Coleman praises VOICES volunteers
Voices of the Staff celebrated its first anniversary with network group presentations before President Mary Sue Coleman, who praised participants for seeking creative ideas to improve work life around the University.
"It helps us be re-energized," Coleman said. "I encourage you to keep coming forward with these ideas." Coleman heard from the volunteers May 15 at the second annual Voices of the Staff meeting at Palmer Commons.
To support a University goal of encouraging staff to take the bus to reduce parking congestion, Fred Hammond, senior auditor and Parking and Transportation group spokesman, said some staff members have a stigma about riding the bus. Coleman agreed, adding this must be challenged to boost ridership
"We have to get serious about such things," Coleman said. She volunteered that when using the bus, it can also be frustrating if one is unsure about the schedule and does not know when the next bus is coming. The Parking and Transportation group suggested creating more heated bus shelters to encourage ridership in winter.
Other group suggestions included:
• Faculty and Staff Communication: This group successfully ran a mini-workshop on creating high-quality connections between staff and faculty members, working with Ross School of Business Professor Jane E. Dutton, an expert in the establishment of high-quality connections and relationships at work. The team also is working to extend the new workshop to more campus audiences, and to provide useful information for faculty members when their roles include supervision of staff.
• Career Development: "This work has shown that a hallmark of a world class organization is a strong and comprehensive career development program supporting their staff," the group reported, adding that career and staff development supports recruitment and retention and provides a value and a resource for the University. The group is surveying 100 organizations for career development programs as a benchmark for U-M.
• Health and Wellness: This group set a primary focus on work/life balance issues. The committee is collecting information to help address potential barriers to work/life balance issues. The group has also consulted with the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative and collaborated on a health interest survey planned for later this year.
• Recognition and Performance Management: Looking at U-M and other organizations, this group is working to determine the components of a great performance management system and tools to support it, saying recognition supports high performance.
• Rewards and Benefits: This group met with Benefits Office staff and learned how we compare to peer institutions. The group also learned about the annual benefit design process, and met with representatives from the current dental plan vendor to discuss design and coverage issues and to explore options.
"The first year of Voices truly underscored the value of careful reflection for positive influence in our community," said Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources. "The Voices network groups studied issues, talked with colleagues and administrators and, most importantly, listened very carefully so they could hone their suggestions to a shape that really fit the issue at hand. I think that's why our recent survey of Voices members showed a marked increase in the number of members who now believe that their ideas are truly being heard. More of that kind of inspired idea generation is my greatest expectation for the next year of Voices and each year beyond."
There are nearly 120 Voices volunteers serving on six committees, to represent 25,000 University staff members.
"I'm hoping to see we have the University's ear; so far it's been very positive," said Guy Provenza, senior administrative assistant in Community Health Services and new member of the Voices Recognition and Performance committee.
Shanna Jessee, graduate program coordinator, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, College of Engineering, and Voices Career Development committee member, said she went to her supervisor and asked to volunteer for Voices for the opportunity to network and to offer opinions. "There is no one issue; I just in general wanted to know more different areas and just be aware," she said.
Generally, volunteers who participated during the first year agreed it was encouraging that there is a mechanism in place for U-M leadership to hear staff ideas.
Coleman said she agreed with Voices volunteers that creative and innovative ideas spotted outside the University could be applied to improving life at the University. "I'm very pleased you've taken that attitude," she said. "I don't mind imitating at all if it can make the University a more humane and a better place."
Voices of the Staff is a systematic approach to gather the thoughts, suggestions and questions of U-M employees to enhance engagement, commitment and great outcomes. The effort was inaugurated in April 2004 by Thomas and a project management team, who began conducting research to determine the methods other organizations have used to engage employees.