courses, videos, books)

Sources

Kroop, B., McRae, E.R., January 12, 2022. 11 Trends that will shape work in 2022 and beyond. Harvard Business Review blog post. https://hbr.org/2022/01/11-trends-that-will-shape-work-in-2022-and-beyond

Ascott, E., October 19, 2021. 90% of workers want flexibility. Companies aren’t delivering (This could be a disaster). https://allwork.space/2021/10/90-of-workers-want-flexibility-companies-arent-delivering-this-could-be-a-disaster/

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/01/05/era-flexible-work-higher-education-has-begun

Leadership Blog Series: New Leadership Library and Leader Development Resources

Whether new to a supervisory role or a long-time manager, the best leaders are lifelong learners adaptable to change and flexible in their leadership style. The ongoing changes and unknowns brought on by COVID-19 have made it particularly clear that leaders must embrace the complexity of their roles, which demands new ideas and strategies to stay fresh and ahead of the curve.

Earlier this year, a small workgroup was formed at MSU to explore the learning development needs of those who find themselves leading in this “new normal.” The group identified the need for an easily accessible collection of relevant and applicable self-directed learning resources on a wide range of topics. To assist leaders in navigating challenges and handling their responsibilities with confidence, an online Leadership Library was created in August 2021.

Visit the new, online Leadership Library.

One member of the workgroup, Cindi Leverich, Director of Academic Leadership Development in the Office of Faculty and Academic Staff Development, explains, “As leaders continue to navigate the changing world of work, it is important to have a range of resources available in multiple modalities. The Leadership Library provides busy individuals a convenient list of articles, videos, and workshops on topics key to developing and supporting remote and hybrid teams.”

Updated regularly, the Leadership Library highlights curated content related to timely topics. Ideas for additional, relevant leadership resources are welcome and may be sent to prodev@hr.msu.edu for consideration.

Looking for additional leadership development opportunities?

Danielle Hook, Learning and Development Manager for HR’s Organization and Professional Development (OPD) department, shares, “The importance of professional development cannot be overstated. We also recognize the barriers to accessing meaningful learning are greater than ever. In response, we are exploring creative ways to differentiate our learning solutions to meet the increasingly diverse needs of our learners.”

Learn more about OPD’s new leadership programs and resources below.

New Leader Development Series (NLDS)

Apply now to join the next cohort of this nine-session series. Starting January 18, this program equips new leaders with a toolkit of crucial knowledge and resources.

Sessions cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Leading in a Union Environment
  • Workforce Management and Strategic Staffing
  • Fostering an Inclusive Culture
  • Budget Responsibilities and Ethical Finance
  • Conflict Management
  • and more

Leadership Workshops

In addition to OPD’s popular, established courses around the topics of leadership and management, five new workshops for leaders were recently launched. Currently held via Zoom, registration will soon be available within EBS for the following classes:

  • Building Cohesive Teams
  • Conflict Management
  • Managing and Leading Across Multiple Locations
  • Performance Management for Hybrid Teams
  • Strategic Planning

Find out more about OPD’s upcoming course offerings.

elevateU Leadership Resources

On-demand, self-paced courses, videos, audiobooks and more are available to MSU employees via the free elevateU platform, including a Leadership Development section covering a wide range of leadership topics.

Access elevateU leadership resources.

Have questions regarding the above resources and opportunities? Contact OPD at prodev@hr.msu.edu for additional information.

Leadership Blog Series: Positive Boundaries

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

What are your “hard and fast” boundaries, and which are those that are easier to slip up on? Although maintaining healthy boundaries of all varieties is a critical component of a leader’s well-being and success, time is perhaps the most common boundary because of its fluidity, with demands changing daily.

While even the most effective leaders will have to make hard choices from time to time, the hallmarks of weak boundaries can be challenging to rein in. Reflecting on my career thus far, I can see that I made too many value trade-offs between my time, my family and my hobbies over the years.

I worked over two solid decades before I had a supervisor who expressly set positive boundaries around time. She was leaving for vacation and made a point of turning off her email and her phone during our staff meeting, saying she expected the same from all of us when we left the office.

Two powerful points were made with her simple actions: 

  1. The behavior of a supervisor sets the tone and culture. Leaders need to talk about boundaries as part of norms and culture. We need to recharge to be effective, and we need to help others do the same.
  2. Your staff can handle it. Develop your staff and your trust in them. They will make the best decisions they can with the information they have.

Leaders can enhance their authenticity by maintaining positive boundaries. An easy way to start? Do what you say you will do and don’t do what you say you will not do. One leader I know is clear about not doing anything “illegal, immoral, unsafe, or unethical, and I get to decide what that is.”

Additional ways you can establish and encourage positive boundaries for your team:

  • Model behaviors that demonstrate healthy boundaries.
  • Help employees identify and communicate boundaries.
  • Have conversations about boundaries; normalize discussions on the topic.
  • Reward and recognize employees who set and maintain boundaries.
  • Acknowledge when boundaries are overstepped.
  • Communicate to your team the importance of boundaries.

Find recommended live, online courses below to assist with establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries for you and others, and reach out to MSU HR’s Organization and Professional Development department at prodev@hr.msu.edu if you’d like additional guidance or resources.

UPCOMING OPD COURSES (LIVE, ONLINE FORMAT)

Sources

https://www.boundariesbooks.com/blogs/boundaries-blog/why-leaders-need-to-set-boundaries-in-the-workplace

https://www.workplaceoptions.com/blog/management-tip-taking-the-lead-on-setting-boundaries/

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

Leadership Blog Series: Every Improvement Involves Change

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

Change itself isn’t an improvement…but every improvement involves change.

We are experiencing unprecedented (there’s that word again) change on many levels and across many systems, under-resourced in many areas while managing through tremendous pressure for both you and your teams. Learning new ways to make improvements is critical. I invite you to take a fresh perspective on leading change, starting with yourself. You need a deliberate path for leaning into change and bringing your team along with you as you lead improvement measures.

Start with Yourself

To begin, reflect on the following questions while considering your current leadership approach during this time of rapid change. How do you approach problems and lead improvements?

  • Are you treating the symptoms, or are you tackling the root cause of the issues? Imagine the feeling of having your teams think about the root cause of any problems or improvements. Connecting improvements throughout the organization to individuals can increase engagement and build more value for your stakeholders.
  • Does everyone in your organization or on your team know how to participate in improvements? Do they know what is expected of them, or do they have to wait to be told what to do? Imagine empowering and unleashing the potential from your entire team by inviting them to work on what really matters, in a way that is supported by trusting those who know the most about the issues.
  • Do you expect continuous improvement in the daily work? Envision being able to systematically improve even “small” thorny issues, recognize people, and deal with processes that are ineffective, wasteful and redundant.
  • Do you include representation of all your key stakeholders in your efforts? No one wants to feel like they are at the little kids’ table—waiting for scraps and being told what to do. Be holistic in solving problems and making improvements. Not including good representation from across the spectrum to solve issues around change means you are sowing seeds of suspicion or, even worse, sabotage.

Lean into Change

Regardless of an issue’s scope, create a path toward improvement utilizing the following steps:

  1. Define the problem. Create a team to solve the problem that includes those responsible for the activity, process or action. Develop the problem statement in one or two sentences—get to the real root cause by asking the 5 Whys until you get to the bottom of things.
  2. Define the desired state in one to two sentences. If XYZ changes, what is the intended outcome?
  3. Define who needs to be involved and how. Use a RACI chart to help you define roles: who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Consider the difference between responsible and accountable: If I am an electrician who is responsible for installing a new outlet and I get sick and can’t complete the job, my manager is accountable to find someone to complete the job.

Lead with Intention

Now you are ready to conduct kaizen, which means to take apart (“Kai”) and put back together (“Zen”). Remember, there is no “bad” information or people—the focus should be on the facts of the problem and not the person. Lead this process with intention using the steps below.

  1. Document the current process with time estimates (or other measures).
  2. Identify areas of improvement. You are likely trying to eliminate wasted time, money or energy. Everything should have a real value—or we shouldn’t be doing it.
  3. Develop new processes that can prevent or improve problems. Document them in Promapp.
  4. Implement (i.e., do the things!) Build in a loop to communicate on the implementation and the results over a period of time. Develop training tools based off your process/actions.
  5. Measure and compare to previous results to verify improvement. Remember, anything that does not add value (time, money, energy) should be eliminated, and measuring improvement is possible—even for what can sometimes feel like Byzantine university processes. This is an important transparency step to all members in the process.
  6. Standardize the new process, system or action. Use visual tools, such as dashboards or posters, to reinforce the processes.

Ongoing steps in the process: Celebrate successes whether big or small, maintain continuous monitoring as situations change, and continue to embark on improvements.

Change Management Strategist, Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta, describes change leadership as “the ability to influence and inspire action in others, and respond with vision and agility during periods of growth, disruption or uncertainty to bring about the needed change.” Approach improvements with intentionality to be an influential leader of change during our current period of transition.

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

Recommended Reading

Sources

Balzer, W., Francis, D., Krehbiel, T., Shea, N. A review and perspective on lean in higher education. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/William-Balzer/publication/308000035_A_review_and_perspective_on_Lean_in_higher_education/links/5ea32ac6299bf112560c188d/A-review-and-perspective-on-Lean-in-higher-education.pdf (log-in required)

Jenkins, Alison. Advancing lean leadership. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/advancing-lean-leadership#

Neumeyer, Adrian. Create a RACI chart so everyone knows their role. https://www.tacticalprojectmanager.com/raci-chart-explanation-with-example

Leadership Blog Series: Measuring and Improving Employee Engagement

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

Before the pandemic, Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace research pegged employee engagement at an abysmal 15%. While there is no perfect definition of employee engagement, it’s fair to say that if 85% of any given workforce is disengaged, regardless of the criteria, an organization is not providing its best effort and could be headed for trouble.

In 2017, 81% of employees surveyed indicated they would consider leaving their jobs if the right offer came along, and the “right offer” criteria did not equate to simply receiving a higher rate of pay. It’s no secret that there are now additional challenges to filling positions and retaining talent across the entire spectrum of occupations due to the pandemic. Plus, humans are curious creatures — if one of our colleagues leaves their position, others are more likely to follow suit.

We have approximately 12,000 benefits-eligible employees at MSU. Using Gallup’s findings, does that mean 10,200 of us are not engaged? And if so, what can we do about it

What is Engagement?

To begin, it’s imperative to know what employee engagement entails. Engagement is sometimes used synonymously with employee satisfaction or even happiness. However, these three measures are quite different.

Happy employees are individuals who generally respond to work situations with a decided choice. Even when faced with difficult situations, how the employee deals with the circumstances is what determines happiness.

Satisfied employees are content, but it doesn’t mean they are engaged. Organizations are filled with employees who like their jobs enough — the conditions, benefits, pay — and continue to come to work but do not help drive toward goals or improvements. Plenty of people are satisfied just going through the motions, but the competitive edge will go to organizations with more significant numbers of engaged employees.

An organization heavily influences engaged employees. Engagement is more about how employees feel about their organizations. They bring their whole selves to the job and are committed to achieving the goals of the organization. They do everything in their power to help their organization be successful. They go above and beyond. They have a growth mindset, can tackle the challenges, and seek continuous improvement — and their leaders support these behaviors.

Consider the V-5 Model

To better gauge your unit’s employee engagement level, try the V-5 model. V-5 describes five major elements of employee engagement in the pandemic/post-pandemic organization: value, voice, variety, virtue, and vision.

Value — Employees are the most vital asset and are valued for their work and commitment. They are recognized and respected.

Voice — Employees can provide feedback without fear of negative impact and have input on work rules and policies.

Variety — Jobs leverage skills and strengths and offer creativity, autonomy, and challenge.

Virtue — Employees connect to the organization’s values, have trust and belief in its mission across the organization, and see that it creates value for all stakeholders.

Vision — There is a clear and comprehensive stated goal of an organization that it strives to achieve in the future. Key features of a vision include brevity, goal clarity, an abstract yet challenging approach, and desirable goals.

Interested in learning more? The V-5 model table breaks down the variables of each V-5 element and can be helpful in customizing this approach for your unit.

Advice on Engagement Surveys

Some units use surveys to gain insight into employee engagement. If you plan to take this approach, be sure to review and follow the steps below.

  • As a reminder, any survey going to support staff will need to be reviewed by the Office of Employee Relations before issuance.
  • Until there is an organization-wide effort on employee engagement, units must think carefully about their survey design.
  • If you don’t attend to essential items that make a difference, such as those outlined in the V-5 model, don’t bother. You’ll likely only make things worse. One resource to utilize is the Sample Employee Engagement Questions, which provides effective survey questions and explains some of the challenges you might encounter during this process.

It bears mentioning that there are several valid proprietary survey instruments available for purchase as well. Ensure you do not plagiarize these as the legal ramifications could put your unit at risk.

Additional OPD resources

There are a number of resources available to further advance your knowledge and practical application of employee engagement methods.

Live, Online Course

elevateU Online Resources

Sources

Kumar, P. (2021) V-5 Model of employee engagement during COVID-19 and post lockdown. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0972262920980878

Gallup. (2019) State of the Global Workplace. 35 Employee engagement survey questions you need to ask. https://lattice.com/library/28-employee-engagement-survey-questions-you-need-to-ask May 2021

Employee engagement: 8 statistics you need to know https://blog.smarp.com/employee-engagement-8-statistics-you-need-to-know blog post. January 4, 2021

Clapon, P. The difference between employee happiness and employee engagement. https://gethppy.com/employee-engagement/the-difference-between-employee-happiness-and-employee-engagement. Blog post. September 4, 2020.

Leadership Blog Series: Recognizing and Managing Stress During Times of Change

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

Based on some of my behavior choices over the past year (e.g., purchasing 50 lbs. of flour — why?), some might say I did not handle the stress of the pandemic very well. I’d have to agree. Personally, it was terrifying last spring when the threat of economic collapse seemed imminent. Those fears lessened but were then replaced by worries of illness, death, and the safety of my loved ones as the pandemic doubled down in Michigan and throughout the world.

Many of us are now preparing for a new kind of stress that reflects more unknowns, such as potential changes in work location, expectations, tasks, and what that all means to us as employees and colleagues. We are collectively experiencing unprecedented change across the organization by virtue of budget impacts and changes in senior leaders — both of which have a way of cascading through an organization and challenging the status quo.

Check Your Stress Level

One thing the pandemic did not do was ease the “normal” stressors in life such as divorce, familial issues, debt, and job change, to name a few. Consider taking the Life Change Stress Test, a self-assessment scale developed as a predictor of an individual’s well-being and the likelihood of illness. Where are you currently on the life-change stress index?

We may not share a common experience to change. What one person feels is a great idea might feel like an unnecessary and stressful change to another. You might find exhilaration in tackling new systems while others might find the same experience overwhelming. How leaders navigate these next few crucial months is expected to impact employee stress and, therefore, employee motivation and satisfaction — essential aspects of building a healthy and positive culture for our students and colleagues.

Are You Languishing?

The fact is there are many unknowns still surrounding the pandemic that, when combined with our everyday stress to navigate, can lead to even fun activities like weddings and graduations causing an increase in stress and a decrease in motivation.

In the work context, the continuous change we have been experiencing along with ongoing uncertainty can lead to what Adam Grant of The New York Times recently described as languishing. People may not be considered depressed, but they’re not flourishing either. After months of being on high alert, our bodies and brains are likely tired, stressed, and burned out by this state of hypervigilance.

Reduce the Impact of Stress

Keep in mind that stress does not need to be negative to have an impact on you, and not all stress needs to be immense to add up. Often, it is the compounding of little things that have a large impact. Recognizing your typical and atypical stressors — be they “positive” or “negative” — and how they impact you personally and professionally can better prepare you to successfully manage your stress and move out of a state of languishing. Engaging in reframing your situation, learning new coping strategies, exercising, or seeking services through Health4U Stress Reduction, your healthcare provider or EAP are all places to begin.

Take some simple steps to help yourself and your team get through this period of continuing uncertainty with improved stress management strategies and increased motivation. Here are a few additional, self-paced resources you might find helpful:

elevateU Online Resources

Additional Resources

Grant, A., May 5, 2021. There’s a name for the blah you are feeling: It’s called languishing. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/19/well/mind/covid-mental-health-languishing.html

Holmes, T.H., and Rahe, T.H. “The Social Readjustment Rating Scale,” Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 11:213, 1967. https://www.dartmouth.edu/eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf

Leadership Blog Series: Preparing for the Next Normal

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

In March 2020, we embarked on an incredible journey. Do you remember the shock when, seemingly overnight, everything changed at work and in our community? Thinking it would only be a couple of weeks, then two months, then six, and so on as reality set in? I imagine that few, if any, of us would have ever expected a collective and comprehensive change in our lives quite like this.

As we turn our thoughts to creating the “next normal,” many will experience a new set of emotions and challenges. We might keep wishing for things to go “back to normal,” even when we intellectually know it’s not possible. MSU will remain a residential university and being present is essential for the experience.

So, how do we prepare for an uncertain future as we begin to bring the campus back to a fuller vibrancy? Consider the following:

Start with being self-reflective

  • Honor that this experience has been hard for everyone, although not always in the same ways. Remember that we have our shared experience, but we did not share the same experience.
  • Appreciate those who continued to report in-person throughout the past year and those who continued to work remotely. It took everyone to get us through.
  • Make a list of your and your team’s accomplishments. It’s beneficial to reflect on the positive. Did you learn new skills? Create new processes?
  • Start thinking about how you might approach work differently.
  • Be grateful.

Be intentional

Approach the next set of changes with thoughtfulness and intentionality, considering how they will impact individuals and teams. Luckily, upcoming transitions will likely be gradual as opposed to the abruptness of going to “pandemic rules” last year. In all cases, consider how change will affect both employees and operations.

  • Prepare for change by engaging in discussions around work expectations, challenges, and changes in teams (e.g., what to expect regarding breaks, lunch, and dress code).
  • Allow ample time for employees to adjust to returning to campus as this is another major change. Those who have been on-site will also experience this change. Many employees will have new arrangements to make, and a lack of consideration for their needs will lead to disengagement.
  • Be prepared to utilize resources such as the MSU Employee Assistance Program, Guide to Remote Access, and others. Anticipate and address conflict. This adjustment will include following the MSU Community Compact, differences of opinion regarding vaccinations, and how employees will feel if co-workers choose not to disclose or get a COVID-19 vaccination, to name only a few.
  • Continue to be inclusive. Announcements, meetings, and other common workplace activities can impact teams, particularly with a mix of on-premise and remote employees. No one wants to feel excluded or that they missed something.

Be mindful of transitions

As we move forward, it’s critical to not just consider changes but also transitions. Consider the following quote from William Bridges:

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.”

Anticipate that your team may need support engaging with the transitions of our “next normal.” Take advantage of the resources provided by MSU and understand that this is an expected part of the process. Prepare yourself and your team for the changes and transitions ahead, and you can use 2020 as a springboard to the next, better normal.

Source:

Bridges, W. (2017). Managing transitions: making the most of change. Da Capo.

Organizational Change as a Pathogen: An Analogy for Leaders

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

As we continue to navigate the current normal, we must also move forward. Budget constraints, retirements, realignments and other changes are just a part of life in every organization, even in non-pandemic times. Even though changes may be substantial, we retain people, systems, processes, facilities, and our shared understanding to create our new reality. Change may be rapid, but generally, it is also incremental.

In the article The University Immune System: Overcoming Resistance to Change an unusual, yet useful, analogy is described of change in complex systems. Think of implementing change in organizations in a similar context as the immunological response to a pathogen introduced to the human body. No relationship exists between these two systems on the surface; however, the parallels can illustrate the difficulties of introducing and making change stick.

Reacting to Change

As change is introduced within your team, staff and faculty may resist change, often affecting operational and financial realities. Even when a change is likely to produce benefits, there will be resistance expressed in various ways. Change is relative to each individual and how individual team members affect the system in their response to change. The resistance lies within the innate response of the system to change, and this resistance has been referred to as the “institutional immune system.”

In comparison, an invading pathogen needs to infect a host to carry out its mission, and the body will then marshal its forces to fight against this change. In an organizational sense, change is that threat, and the people in the system can form a response that reacts or overreacts to a threat, be it real or perceived. This response to the threat—the new idea or change—is designed to maintain the status quo and reduce unknowns and unproven risks.

Effective Leadership in Times of Change

There are many barriers present in an organization preventing the adaption of change. We can overcome these barriers—these intrusions to the system—by anticipating and being prepared. Have several strategies at the ready to foster acceptance of the change intended to improve the organization. These strategies include:

  • Improving leadership development skills around change and communication.
  • Recognizing and focusing attention on effective communication.
  • Effective rewards for new expectations.
  • Pacing/timing changes realistically.

Leaders should take the time to plan strategies for individuals’ varied responses—those who are eager, those who take a “wait and see” approach, and those who are slow to accept change. These strategies will help reduce the threat of change and improve adaptation.

Follow the steps below to support the implementation and acceptance of change within your team:

  1. Plan for change as a system of people, process, and culture.
  2. Embrace resistance as natural and not personal.
  3. Give the “why.”
  4. Establish open, two-way communication.
  5. Celebrate the wins, regardless of how small.

Collectively, we will not be returning to our previous, pre-COVID state, and attempting to do so would hardly signal progress toward the future. Resistance is a natural defense mechanism. Your challenge is to be mindful of different strategies and appeals for the different members of your team to effectively work with the resistance and move forward together.

Source:

Gilley, A., Godek, M., & Gilley, J. W. (2009). The University Immune System: Overcoming Resistance to Change. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 2(3), 1-6.

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.