Articles by LDOC team members
The learning, development and organizational culture (LDOC) team develops, curates and facilitates learning opportunities for employees at Virginia Commonwealth University. Read on tosee what they've been writing about.
By Jan Nelson
As leaders, the relationships with our employees and peers form the foundation of engagement and ultimately productivity. The world we help create and influence depends upon the focus of our conversations.
Our ability to connect with others has changed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The means by which we connect is different and new. We are all experiencing great uncertainty, we have shifted to a remote working situation and as we personally and professionally grapple with the challenges presented by an unprecedented health crisis, calls for physical distancing and the shift to a “new normal” ring out.
As leaders, we are called to make sure that we, our peers and our employees:
- Have the technology, materials and supplies they need;
- Are able to make connections with one another and share resources for doing good and important work;
- Know how to navigate through new technologic and other systems we’re employing; and
- Receive the same level of caring and support that we exchanged when all were physically present in the workplace.
As we navigate through these and other “new normals”, there is an opportunity to strengthen connections and support through the use of Appreciative Questions.
The tone, structure and focus of our questions offer the potential to impact wellbeing, possibilities and the ability to flourish. Questions are our most readily available and powerful tool to impact our circumstances, conversations, and stories.
When checking in remotely – coaching, directing, collaborating — taking the time to clearly focus the topics of conversation in a strength-based, positive direction can yield powerful questions that will nurture the wisdom and creativity in those you work with and support.
The active surfacing of good news – of opportunities, strengths, achievements, visions, and innovations, is not an avoidance of reality; it is the best way to IMPROVE reality.
“What is going wrong?”
“What are the challenges?”
“How can we solve this problem”?
Pose questions that draw on what you and others already know how to do and focus toward what is possible:
“What expertise and experience do we have that applies to the current situation?” “What is going well?What do we want more of?”
By asking the right questions, you can discover strengths and resources as well as move
yourself and others in a direction of positive energy and creative solutions.
- Ask for ideas, stories, and each person’s experience around solutions for our current challenges. Find the knowledge and wisdom people already have.
- Ask powerful, open, solution- focused questions that help others find answers and have insights. Questions are our best tool.
- Ask what people want more of and what they recommend, rather than just settling for a description of the problems.
- Reinforce good ideas with praise and affirmation. Show Appreciation.
In this time of change and challenge, you can choose the kind of conversations you are having with your colleagues, team and direct reports.
Ways to use Appreciative Questions:
Get team meetings off to a great start – the way the meeting begins will set the tone for how they will proceed and for what will be accomplished. Begin your next team meeting with a round table discussion. Ask everyone to share answers to a positive question. After the sharing is complete, ask folks to reflect on what they heard and learned in the process. Starting meetings with stories of success and accomplishment will set the tone for further success during your time together.
- As you reflect on the shift that has occurred, and the changes that are happening in your world, in your professional AND/OR your personal life, tell me about one shift that generates hope – that is shifting us to a positive outcome.
- In what ways are you and your peers responding to this new situation, at work and in our community, that is moving us to a positive change in the future?
1:1 Meetings – Coach for high performance – When people are reminded of their capabilities and strengths they are more likely to build upon them. All too often, leadership conversations focus on what’s gone wrong and what needs to improve. Helping team members recall their high performance pattern, (the habits, relationships and situations that contribute to their success) and feel a sense of self-confidence is a great way to enhance performance. Identify one or two positive questions and use them to begin your next 1:1. Listen carefully to identify the habits, relationships and situations that contribute to your direct reports success. Repeat back what you heard – ask how these success patterns can be applied to the current situation and challenges at hand.
- What is it about you and the way you approach your current work projects that support you in demonstrating excellence in your outcomes and deliverables? What effect do these skills and behaviors have on you and your “Sense of self”? What effect do they have on your peers? In our team? In VCU as a whole?
- How do you learn best? Tell me about a recent time when you learned something very challenging. What was the outcome of that learning? What contributed to your success?
Transform “Problem Talk” to “Possibility Talk” – Problem talk leads to problem thinking and acting; it includes conversations about who or what caused the “problem” and who is to blame. More time is spent looking backwards, trying to understand the problem, than looking forward to explore positive possibilities. Instead, use a positive question to transform a difficult conversation. For example, if one of your team members complains about lack of cooperation from another person or group, you might ask a positive question about teamwork, cooperation or shared vision, to shift to an exploration of possibilities and solutions.
- When have you been involved in an effective, inclusive process to address and overcome a challenge? What did you most value about that process? How did everyone in that process relate to one another? How did participation improve the outcome?
- Tell me about a time when you worked on a challenge with others and you are proud of what you accomplished. What happened, what approach did you take, what made the success possible?
Build Your High Performance Team – Teamwork is important and in order to operate as a high performing team, people need to get to know one another – their values, their personal aspirations, and especially how they work when at their best. You can foster collaborative teamwork by asking positive questions and asking team members to share their answers out loud with one another. Allow time for each person to reflect on what matters to them in their working relationships – ask others to listen actively, and then to identify themes and list the resources that members of the team collectively bring to the work and to their collective performance goals.
- Think about and share the highlights of a memorable, positive team experience that you have had. A high point where you felt really effective, energized and proud.
- What are the qualities in our team that most foster enthusiasm, information sharing and collaboration towards our common goals? What makes our team a success? What is it about you that helps make it great?
- What can we do to foster winning collaboration at an even higher and more consistent level, throughout our team?
You find what you are looking for:the questions you ask will determine the answers that you get. questions offer great power to deepen your connections and support you and your team as you navigate through the changes and make your way into life, giving possibilities for the future.
“Be Patient, and try to love the questions themselves. Live the questions now. You will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer”.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
- Diana Whitney, Amanda Trosten- Bloom, and Kae Rader; Appreciative Leadership (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010).
- Jane Magruder Watkins and Bernard Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2011). See http://appreciativeinquiry.case. edu/intro/timeline.cfm
Full title: Staying Healthy at Home: How to maintain a balance between work and home while attending video calls from your craft room
By: Leslee Gensinger
Yes, you read that right. I am sitting in my craft room, what was once a sacred space, working. Instead of paint tubes, brushes and canvases, my craft table is now covered with monitors, a laptop, power cords, pens and notepads. I have gotten a stack of books at just the right height so that the camera on my laptop doesn’t highlight my double-chin and I am three, or maybe four, weeks into this work from home situation.
If you are anything like me, you didn’t mind the reprieve that an occasional telework day provided. A time to focus, an opportunity to isolate from the hectic office, a space for fewer or no interruptions. Some of you may have dreamt your entire life of being able to work solely from home. Either way, our normal has changed. Our work days are different. Our home life has been impacted, and for the foreseeable future, we won’t have any “real” social interactions. So what should we do to maintain some balance? How do we stay healthy, both mentally and physically, when our entire world seems bound by the same four walls?
Never fear, my friend! I have done the hard work of scouring the interwebs to find some great articles on working from home and best practices, and I am going to summarize them here. If you want to read my source material, it is going to be linked below, but if you just want the high points, keep reading:
Start the day right: Whatever it is that means you get up on the right side of the bed, do it. Workout in the morning, shower, put on something OTHER THAN pajamas, do your hair or makeup, eat breakfast or get that first cup of joe. Anything that signals to your body and your brain that the work day has begun.
Established routines help you establish boundaries around your space and time. By having a stated or specific work start time, and a ritual that reinforces it, you are better able to shift gears from home to work, and at the end of the day, back home again.
Set up your work space: A designated workspace was recommended time and time again in the reviewed materials. Whether you work in a single-family home, or an apartment, a townhome or a condo, find a space that you can sacrifice for work. This may mean a small investment in finding a desk, a good chair, a standing workspace, the right lighting, ergonomically comfortable tools and then setting boundaries around when and how they will be used.
I gave up my craft space. I have other areas of my home that could have worked, but it was a good craft space for many reasons…thus it also makes a good workspace: it is isolated and quiet from the rest of the house, it has great lighting, I don’t mind if it gets a little messy (I work better in chaos), and it is far enough away from our social spaces that I am not easily distracted.
Build some boundaries: I’ve already mentioned several times that you are going to need boundaries. But, let’s consider what kind and how to use them!
Spacial: Well, you’re going to have to set up that workspace, see above, we’ve touched on that!
Familial: If you also have a spouse, partner or roommate working from home, and/or kids who are homeschooling, it may be very difficult to set boundaries. If you can though, you will find yourself doing better at work, and feeling less stressed or anxious by the ones you love the most. Sit down and have a conversation about what is permissible and what is not. It gives you something to refer to later when there is a lapse in memory!
Personal: There’s only so much you can do. Don’t forget that “no” is an important word in the lexicon and you have the freedom to use it. Personal example: My hubby is working from home too. On day one, he asked what I was fixing for lunch. I have NEVER prepared his lunch for work. So I told him I wasn’t and that he was responsible for his own hunger during work hours.
Work-wise: Boundaries with work are important as well. Use the do not disturb on your devices to establish work hours and out of office hours. Talk with your team about what situations require what level of communication and how to handle emergencies vs information that can wait to the next day.
Plan your day…but be flexible: The material I read also recommended that you establish things like work-lists, check-lists, daily tasks, etc. I believe that these are important, especially if you are juggling multiple tasks or responsibilities. It has been famously said that if you fail to plan, you should plan to fail. The plan is important , AND, according to common wisdom, so is flexibility. How do you reconcile these two? How do you do both?
Planning and flexibility are not mutually exclusive. Agendas can be changed, outcomes can be adjusted, workloads can be rebalanced, due dates can be moved up. If your plan accommodates flexibility, you will lessen the fear of failure or the stress of impending change. Change is good, it is your friend, and if you plan for change and all that comes with it, you will be ready to tackle it head on!
A note here about planning: be sure to plan mental and physical breaks throughout your day. Even if it simply stands as a reminder that you need to walk away from your desk for a minute, get a glass of water, do some blood-moving stretches and rest your eyes after looking at a screen all day. Some experts recommend hourly breaks, some less frequent. Find what works for you and get moving.
Take care of yourself: These guidelines seem simple, but it won’t take long before you begin to see the wear and tear on yourself if you are not practicing self-care. This could be as simple as making sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet while you are at home. Having such close proximity to the pantry, refrigerator and stove may seem like a temptation too great to bear. But if you are aware of what you are putting in your body and what it means to fuel, you will be in a better place.
Other advice says to sit down to eat…don’t stand, you’re not in that big of a hurry! Get out of the house at least once a day: take a walk, sip your coffee on the front porch, grill dinner on the sunnier days. Self-care also means exercise, reading or other means of entertainment, meditation, and looking for alternative ways to connect with people. Call that friend you’ve been meaning to call. Reach out to a relative you’ve not spoken to in some time. Find a community at work to connect with. Don’t cut yourself off!
Out of the Office: When it came to the end of a workday in my regular office, I would do things like shut down my computer, clean out my mugs, make sure my trash was disposed of, turn off lights, lock doors and the like. By establishing these same types of rituals, you are creating a sense of leaving work for the day, even if you are just getting up from your kitchen table.
Maybe a change of clothes, or kicking off your shoes is all you need to transition. Maybe you need a more complex ritual to shut down. Just keep in mind, the fact that you are working from home doesn’t mean you have to work all the time you are home. This is another important part of boundaries, self-care and planning.
What else can you do? Two things that stood out to me were to learn new modes of communication and to not sacrifice face-to-face communications. The technology is out there to connect us while remaining healthy and safe.
This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways to stay healthy while working from home. Keep looking for what works for your learning and working style. Use what resonates with you and share what helps you be successful both professionally and personally. Pick one or two things to start and begin making changes today. You will see the impact almost immediately!
Bonus: stay up to date during the COVID-19 crisis with curated and relevant wellness and work-life balance information and tips at https://ramstrong.vcu.edu/covid-19/. The site also links to a number of VCU supported facebook group pages.
By Jen Bagley
Emotional agility is one’s ability to face their thoughts, emotions, and events in a manner that doesn’t steer them in negative ways, but instead inspires them to show the best of themselves. This is important because if we take the time to recognize our feelings before reacting to them, we’re able to do so in a way that matches up with our values, and in a way that reflects our best, most authentic selves.
Here’s an example of this at play in the workplace:
Aimee, an unhappy employee, thinks, “none of my teammates appreciates my input,” which then becomes, “there’s no sense in me sharing my thoughts during today’s staff meeting because my teammates don’t value my opinion.”
Aimee then proceeds to not speak up during the staff meeting. By not sharing her thoughts and opinions during the staff meeting, Aimee is probably not acting in accordance with what she values – being a contributing team member. But because Aimee didn’t pause and think about her feelings before reacting, she behaved in a way that didn’t align with what she values. And she likely didn’t feel any better after the staff meeting.
If we were to flip this, and Aimee took the time to think through her emotions before reacting, she could have come to the outcome that she is happier when she speaks up in meetings because it aligns with her values of being a contributing team member. And it also reflects on Aimee in a much more positive way because she is being her true self, in a way that will make Aimee more successful in her role as well.
If Aimee were to take the time to think about the emotions she is experiencing at times like this, accept them, and then respond in a way that matches her values, she would be exercising emotional agility. And that’s what each of us needs to practice in order to be as successful and happy in both our professional and personal lives.
The key takeaways when considering development of emotional agility are:
- Identify the negative emotions and thoughts;
- Take the time to address and acknowledge their power and impact;
- Focus on your true values and make an intentional commitment to
act out of those values.
Given the challenging time we are currently experiencing, I wanted to include information on how emotional agility can help us manage stress. Rather than me speaking to this, I’ve included a link to a video with Dr. Susan David, a Harvard psychologist who has researched and studied emotional agility for over 20 years. I strongly encourage you to watch this short video. It’s worth the five minutes. How does emotional agility help with stress? (YouTube video with Dr. Susan David).
And, be sure to check out the resources linked below for additional information on emotional agility. They range from articles to a helpful infographic on how to stop unhappy thoughts at work.
- Emotional Agility (Harvard Business Review article by Dr. Susan David and Christina Congleton)
- What is Emotional Agility? (Harvard Business Review Ascend article adapted from the book Emotional Agility by Susan David and Christina Congleton)
- How to Stop Unhappy Thoughts Affecting You At Work (Infographic by hppy)
Be well and practice emotional agility. It will be worth the time and effort!
By Shana Ryman
5 Reasons to Create a LinkedIn Account (or use your existing one better)
- Build connections. Especially over the past few months, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and change. I like to think of LinkedIn as the professional version of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever other social media platforms you may access. With a few clicks you can connect to colleagues, friends, and other individuals. This is not the place to post food pics.
- Gather information. Posting questions to different LinkedIn groups offers more insightful feedback, i..e., I had a question about how to better teach a group of TESOL adult learners. I posted a question in my ‘The TESOL Connection’ group and received responses from all over the world on how to approach the challenge.
- Show off your learning. Thanks to our VCU subscription to LinkedIn Learning, you can post any courses or videos you watch for your connections to see on your page. This shows which skills you are developing in real time and is a great way to stay up to date.
- Tap into professional resources. There’s an array of groups on LinkedIn. The beauty of connecting with professional organizations allows you to network and learn. For example, I have connected to SHRM since I am interested in human resource development.
- Speaking of networking… if you or someone you know is job searching or doing salary comparisons, LinkedIn has a powerful job search tool where you can highlight a job title and location. There is also a salary tool that can help you to “discover your earning potential.”
With these and so many more options on LinkedIn, why not create a profile today and get connected? Want to learn more? If yes, join our lunch and learn where I’ll be chatting with VCU’s very own Cody Rogalski, Assistant Director, Health & STEM, about creating and utilizing LinkedIn Friday June 19 @ noon. The session will be recorded.