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.
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/.