Culture Building: It’s On All of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

Navigating through Crisis to Reinvention

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

Months into the COVID-19 crisis we have learned a great deal about the importance of resilience, agility, and supporting others as we navigate rapidly changing demands. The skills and mindset demonstrated by people at every level of the organization helped us move through the initial shock and make essential changes. As we move forward, with ever-shifting variables, it seems that a traditional change management perspective is inadequate. There is no clear end, and the normal we knew before won’t likely return. That reality calls on leaders to attend to rapidly changing demands of the crisis, while also considering what reinvention will look like for our institution. While stressful, this provides an interesting opportunity for all of us to reshape our organization; leaving behind the practices and systems that don’t serve us and generating new ideas for a better tomorrow.

The authors in this Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) report warn, “leadership teams will be tempted to avoid taking bold action and having the toughest conversations and will retreat to the closest thing to the status quo that they can find — but that will leave the organization weaker and less prepared for the future than it should be” (Pasmore et al., 2020). There are many things we will have to do to help assure safety in the coming year. The question is, will we be able to stretch beyond mere compliance to take strategic steps to bring the organization forward in a significant way? All of us have a responsibility to that end, and leaders must be prepared to forge the path ahead in the following ways.

  1. Build Trust

This recent Deloitte article notes “trust is a catalyst of recovery” and reminds us that “resilient leaders need to inspire their teams to navigate through these significant COVID-related uncertainties. But great leadership requires even greater followership—and followership is nurtured by trust” (Renjen, 2020). Relationships are more important now than ever, and the actions we take with our colleagues, students, and community will either serve to strengthen or diminish trust. Transparency, candid communication, empathy, and compassion are vital to creating a sense of safety. With increased trust, people are more likely to step into the unknown and further innovation, something that is desperately needed at this time.

  1. Provide Direction

It is imperative that leaders provide a north star so that all individuals involved understand where they are heading. While the situation continues to change and responses need to be flexible, a visible commitment to values, a vision for the future, and a drive to deliver on our mission can help guide decision-makers and help others see the opportunity in the crisis. In addition to direction, CCL points out that leaders need to assure there is also:

  • Alignment: effective coordination and integration of the different aspects of the work so that it fits together in service of the shared direction; and 
  • Commitment: People who are making the success of the collective, not just their individual success, a personal priority (CCL, 2020).

Reviewing the CCL article “Direction + Alignment + Commitment (DAC) = Leadership” will help you to assess and strengthen all three in your team.

  1. Collaborate Inclusively

Leading through hardship and uncertainty requires a humble approach that acknowledges we need the skills, ideas, and energy of all our people to move forward as effectively as possible. Our tradition of protected silos will not serve us in this new world. We must learn to share ideas, work together to solve problems, and stop reinventing the wheel. According to global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, “Now, more than ever, organizations need innovative thinking and ideas-sharing across the business. Inclusive leaders can create a safe space, regardless of what is happening externally, where people can feel accepted and empowered to give the best of their talents” (Korn Ferry, 2020). To reach that goal, we must examine our biases, reach outside of our comfortable circles, and actively listen and honor the perspectives of others.

  1. Develop Yourself and Others

Strong leaders know that ongoing learning and development are key to meeting changing needs effectively; this is particularly true today. This Forbes article “4 Must-Have Skills For Leaders Post-Covid-19” notes “large numbers of workers may never go back to the office permanently. Managers who can not only get the best possible results out of their teams when working remotely but also show they can still act personably with employees and ensure team morale is high will be sought after” (Forbes, 2020). Strong engagement, communication, and technology skills are critical as we navigate this ever-changing terrain. Relying solely on the knowledge that has gotten us through in the past will not carry us forward. Demonstrating ongoing learning and expecting the same of your team is critical, both for the organization and individual careers. According to Gallup, “The impact the right employee development process can have is massive —Gallup finds that organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development report 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees” (Ratanjee, 2020). In addition to training programs, formal or informal coaching, stretch assignments, and learning cohorts are key, particularly during budget shortfalls.

A newly released Academic Impressions report highlights that “adopting a systemic and intentional approach to developing the capacity of that workforce is a strategy for strengthening the institution’s capacity and resilience both during and after a crisis” (Academic Impressions, 2020). More broadly, the mindset we take as individuals and as an organization is important. “As the sector reels from unprecedented challenges, leaders can respond with either a ‘scarcity mindset’—reacting passively to factors outside their control, such as state budgets, demographic shifts, or a pandemic—or a ‘growth mindset,’ focusing on those factors within their control, leveraging the full skills and capacity of their academic workforce to find new solutions, networking and engaging actively across the sector to identify and share strategies for confronting both persistent and new challenges, and investing and reinvesting in their people” (Academic Impressions, 2020). As with any crisis, there are unique opportunities to strengthen our organization; we can make the most of those opportunities if we humbly work together in new ways, toward a unifying vision.

Sources:

Academic Impressions (2020, May). Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.academicimpressions.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/pd-report-ai-2020.pdf

CCL (2020). Direction + Alignment +Commitment (DAC) = Leadership. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/make-leadership-happen-2/

Forbes (2020, May 28). 4 Must-Have Skills for Leaders Post COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/imperialinsights/2020/05/28/4-must-have-skills-for-leaders-post-covid-19/#2e778106ca1b

Korn Ferry (2020). Leading through a crisis. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.kornferry.com/challenges/coronavirus/leadership

Pasmore et al. (2020). Turning Crisis into Opportunity: Preparing Your Organization for a Transformed World. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/turning-crisis-into-opportunity-center-for-creative-leadership.pdf

Ratanjee, V. (2020, April 30). 3 Ways to Continue Employee Development When Budgets Are Cut. Retrieved July 17, 2020 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/309284/ways-continue-employee-development-covid.aspx

Renjen, P. (2020, April 22). The essence of resilient leadership: Business recovery from COVID-19. Retrieved July 17, 2020from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/covid-19/guide-to-organizational-recovery-for-senior-executives-heart-of-resilient-leadership.html

Motivational Monday Round-Up

During these times of remote work, it can be hard to find motivation, especially after a holiday weekend. If you are one of the many struggling to get a bit of pep in your step this week, you are in luck as Todd Bradley, Senior Learning and Organization Development Specialist in HR Organization and Professional Development, is back with more Motivational Monday videos! Designed to encourage you during a time with many stressors and unknowns, Todd’s Motivational Monday videos provide quick and easy inspiration to start your day off right or get you back on track during a mid-afternoon slump.

Motivational Monday: Motivational Enhancement

To enhance motivation, Todd explores the stages of change and transition.

Motivational Monday: Maximizing the Spartan Experience

Todd shares his tips on how to positively maximize the Spartan Experience during these times of great challenges.

Motivational Monday: Enhanced Communication

Todd outlines how to ask the important questions to improve communication in the work place.

Visit the MSU HR YouTube channel to view additional Motivational Monday videos as they’re posted. You may also want to check out Todd’s previous videos in May’s Motivational Monday Round-Up.

Taking Care of Your Team and Yourself During the Pandemic

This is a guest post written by Jennie Yelvington, Program Manager for HR Organization and Professional Development.

There are many issues leaders need to be aware of in this unprecedented time in order to help themselves and the people they lead stay as steady and effective as possible.

Issue 1: Uncertainty
Most like to have a sense of control over their work and lives. Many may react to the vast number of unknowns we are currently facing with anxiety, foggy brain, irritability or fear. Leaders can help allieviate these feelings in the following ways:

  • Over-communicate. Have regular check-ins, forward relevant emails to your team (for example, many of the DDC announcements) and send your team emails summarizing non-confidential information from your leadership meetings.
  • Be honest. Tell employees what you don’t know. It is vitally important to share information, but often in times of rapid change, you honestly won’t have all the answers; reassure them that you will share information as soon as it is available.
  • Be transparent, clear and concise about challenges, then engage the team in problem-solving mitigation strategies.
  • Remind them of what isn’t changing. What aspects of the work and team are unchanged? Even broad statements like our commitment to safety, teaching and research will serve as reminders and can help guide people. Reassure them that this time of tremendous uncertainty will pass.
  • Encourage people to be kind and offer grace to each other. Expect the same of yourself. A bit of empathy goes a long way.
  • Celebrate victories. Did someone learn new technology? Meet an urgent deadline? Facilitate an important collaboration? Recognize and celebrate these victories, even the small ones.

Issue 2: Connection
Some people are completely isolated in their homes, others are working on-site but without coworkers and most are under high pressure with family and other demands. All can feel lonely and overwhelmed. The following tips encourage connection:

  • Remember everyone. Connect with everyone on your team regularly, along with essential stakeholders. This situation will end at some point, and re-entry will be smoother if everyone still feels like a vital part of the team.
  • Treat everyone with respect and set that expectation with your team. Sometimes it’s easier to be uncivil when communicating virtually, which makes it even more important to be explicit in your expectations and to model inclusive, respectful behavior.
  • Have some fun. Staff meetings may involve a specific agenda, but don’t forget to also check-in to see how people are doing, not just what they are doing. Try to send a funny (work-appropriate) meme via chat, share an uplifting story or offer a word of encouragement. Groups across MSU have started virtual coffee hours, networking opportunities and more to stay connected. What could you initiate with your team to stay connected?

Issue 3: Decision Making and Empowerment
It can be daunting to make decisions when there are so many unknowns, yet a lack of decision making can cause significant problems. The following guidance may help:

  • Let MSU’s mission, departmental goals and your principles guide you. We must do the best we can with the information we have and understand that a different decision may be necessary tomorrow if new information comes forward.
  • Trust your team to use their expertise to figure things out. It isn’t necessary to have every answer before starting something. Allow people to bring their energy to tackling problems and supporting each other. Check-in regularly, provide parameters and offer support.
  • Identify allies and constituents that you need to stay in touch with as you make decisions. Think systemically. Who else could be impacted by this? What unintended consequences could arise? Who else might contribute important information? More than ever, this situation has highlighted our interconnectedness. Don’t go it alone.

Issue 4: Perspective
While sugar-coating or denying reality is not helpful, you can acknowledge challenges and still stay positive. John Maxwell said, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” Consider the following:

  • Talk about what is going well, not just the challenges.
  • Encourage people to utilize their strengths and help each other.
  • What opportunities are available for your team? Some could develop new skills, document or improve a process, create a new program, or take on a project they previously didn’t have time for. Others might have a chance to clarify priorities or boundaries or develop a habit of better self-care.
  • Acknowledge that there will be days with low productivity. We’ve never been through anything like this before, and we are all doing our best. Some days you might be highly productive, and on others, it might be a victory to do the bare minimum and get through the day.

We are all part of MSU. Being kind to ourselves and others is essential as we adapt to the current situation. Eventually, we will be back with lessons learned, and perhaps lasting changes as we move into the future. For now, connect with others, consider utilizing the MSU Employee Assistance Program for additional support, and reach out to Organization and Professional Development if we can help with skill-building, leadership challenges or team effectiveness. Most of all, take care of yourself, your team and your loved ones. You’ve got this.