Be the MVP of Managers – TEA9

Presenter: Joel Vertin


Countless projects. Unrealistic deadlines. Little or no recognition. Sound familiar? The reality of working in higher education is that things will suck from time to time. We have all been there. What can make our jobs more bearable? An awesome manager!

The Most Valuable Players of managers have a variety of skills: They are leaders. They provide both structure and freedom (crazy, right?). They motivate. Empathize. And most importantly—they are HUMAN.

In this session, I will share leadership and organizational tactics commonly discussed in any MBA program—skills that I use to (hopefully?) be an awesome manager for my team of eight staff and eight student workers. I will provide a crash course in job characteristic theory and emotional intelligence. I’ll explore how to structure tasks following core job characteristics, and tie job feedback into the mixed model for emotional intelligence.

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We have Joel C. Vertin from Michigan Technological University, talking about being the MVP of managers.

Joel C. Vertin: Hey. All right, thanks, everyone, for being here for my presentation today. Thank you, everyone, on the livestream.

I’ve been told my voice and slides will be on the livestream, but not my face. I am the director of digital Digital Director of Digital Services at Michigan Technological University. I’m excited about this topic, being a manager and exec. leader. I’m thankful you’re all here with me today. I’ve got a Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems, and a degree in Business. Hit me up on Twitter, at @jcvertin.

We are located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about five or six hours from here. Our student population is about 7,000 students. This is Houghton, on a canal that connects to Lake Superior. It is a gorgeous place to live and work. Our university owns our Our campus is the in the background there. If you ever get up north, look me up. Enough about me.

Who are you guys? Some of you are managers, you have your professional staff or student employees. Some of you are aspiring to manage sometime in the future, and you’ve taken some time out of your day, chosen to come to this presentation to build your skills, take some time for you to get better. And that is awesome. I hope that, through my experiences and education, I can help you become better managers and leaders. Why do we want to be better?

To answer that, let’s talk about life in higher education. They are HiPPOs, highly paid personal opinions. They have input, and it can throw everything off. We have short deadlines and surprises. Higher ed is famous for giant piles of projects, too many projects, too few people. This is what we live through. We have stress and anxiety. We deal with enrollment-numbers craze, there’s pressure to get everyone to hit the “Apply Now” button on every page of your website.

How do we deal with this, survive this, and that our teams survive this? We would like to pay our teams more, we would like to manage, we would like to reduce the number of projects. Some of this is out of our control. There are two things we can change. We can change ourselves, and we change how we manage our team. We can shine a light on our team, a light that our team uses. I could talk for a while about how to be a good manager, but I’ll boil it down to four points. These points are what I am months passionate about. If you can be good in these four areas, you will be a good manager.

The first is leadership. What does it mean to be a leader? There are so many ways you can answer that, but I’ve got a story. I was the manager of our Web team, and I was asked by our manager to merge our Web and studio teams under a Digital Services umbrella. I am having my first one-on-one meeting with my employees. I had worked with this person for several years prior, in a different role. The first thing they ask me is, “What will you do for me as my manager?” That’s a fascinating question.

A lot of managers might say, “What are you going to do for me? How will you get through these projects? ” But no, they asked what I would do for them. I thought it was a perfect question, and it goes along with this quote by Tony Dungy, from the NFL: “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members perfect.” A leader doesn’t get the most projects done, they’re not the fastest, they don’t come in under budget, they don’t boost enrollment. They make the lives of their people better. If you do that, all the other stuff that your boss, VP, or whatever wants falls into place.

That’s a tall order. How do you do that? How do you make the lives of your people better? You get to know them as people. You all are people, I’m a person, our team members are people, we are all human beings. We have backgrounds, we have stories, we have triumphs, we have issues. Get to know the stories of your people, how they’re motivated, what their personalities are, what their preferences are. You will build a connection, compassion, and trust, empathy, and respect.

This is from a bigger article on the Harvard Harvard Business Review. You can click the link to read the whole thing. “Love is not a word you often hear uttered in hallways or conference rooms, and yet it has a strong influence on Outcomes. This is most important. A lot of people shy away from admitting the human element. It is okay to create an emotional culture with your team that you acknowledge, the background, this the stories, and everything that comes with the people when they come into the office. How do you show your team that you love them? It would be much easier to be the business-minded, hard-nosed leader that cares about the bottom line.

There are ways to show them how you love them. In my office, I absolutely care about my people, my team, and I get to know them. Some have families, some have pets. They have different hobbies. Some like to curl, some knit, some like comic books. You name it, they got it. It’s all neat, and I care about them. Half of this is dedicated to work, half of this is dedicated to the personal side of things.

There are so many ways you can do this. I also want to stress that there’s not necessarily a right answer to this. You all have different personalities and comfort levels. Some of you are more shy, some are more open. Some are more private. You need to be authentic. I want to raise an awareness and give you the green light to do this. Some of you may say, “Isn’t this simply being a good human being?” Heck, yes, it is. It is definitely being a good human being.

If you don’t want to take my word for it as opinion, there are many articles out there touching on this, arguing that a good or successful leader is one that brings the human element into the workplace. Read other articles. Read about this. This is a hip trendy, but more, it is real, and this is the way things should go. I’m raising awareness and giving you a green light. Let’s get into some theory.

Successful leaders are able to motivate. We’ll talk about motivation. If you can understand how your people are motivated as a manager, , as a manager, there are a few things you can do. You can set you up their job, their tasks, how they communicate which each other, in a way that makes their jobs more rewarding, more motivating, and your employees will be more happy and more successful.

There are three people here. The person on the left is jumping for joy. Perhaps they are motivated by achievement. The person in the middle, with the trophy, may be motivated by getting attention. The person on the right, with the megaphone, may be the leader, may be in charge. They may be motivated by leadership. Three different people on a team may be motivated in different ways. There are many theories of motivation. I will touch on three. The first is need-based. We all have basic needs engrained within us. As a manager, you can help fulfill those needs.

You might be familiar with this, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are five basic needs ingrained in us as humans. As a manager, or leader, you can account for these. The first is physiological. We have a need for a comfortable working environment. Hopefully, that is built into the job. The second is a need for safety. You need safe working  conditions. But even the job stability, the job security, fulfills that safety need. Hopefully, you’re already fulfilling that with the jobs for your employees. The third need is a social need. On some level, we all have a social need.  Some may be more or social, some may be less social. That’s okay. Build in teamwork and cooperation. The fourth is a theme. We all need to hear praise and recognition. We all need to hear that. The last is self-actualization. We want power, authority, autonomy, and some ability to make decisions.

As a manager, you can build that into the job. You can empower. You can invite employees into decision-making. Do that. It will make the job more rewarding and motivating. That was an older theory, which you can boil down into three categories. We need authority and affiliation, to achieve, and we need authority and affiliation. Think of your employees and how you interact with them. Are their needs being met? If not, adjust. I want to talk about cognitive processes and behavioral theory. Your employees will perceive different things in their job. This boils down to equity and expectations. If there is a perception of unfairness or inequity, if some people are not giving as much effort and that’s going unpunished, or people feel they will not be rewarded for their efforts, adjustments may happen. People may decrease their input, decrease their output, or become withdrawn or less motivated. We need to make sure there is a perception of equity in the workplace.

Some managers shy away from things. There’s that one employee who is treated different, and they might go unchecked. Don’t do that, because, again, if there are inequities, or the inequity is going unpunished, it will hurt your team. You can read more about the importance of equity within the workplace in the link I’ve provided you here. This is a school that you, as managers, tool that you, as managers, have in your toolbox to . Goals direct attention, they allow your employees to attention in and pursue something. Try to accomplish that. They can set their own strategies.

Do goal-setting. When you do goal-setting, it should be specific, measurable,  achievable, timely . . . You want goals to be achievable. If it’s not achievable, the goal will not be accepted by the employee, and then it’s not motivating. For example, if I ask my programmer to increase to enrollment by five percent,  they will not find that achievable, and it will not be motivating. However, if I have statistics, I can help this goal. be perceived as acceptable, and, thus, motivating. I ask my employees to bring two or three goals, and I do that make sure they’re SMART, and we talk about them.

We do goal check-ins. In November, we will close that set, and start a new set of goals. You can do additional check-ins. If you’re not doing goal-setting, do this. The third is intentional job design. The thought process is that, through the job design, as a manager, you can affect how motivating it is. This is called job characteristic theory.

There are five points or characteristics to jobs that we should be thinking about. The first is skill variety. How much variety is in the job? The more variety, the more motivating it can be. I have a Web project manager on my staff, outstanding at managing Web projects. They wanted more variety in their job, and they have experience in crisis communication. We got them training, got them added to the crisis team, they love it, have skill variety to their job, and it makes their job more satisfying and motivating. The second point is task identity. How visible is the outcome. I have a photographer who catalogs 20,000 photos every year. They go on websites, social media, print pieces . . . She can’t know all of them.

To increase the task identity, I show her some of the really beautiful websites that our Web project managers make using her photos. I let her know when her photos are shared 20,000 times on Facebook. Now she wants to get more photos. As a manager, you can improve that. Thirdly is task significance. How does the task affect the lives of others. Programmers are busy hacking away at code, making the websites load fast. We get feedback from parents about how easy the website is to use. We use the feedback, because we affect the parents and how they get that info. I get that to the programmers, because otherwise they won’t have a clue.

A fourth is autonomy. You have a lot of control as a manager to build more autonomy into the job. The fifth is feedback. The worker needs the knowledge of results. They should have access to the results. Give that back to your team. If you can build these into the job, you can close that gap as a manager, and the employees will be happy, successful, and motivated. You can read more about this theory online. There are many ways your employees can be motivated. As a manager, how do you learn them? Know them. Have conversations. Find out their motivations. You can also observe. Or, you can ask them directly, through a rating system.

I’ve got five things here related to motivation, and seven more here. You can have each employee rate them in order of most to least motivating, and find out more directly how they are motivated. Some are more motivated intrinsically. They want money, a title, and authority. Some of them want to be creative. You will find there will be a variety of ways they will be motivated. Good to know. You take this information and you apply it in two ways. As a manger, you can apply it globally or individually. My team is motivated by a challenge. We love achievement. As a manager, I can take advantage of this.

We make a goal monitor. We are converting an old website to another one. We see who can help us get to the target faster. I can use this tool and have fun with it, and we can be successful. This is me with our former frontend developer. He was very interested in learning more on the business side of things. We wanted to get more into management leadership. That’s what motivated him. Knowing that, we made a plan to do a poster presentation at a conference. I had him manage the project and give him a public speaking opportunity. It made his job more motivating. While we were doing this, he finished all the code for our website redesign, and did a wonderful job.

Apply motivation at the team and individual levels. The next topic I want to talk about is emotional intelligence. A good leader will understand and work through their emotions as well as those of others. Here is a definition of emotional intelligence (EI). It’s the capacity to be aware of and express one’s emotions . . .

There’s a lot of ways you can look at emotional intelligence, but this model breaks it down. If you’re emotionally intelligent as a leader or manager, you need to do these four things. You need to perceive emotions, those for yourself and of others. You need to understand what they are. You have to tell the difference between anger, frustration, sadness, whatever it may be. And then, use that information to guide the conversation, guide the thinking. You need to manage things to move towards your goal. The example I have with this . . . 

I led a project where we were redesigning, upgrading, and refreshing the content on a website. I was super happy. Then I get a phone call from a client upset about this one webpage. They’re upset, it gets me in a panic mode immediately, right? But I want them to talk it through. Whenever you’re upset, talking through it or venting can help. There wasn’t an issue with the webpage. It was a political issue. It was internal to them. Me, as a business person, I don’t really like to deal with that stuff. I don’t have time for that. And so, I’m instantly frustrated and annoyed. And so, my goal is to work through it as quickly as we can, but still make them happy and keep the relationship good. I let them brainstorm ideas how to make the webpage better, we agree one some things, and work through it, and everyone is happy. We don’t want to want to come to a happy solution in a good amount of time. Pay attention, work through emotions, keep an eye on the goal and work through it. That’s, in action, what good emotional intelligence is.

Empathy is a big part of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others. And so, when I was talking to that admissions person, iI was thinking, if they had issues or some backstory about a page, they might be annoyed if the marketing person didn’t know or care about it or whatever. I did try to put myself in their shoes. Maybe I didn’t agree with it. I’m not saying you always have to agree with the other side. But if you think about and appreciate it, you can react differently and better to it. I had an article here. You probably all have that person or persons, not necessarily on your team, but maybe a client you have to work with. If you display them empathy, it makes the working relationship, the project, the things you do with them more bearable.

Read that, think about empathy. Try to think about where the other  person is coming from. That will help you as a manager and as a leader. There is a lot of research about how empathy leads to good results, in the workplace, for sure, and in your personal life.

Practice empathy. There’s an article here about how emotionally intelligent people are able to display empathy. You can read more about that as well. I want to talk about the personal side of things, personal styles. We have a lot of preferences about how to communicate or problem-solve. Problem-solving is a big part of our lives, which is why we have jobs.

The Colby test refocuses on focuses on problem-solving, how you attack and solve them as a person. You fall in one of four buckets. The first is a fact-finder. When they are presented with a problem, they want all the facts and information before they move forward. The second is a quickstart. You want to deal with it right away, do something. For me, I’m a fact-finder. I love data and research. My boss is a quickstart. Who gets started doing stuff? We’re kind of opposite. There is room for conflict, then. My boss starts doing stuff, and I may become annoyed, because he doesn’t have the information yet. I’m getting the information, and he’s like, “Why are you doing nothing?” This test allows you to acknowledge the differences. You can mitigate and prevent conflict. If you’re high in follow-through, you use previous models and examples, other methods of problem-salvages that solving that were successful in the past, and you move forward with them.

The final mode is the implementor. You get your hands dirty and build things. I’m a fact-finder, but if I don’t have that time, I and the follow-through. My boss a likes to also tinker with things. If you know your team, as a manager, you can work together better. If you can learn the communication styles on your conflict, when you have two people with different styles. thoughtful. I like to be pretty thoughtful. I like to take my time. If I’ve got an employee that’s reactive, and they come storming over to my desk, that is another opportunity for styles. Some are reactive in the moment. Some are together. We have different communication You can also make your team aware, so they can work better helpful to understands the differences of, as a manager. Your team will have a variety of problem-solving styles that are the middle and avoid conflict and work well together. posites.

Because we know this about each other, we can meet in If you can acknowledge the different styles, you will be more successful. This is all an extension of our personality. That means there is not a right way. You can and should value the differences on your team, embrace them, because there is not one right way. Through all of this, emotional intelligence, communication, empathy, practice makes better. Be aware of your shortcomings and try to make improvements. Trust each. other. Be kind. Value the differences. Do all of these things. The last thing I want to touch on is structure. A good manager or leader will create a system, step back, and let their team be successful. I manage our Web team.

We’ve got different jobs, roles, and people, professional staff and students. I manage a studio team. I have a fairly big team with a variety of preferences and personalities. I needed to create structure with the team. I spent a lot of time trying to balance meetings and determine the flavors of meetings. Some meetings are at the full digital service level, I have subgroup meetings, and I have one-on-one check-ins. It seems like a lot of meetings, and maybe it is, but my job is to be there for my people.

Part of the way I am there for them is to have meetings. This is okay and I embrace that. I want to make sure that my team is connected and has time to work well together. Other tools that we use besides meetings are monday. com as our project management tool, and we have standards for how to use that. We use Groove, and we have standards and mechanisms for using that. Each project that comes through, we have a part for it. Each member has a board for their projects. We have a weekly meeting where we go through them and update each other. We have a fun rewards system. When we complete these cards, we get a sticker.

If someone went above and beyond, or dealt with an especially difficult client, you can nominate someone for bonus stickers. It’s fun. It’s important to create structure with freedom. You don’t want to overdo it. Make some structure, then take a step back and observe things. We had a couple of meetings where we felt like we had nothing for them, so we got rid of them. Make adjustments, listen to your team. A good manager will lay the groundwork for success, then get out of the way and let the team shine. If you don’t have enough structure, you will have indecision, infighting, and you don’t get things done.

My wife and I were trying to start a family via adoption, and I got a phone call saying there was a baby girl we could adopt. I had to step away from work for two months. We got compliments about the team, how they were able to keep the ball going. I have the greatest team there is. But probably some of that success comes with structure. Do team bonding. We did a mine smelting tour, a mining thing. You feed your team, you get them out of work. Do team bonding. Where you can, share your strategy.

Move the curtain, be open, and share things where possible. Empower your employees and value them. Shine the light on them, especially in higher ed, because sometimes, the light isn’t always there for them. Be a good model and a good teacher. A good manager will prepare their employees for the next thing, the bigger and the better. Graduate your employees; get them ready for bigger and better things. If you can have leadership, emotional intelligence, and these other two, you will be a good manager.

Please evaluate via the website. This is the first time I’ve done this talk. Please give me feedback. I’ve got business cards up front to keep in touch. Do I have time for questions?

All right, I’ve got a few minutes. Who’s got some questions? You guys are also welcome to connect with me on Twitter, e-mail me, LinkedIn, anything.

Female Speaker: This is a general question. How do you deal with conflict within a team, like within people you manage?

Joel C. Vertin: The question is how I deal with conflict across team members. There are probably two forms of conflict. In the moment, there is conflict happening. Then I step back and notice an issue. In the moment conflict, I try to acknowledge different points of view, while deescalating different emotions. You don’t necessarily have to solve the conflict in that moment. But getting people to settle down, acknowledge some things, maybe you can and later have a conversation about it—that’s what I would do. Where you see an issue, or one of the people in the conflict mentions the issue. Person A, I will talk to them about what I think the viewpoint of person B might be, helping them to get into person B’s shoes and , displaying some empathy. Then I go over, in a different one-on-one, to person B and talk about person A. I’ll say, “I’ve seen what you’ve said about this,” and I try to get them to have some empathy and get into the head of person A. Then I step back and see if change happens. Then we can If there’s a behavior change, we can move forward. If not, I might say directly that there is an issue. Again, I want to— Anybody else?

Female Speaker: You talked a little about communication styles. Do you have any advice for honoring other people’s communication styles but maybe setting appropriate  boundaries . . . ?

Joel C. Vertin: How do you deal with or manage the different communication styles? You don’t want to just fully cater to that other style. I’m all about trying to meet in the middle. To me, some of it is, what is the deadline of the situation? If there’s a deadline coming up, it’s less about which style and more about, we’ve got to get to the goal in hand. Otherwise, I will try to maybe respect their things, whatever their communication preference is, but then I will talk to them about it, and brainstorm, what can we do about this other thing? I try to meet in the middle. I do a lot of e-mails off-hours, because I have a family. When my little girl goes to bed, I can get some stuff done. I learn who is cool with getting e-mails at nine and who is not. To meet halfway, I write the e-mails at nine, but I have an add-on that doesn’t send the e-mail until the next day. I talk to people about it. Sometimes, I will accidentally fire it off and not schedule it. I let people know they don’t have to respond at that hour time. I do the best I can. I don’t want them to think, Joel is not going to respond . Any more questions?

Male Speaker: Any more questions? All right, well, thank you, Joel. [Applause]

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