The Next Big Question


Episode 13
Hosted by: Drew Lazzara and Liz Ramey

James Dudek

Director of Organizational Strategy

University of California - Berkeley

James has a passion for organizational development, organizational strategy and change management along with extensive experience achieving organizational objectives in a constantly changing and complex environment.

Anne Marie Richard

Associate CIO & Director of Student Affairs IT

University of California - Berkeley

Anne Marie’s background includes more than 20 years of professional experience in IT leadership and management, program design, research, and teaching, in a range of settings including higher education, public agencies, and non-profit organizations.

How Can Leaders Build People-Centered Organizations?


It may seem obvious to place people at the center of your business strategy, but getting it right requires a long-term commitment and a sustaining culture. Anne Marie Richard and James Dudek of UC Berkeley embraced this commitment as they undertook a long term IT transformation. In this episode, Anne Marie and James share a case study in bringing together loosely organized teams, navigating a staff reduction and maintaining a persistent focus on the humanity of their workforce.

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Drew Lazzara (00:13):

Welcome to The Next Big Question, a weekly podcast with senior business leaders, sharing their vision for tomorrow, brought to you by Evanta, a Gartner company.

Liz Ramey (00:23):

Each episode features a conversation with C-suite executives about the future of their roles, organizations, and industries.

Drew Lazzara (00:32):

My name is Drew Lazzara.

Liz Ramey (00:34):

And I'm Liz Ramey. We're your co-hosts. So, Drew, what's the next big question?

Drew Lazzara (00:40):

Well, this week we're asking, how can leaders build people-centered organizations? It may seem obvious to place people at the center of your business strategy, but frankly, people are hard. Just ask my manager. People like me have expectations and feelings and connections to one another. We also have weaknesses. Getting the people piece right can make your strategy sing, but it requires deep, long-term commitment and a sustaining culture. 

Anne Marie Richard and James Dudek of UC Berkeley embraced this commitment as they undertook a long term IT transformation. Anne Marie is associate CIO and director of student affairs, IT at the university, while James serves as senior organizational strategist. In this episode, Anne Marie and James share a case study in bringing together loosely organized teams, navigating the daunting certainty of a staff reduction and maintaining an intentional, persistent focus on the humanity of their workforce. 

Before we sit down with James and Anne Marie, we'd like to take a moment to thank you for listening. To make sure you don't miss out on the next Next Big Question, subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Please also take a moment to rate and review the show, so we can continue to grow and improve. Thanks and enjoy. 

Anne Marie Richard and James Dudek, welcome to The Next Big Question. Thanks very much for being on the show this week.

James Dudek (02:14):

Thank you.

Anne Marie Richard (02:15):

Thanks for having us.

Drew Lazzara (02:16):

We're really excited to get this chance to speak with you both about the cultural transformation you successfully led, but I wanted to start by learning a bit more about your backgrounds because each of you took a somewhat unique path to your current roles. And I know those experiences and perspectives played a part in how you approached this initiative. Can you tell us a little bit about the route your careers have taken, and how you found yourselves in your current leadership roles?

Anne Marie Richard (02:42):

Yeah, I'm kind of unusual in IT in some ways in that I've been now in it for 10 years, but I really have had a, what I would consider a non-traditional or a non-linear path. Started my career actually in international human rights. And then I got into consulting with non-profit and public agencies. Then, I came back to UC Berkeley, my alma mater, and completed a PhD in education. And then, that kind of led me into higher education administration from where I got recruited into higher ed IT. So, the thing that I have found is that I came to this leadership role because there's been a thread throughout this whole journey, which is always that I'm very connected to the mission of where I'm working. And in this case, early on in my career, I think I realized that I wanted to truly embrace working for a purpose and with a desire to make the world a better place in whatever way I can. And now I find myself doing that in a student IT.

Liz Ramey (03:48):

That's great. James, what about you?

James Dudek (03:51):

Yes, thanks for having me. I started out my career at Berkeley, primarily like on the academic side, and I was in academic advising and academic program management. And I sort of grew my career at the institution, also a mission-driven individual like Anne Marie. And after I was in academic advising and program management for awhile, I sort of got more involved in educational policy and then systems analysis, which sort of led me to be a systems analyst on the student services project, a student service implementation project. And that sort of led to a consolidation of the IT group we're going to talk about today led to a chief of staff role. I've since sort of transitioned out of IT into a human resources group called people and culture on the Berkeley campus and organizational strategy. And I think the combining factor, the thing that's really been interesting to me throughout my career, is like, how do you build community? How do you build an intentional community of people and support the organization and the workforce? And seeing those threads play out has sort of been my professional sort of journey through all these different kinds of roles I've had on the Berkeley campus.

Liz Ramey (05:05):

That's great. I'm actually curious, as well, just to hear a little bit of background, and, you know, just understanding the landscape right now at Berkeley. How is IT in itself -- how is it organized there right now?

James Dudek (05:20):

Oh, I didn't know it was organized.

Anne Marie Richard (05:24):

Shame on you. We are organized in what we affectionately call a very decentralized model.

Liz Ramey (05:30):

Right.

Anne Marie Richard (05:31):

So, IT at UC Berkeley is multiple IT organizations that, you know, there's always been kind of a central IT organization and then various colleges and schools. And in my case, the entire division of student affairs has its own smaller, IT organizations, and we're all sort of federated. And one of the things that James in fact was really key in establishing early on is this ‘one IT movement’ that pulls together all of the different IT organizations at different – both the people and the organizational structures at different points throughout each year, so that there can be some commonality and standardization, while the different individual units still have an opportunity to be subject matter specific and tailor the different IT needs to the folks that are in our smaller business units.

Liz Ramey (06:27):

That's great. Okay. So, James, you are, you know, not only working with Anne Marie, but working with people like Jenn Stringer and others around campus kind of as the hub-and-spoke model?

James Dudek (06:39):

Yeah. I think one of our predecessors CIO's goals was to have more of a sense of what IT was on the campus and for people to know each other. At Berkeley, you know, all joking aside, we are organized, but we're loosely organized in all these different areas, as Anne Marie talked about. We have about 850 IT professionals across campus, but you know, your mileage may vary depending on where you work. You could be in the business school, the law school in IT, or you could be in central administration in IT, or student affairs IT, which is where Anne Marie is and where I was, which is also a dotted line to central IT. And so, there was this need to actually, if we couldn't be one organization, and there was no political willpower to have that, at least we could sort of to know each other and actually be able to recognize each other as we walk across campus, to be able to find those opportunities to collaborate together. So, the ‘one IT movement’ really began as a community building movement over the first three or four years. And now it's sort of taken on other elements of organizational strategy and support for the entire IT movement across the campus.

Drew Lazzara (07:43):

That's a great segue into this episode's big question: How can leaders build people-centered organizations? Large organizations in all industries struggle to bring together disparate business units that are loosely organized in just the way you've described IT at Berkeley. And I know that universities can be especially complex, sprawling, sometimes even traditional institutions, but you've both been able to successfully navigate huge challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to tackle this challenge from a cultural and people-focused perspective?

Anne Marie Richard (08:19):

Sure. I'll take a stab at that and then welcome James to, to chime in. About 10 years ago, student affairs IT was formed. We came together to build this new, consolidated IT organization within the larger campus IT landscape. And what that meant was we were pulling together staff from a whole bunch of different units across the campuses that came from – so teams that had different processes, practices, workplace values, different cultures. And we were pulling all of these groups together to form a new unit called student affairs IT. And we knew we needed to have that unit be a cohesive unit. 

We understood that you can't just throw a bunch of people together from different teams and become a strong organization. And we were really interested in taking people with their very strong and diverse skill sets, bringing them together, and acknowledging that we all needed to feel like we were part of a single organization now that had a clear vision and some clear strategic goals. So, culture was really, really significant for us because we were some of the early managers and leaders in this new organization. And we knew we needed to create a culture that embodied the vision and the goals and that people could really get behind and connect to regardless of what their role was in the organization.

James Dudek (09:50):

Yeah, and I think that along with what Anne Marie had said, some of the challenges of combining these were several different departments within student affairs and because of an ongoing consolidation efforts for the general campus, to sort of maximize efficiencies, these were completely distinct work groups with very different supervisors and different management styles. And you know, when we were all together in the same room, it became really apparent like how stark the difference was in cultures. 

We had one group that was a really avant-garde management culture, and everyone had professional development plans and regular evaluations. We had another group where there had been no personal reviews and evaluations of work for 20 years. So, you know, how you blend those together? It's not that people weren't doing good work. It was just the different management practices and what different organizations focused on were just literally all over the map. Not to mention pay levels, salaries, assignments, you know, all of that sort of stuff started coming out of, you had people who were level two who were making more than people who are level three, and you had, you know, there was just so much in the discovery process of being combined as an organization that we knew we had some very serious lifting, serious, heavy lifting to do just organizationally, but also culturally.

Liz Ramey (11:10):

Yeah, that's very understandable, especially, you know, across, different groups within a university because oftentimes, my understanding is that there can be a lot of different silos within all of the different colleges and whatnot.

Drew Lazzara (11:25):

James, you mentioned some of the various subcultures you were attempting to reconcile. Can you tell us a little bit about how you begin to unify those different threads into something more cohesive?

James Dudek (11:36):

Uh, absolutely. We started out in the very early days, even before Anne Marie joined the group, shortly before she joined the group, we just took all the managers, and we did a management assessment of all the managers in place. We knew the management team would change because the organization was being combined. We knew that the needs would change. And so, we actually brought in some folks to do a management assessment and a management evaluation to sort of talk about what people's competencies were. And then we talked about doing that for the entire organization, which we did. And I think we'll be talking about a little bit about some of the things that we did to build the culture around professional development and staff development within the entire team. But we started with a management group of just doing a level set and assessment of where we were as managers and leaders, and where our leader wanted us to be.

Anne Marie Richard (12:25):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that I would harken back to was the vision from our CIO or  ACIO at the time was that the management team was responsible for, and I love this phrase, she called it 'the care and feeding of the organization.' And so, you'll notice this was coming from the associate chief information officer. Wasn't starting with the technology, wasn't starting with systems and applications and tools, but was starting with this notion of the care and feeding of the organization. And so I think, I bring that up because where we were starting was that we had a group of human beings, who were co-workers and skilled, competent IT professionals, and that we needed to create an organization that would be setting up all of these individuals and their managers and their teams and work groups for success. I would say some of the key elements were creating and identifying some of those workplace values, really rallying around what it meant to be an organization and why all these different units had come together. And so, we needed to really create an organization that felt like it had a clear mission, clear goals. They were clear on who their kind of customer colleague client base was and what we were trying to achieve as a consolidated organization that might be more effective than the prior organizational structure. 

So, some of the culture was around, as James said before, kind of level setting and norming and saying, okay, we came from all these different places, and now we're one organization. Some of it was around workplace values. So maybe you came from a place where you never talked to your manager. Maybe you came from a place where you had a private office, and now you're in a more of an open workspace. Maybe you came from an organization that had only three customers that you ever really dealt with, and now you're working with a much broader set of constituents. 

And so, the idea was, how do we build a strong organization where people are highly engaged employees, they feel respected and good about where they work, and supported in their efforts, and have opportunities for growth and learning that come with the job? As well as – let's have some fun. You know, there was an element of kind of a startup mentality, which is funny to say, because, you know, you brought up earlier that universities are these big institutions, and we tend to be siloed and rarely are you going to compare a large institutional setting like that to the more dynamic, agile reality of startup organizations. But because we were building something new and pulling people in and everyone was rolling up their sleeves and often doing a couple of different things outside of their regular job, while we established this organization, it actually felt very dynamic. 

James Dudek (15:25):

When we pulled the group together, like there was a group of IT professionals who actually created the software. They actually wrote the software, like literally last century, to admit students. And so every year we go through the annual process as the university does of admitting, you know, a freshman class and a transfer class. And, of course, that's all back of the house. It's all systems based. And students are notified whether they get into the University of California, Berkeley or not. 

And one of the things we thought about early on was, well like having a celebration of the fact that we're admitting students. And the programmers, they would just turn the system on, and they would go home on the day that people were notified. And we were kind of like, well, don't you know that this is like the day that people find out that they're getting into college? Like this is like the day of dreams to come true when you find out? And no one had ever talked to them like that. They said, no, we just, we did our job, and we went home. 

So, there was no connection to the line of sight of what their work was, what their value was, how they were actually making dreams come true. And so, what we did is we actually organized a surprise, not a surprise party, but just this impromptu party with literally with champagne. And we used an LCD projector, and we put it on the wall, this website called College Confidential, where students gossip with each other about whether they got admitted to their college of choice. And the switch was flipped, as they say in IT, all these students, thousands and thousands of students started to learn whether they got into Berkeley at 4:00 PM. And they started like posting, ‘Oh my God, this is the greatest day,’ or, ‘Oh my God, I got into Berkeley, but I didn't get into UCLA.’ And the programmers were just completely overwhelmed. They had never seen the efficacy of their work. And it was just such a, such a moving like, this is a work you've been doing, but no one ever said to you, this is the work that you've been doing, like in a really, really profound way. And I think ever since then, it's just really showing the organization and ourselves how we really contribute to student success. We're not faculty, we're not teaching them, but we really do contribute to the success of students. And one of our colleagues who is no longer with the university would say, 'We're in the business of making dreams come true.' And I think that's true, even for IT people. 

Liz Ramey (17:44):

Yeah, that's, that's wonderful. You know, I love that mission base and especially, so we're talking about IT and making the work that they do really meaningful. And like, like you said, they have a profound effect on your students and your whole, your whole population. So, I'm curious to understand a little bit more about the strategies that you employed around change management. As you have talked about, this was a big initiative. There were, wow, there were so many groups brought together with so many different experiences, quite a bit of diversity of thought, diversity of experience. So, what sort of techniques, what sort of strategies did you employ for change management?

Anne Marie Richard (18:38):

I can start. And one of the things that I would share is that, as James referenced before, there was a really strong connection to the mission of the university and also for individuals to see how their work contributed to a greater whole. And that was new, that in and of itself was a change for a lot of people. And so, one of the things that we took on as a management team was thinking about strategizing to strengthen the organization and bring people together even more by creating a professional development and kind of organizational development plan. What became kind of the final version was a really lovely chart that had maybe seven or eight different domains, both technical and non-technical domains, where individual staff members could focus on growth and professional development. And this included all managers from the top of the organization to the most frontline staff. We all had the same rough outline for a professional development and a workforce strategy plan. 

And there was a lot of employee choice about how to develop within those different domains. And there was an expectation that every person in the organization would participate. So it was mandatory, and there was a lot of support built around it. And so, for example, we were representing the, we were the IT shop focused on the student experience at UC Berkeley. And so, one of the domains was student experience. So, you had IT employees being encouraged to attend things like student events or go to a student affairs division roundtable meeting, participate in something like decision day, which James was talking about earlier. 

And that was actually something that folks could do to satisfy the student experience part of their professional development plan, and then really tie themselves in personally to how their work was part of a larger whole. And by doing that, we set the groundwork for everyone at all levels of the organization to be having regular conversations with their managers, one-on-one and in our regular large organizational meetings, as well as performance conversations, to be talking about where we were going as an organization. And part of where we were going as an organization early on was to move from some of the legacy student systems that we supported and developed and ran to help set the university up, to move towards some more modern enterprise systems. And I think, James, you were going to talk a little bit about that plan for the workforce strategy.

James Dudek (21:45):

Yeah, thank you. It was funny that as soon as we formed as an organization, one of the first things that came down the pike is that those student systems that were built by our staff, which were fantastic and state of the art in the 1980s, were really falling apart. There were kind of like the administrative equivalent of Skylab to date myself, like chunks were coming off. It was too expensive to reprogram them to change some student fees. And so, it was, we had talked for many years about replacing the student system, and we were finally in a space to do it. Then we had decided that we were going to buy something off the shelf and not build it ourselves. And so that meant that our fundamental group was going to change radically. And that we had all these programmers who were, who had built the former system, and we were not going to be building a system again. We also knew it was going to take several years to replace the system. This usually takes three to four to five years to do so. So, you know, the leadership team, and I'm so proud of this work when I reflect on it, you know, got together. 

And we talked about this, that we just decided that in keeping with our culture and our values, to be very, very honest with the organization about the fact that -- this is what's happening, we're going to replace our student systems. Our staff were very upset. Some people cried. People said, well, what will happen to me? What will happen to my job? And we just said in a number of town hall meetings with the organization, and then one-on-one meetings and office hours and things like that, we just said, you know, in four years from today, a lot of us won't be here. Like half of this organization will probably not be here. We won't have jobs here. 

But here's the thing. We have a plan for this organization, and we have 48 months, not four to eight months. We have 48 months, and we're launching a workforce professional development strategy plan. And we're going to work on all of our skills together. We're going to figure out who's going to work on the new system. We're going to figure out how do we develop our skills. We're going to give you a roadmap for skills improvement. We're going to support you with your education. And we're going to find ways to place you in either this organization or some other organization so that we have 48 months of planning. In 48 months, you can be a project manager. You can be a business analyst. There is so much we can do. And then we launched this program that Anne Marie sort of talked about, where we had nine domains, some of them were prescribed, but some of them were like, what do you want to be in your next role? And we talked about it every single month. Every single month, me or a member of the professional development team would stand at the monthly meeting and talk about - what are we doing for professional development? Have you taken your classes lately? We would arrange classes. We did all this to support people, bringing in a photographer to have LinkedIn headshots, bringing in resume and cover letter workshop people, really just having the sustained drumbeat. So that way, when we did get to that point, in 36, 37, 38 months, people were well-prepared mentally and just vocationally to make the next role and to make the next step.

Drew Lazzara (24:48):

I love that metaphor of the sustained drumbeat you mentioned, because I think that kind of sustained attention really, really necessary. But 48 months is a really long time to keep that drum beat going. James, you touched on how important an internal and external communication strategy was to getting this right. How did you refine that strategy and how did it play out in practice?

James Dudek (25:12):

Again, we had, I think over 90 people, seven different groups and different physical locations. And a lot of them, a lot of them didn't know each other, and they certainly didn't know their new leader. And no one likes a new supervisor -- or no one likes being reassigned or reorganized. I mean, that's just basic organizational development, right? 

So, one of the things we had to do was actually meet them, which is actually more challenging than you would think. And so we came up with an internal communication plan, that I, it was sort of like, finding ways and opportunities to have a point of contact with the organization or an opportunity for you to be in contact with the organization every single month regardless of what level you are. So we started with a series of meetings where every month we called it Bagel Wednesday. It was the first Wednesday of every month, and there would be bagels. And there would be, you know, the leader or the leadership team, giving announcements and updates and things like that. And it wasn't mandatory. It was voluntary. 

And I would say in the first couple of meetings, about 25% of the organization showed up. The other 75% stayed away. They were just, they didn't want to get involved. And then the hungrier among them who desired bagels would start showing up. And then they brought their friends. And so, it took about a year. And, one of the tenants of the monthly meeting was it would always happen on the first Wednesday of the month, and it would always happen. So, if the CIO couldn't be there, Anne Marie would lead the meeting. If Anne Marie couldn't be there, I would lead the meeting. If no manager was there, I would question what we were doing as an organization. There should always be someone around. 

So, having that sort of meeting on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis rather, gave people literally an opportunity to come together and break bread, but also to get to know each other, to actually recognize each other. Besides that, we had formal, twice a year, we would have a formal town hall, which was more like of a dress-up event, where we would have a vice-president would come in or an industry leader come in and talk to the organization or some of our customers, some of the people we support or faculty come in and talk about how they experience our services. We would also have fun things, like the day before Thanksgiving, we would have a Scrabble party or a games party. And you know, this was all of, it was literally fun and games, but there was very serious intent behind it. It's just like, every single month, you have a chance to actually experience the organization in person, and you get to have these skip-level meetings. So, it was really important that we had opportunities for Anne Marie's staff to talk to Angela's staff. Or, you know, people who work with one group to talk to another. 

We would have different features at that monthly meeting, like what's your job? And this is a five-minute spiel by a staff member of, what did they actually do? No PowerPoint, no standing, you don't have to wear a tuxedo. You just say, this is what I'm doing. This is why I'm working on it. Again, you have 90 people who don't know each other. You know, what are we all doing? And so, those sort of opportunities to have holiday parties and office hours and a monthly meeting and town halls really gave people the opportunity to get more tied into the organization. And after about two or three years, which sounds like a long time, but after a couple of years, our attendance at those monthly meetings, which again was just voluntary, it was like 90, 95%. I mean, people wanted to go. People wanted to see people and wanted to be part of the organization and wanted to share information.

Anne Marie Richard (28:40):

I think the other thing I would add about that is that all of these, of course, it's interesting, partly in the year of COVID, to be thinking about how this would have been different if we were all remote. There was a really important aspect to building trust and communication and team identity face-to-face that these different types of meetings and at a regular cadence provided that kind of opportunity for. And,  that was something that we were doing really intentionally, so that there was something about knowing who you were talking to, or sitting down at a small table over bagels with somebody that you maybe didn't know before, but that was part of the same organization that really went a long way to breaking down some of those silos that you referenced earlier, because there there's often an inherent bit of distrust when you're thrown together with other people, particularly when you come from different organizations that maybe had different working styles or even different technology approaches. We found that sometimes too. And so, having these face-to-face opportunities was just at a very basic human level, providing opportunities for people to actually get to know each other and just really build kind of trusted relationships.

James Dudek (30:01):

Thank you for bringing that up because I think a part of that is, you know, when we've talked about -- Anne Marie and I have lectured and talked about networking and how you build a network and how you build a network to support you. And you sort of don't, you build a network, not intentionally to build a network, but you build it so, intentionally, so it's there when you need it. And you can't just run out and have a network. And it's the same thing as about building community. 

We spend all this time building community, and then when we really needed the community, they were there because we had spent years and years and years doing this work. And it, you know, one of the examples of this is like, you know, when we were getting into those 48 months, and we knew that there were going to be organizational changes, that we knew that we were going to be doing a reduction force, we were, you know, open about it at our monthly meetings, the Bagel Wednesday meetings. In fact, one of our staff members said, 'Oh God, I'm not sure if I'm ready for bagels and bad news this month.' But everyone showed up, and they showed up because they trusted the organization. And then, and that's where we really talked about the workforce changes in a really healthy, holistic way. Even though it was bad news, they trusted us to hear it from us. And they wanted to come hear it from us rather than just getting an email.

Liz Ramey (31:19):

Absolutely, right. Building that trust from a foundational standpoint, seems like that was just, it moved you so much further along to allow you to be able to communicate, even when it wasn't such good news. Which is wonderful. And I'm just curious, in your learnings, and I don't want us to get, you know, too far off track, but in your learnings, what could, can you provide to some of those companies to think about how they really become mission-driven with their people and with their different culture change. And I'll say that with that context of wow, 2020, there were so many changes, and culture change was often overlooked because we had to move so fast.

Anne Marie Richard (32:11):

Yeah, that's such a great question. I'm glad you asked that because just earlier this morning, I was participating on a call with some other CIOs about lessons learned during COVID. And, we were starting with digital transformation, but then really shifted a lot of our conversation to the workforce and distributed workforce, and how were we continuing to keep employees engaged. So, when I think about maybe what lessons we've learned that would be transferable to private industry, it's a lot. Because in particular, I think there's something about intentionality behind every decision that gets handed out.

And so, for example, James has mentioned quite a bit the leadership team, and it was not about a single leader setting a vision, although that was certainly a part of it. It was a single, it was having a single leader who was supported by a strong leadership team that was very transparent with each other. And then that leadership team being very open and transparent and communicative with their teams, and other managers in the organization, so that there was a clear connection to each other. And so, even if you're in a company that has 2,000 employees, you're still broken into teams. You still have a management layer, you have a vision. And even if your underlying end result needs to be profit for your shareholders and that kind of thing, that each team still needs to support the other team. So, a marketing team needs to support and get the word out about the great product that the R and D team or the product managers are putting together. And so, to me, it almost is agnostic of what industry you're in. 

Certainly, when you're in higher ed, there's a little bit of a heartstring connection because you're educating the young people and students of, you know, the United States and the world. And when you're at an elite institution, like UC Berkeley, you get to take a lot of pride in being, you know, the place that's famous for its special parking for Nobel laureates. That might be different at Google, but you're still regardless of the industry, regardless of the size of your company, I think that managers and leaders in particular need to set the tone. And going back to this idea of the care and feeding of the organization, it doesn't matter if you're care and feeding, you know, a tiny nest with, you know, a few birds, or if you're feeding the whole flock. 

Like the idea is to start with people's humanity, start with why they are in the work that they're in, and what did they want to achieve, and what does our organization need to achieve? What does success look like? And how do we build up these milestones and guardrails to help people take those different steps to be successful in their careers, to make our companies or higher education institutions or whatever our location is, how do we make those successful? 

And it's by not solely focusing on the work, and certainly you can't go the other direction either and solely focus on a bunch of individuals and not, you know, deliver. It's somehow working together to build trusted relationships and to build a sense of team, build a sense of connection to the larger organizational mission, and often provide some opportunities for education, advancement, you know, experimentation, innovation along the way, so that people continue to enjoy what they do and feel like they're not stagnant. (39:16) Those to me are all lessons that are highly relevant, no matter what industry you're in.

James Dudek (36:05):

I agree. And I think along with what you've said, Anne Marie, is a direct lesson for the private sector in this kind of work is -- these organizations are all just people. And so, and you know, I believe that you can treat people really well and, you know, people who are treated well and cared for are more engaged. We know this from study after study, from Gallup, we did the Gallup survey for many, many years in a row. We did action planning around the Gallup survey to see how our staff were engaged, to see at what levels they were engaged, and how we can make them more engaged. 

And I know a lot of people talk about the return on investment, the ROI of engagement, that you have less turnover, hiring new staff is very, very expensive. And so, you know, having a leadership team that we did that was handpicked of people actually really care. People actually really care about other people and about the work too, but you care about other people. It's kind of like an ROI of like organizational love. I mean, we're just like -- if you treat people well, if you respect them, if you trust them, they're going to pay you back in kind. 

One of the things I'm very proud about that we did as far as IT that I'm now doing for the university in general is a cultural onboarding program, where we really insert all aspects to the employee when they started with the university. Not just onboarding with the key and a desk, but welcoming them, having someone call them two weeks before they start. Not the supervisor, but a colleague saying, Hey, I'm your onboarding buddy. I'm going to be there along the way to talk to you about the culture of the organization. We're going to give you a tour of the organization. We're going to do a tour of the campus. What are the ways we can, we're going to tell you where the best pizza is that you can have in Berkeley. If you tear your dress on the way to an interview, we're going to tell you where to get everything fixed. You know, how do we take care of all the needs? Now, you can say, this is too much ‘froo-froo’ stuff. We don't have time for that. 

But you know, if you take care of an employee, and you take care of her needs from the moment she, even before she enters the organization, you know. In the first week she was ready to get to work and dig in, and she's very, she feels warm and supported and she knows what's expected of her. That ROI is off the charts, as opposed to just say, here's your first day, good luck with that. You know, so to just happen to care to actually welcome someone into your organization and support them really pays off. And that's something you can do with the private sector, and the private sector does that really well with some companies we know like Google.

Liz Ramey (38:36):

That's so fantastic to hear, especially coming off of 2020. And I said a handful of times to Drew and my team that, you know, humanity was like the iceberg that so many enterprises hit last year, right? They were forced to be transparent, and they were forced to all of a sudden look at that, or look at themselves and reflect and say, are we building, have we built this trust culture, in order for our employees to know and hear our plans for how we're going to get through this tumultuous time. So I think that's wonderful. I think this is just such a great story to hear. I love, Anne Marie, you talking about, you know, the intentionality of leaders right now. You know, how can we be deliberate in all of the messages and communication that we say. And then James, you know, your ROI, you know, return of love, or the ROI of love if I can quote you on that. But you know, I think it's fantastic. There's so much more than just that hard dollar, when it comes to business outcomes and furthering, right, the business, forward and or university. So, I think that's fantastic.

James Dudek (39:55):

And then to your point, Liz, I have to say, I think what Anne Marie and I are saying like, you don't have to choose, you can actually do both. And we're proud that we've yeah, you can care about the business and you can care about the people.

Liz Ramey (40:06):

Yeah, that's great.

Drew Lazzara (40:08):

It's really incredible that you've seen your organization through this change and stuck by this commitment to the humanity of your teams. But as we've touched on, a couple of times, many people right now are working in an entirely different context than they were when your journey began. Before we let you go, what are you doing to continue to foster this culture that you've built and maintain the momentum right now?

Anne Marie Richard (40:22):

A couple of things I would say about how we're continuing to really try to build and thrive. I'm now the director of the whole organization. And so, I've kind of came up through a particular role. And for the last couple of years now, it's, it's been me trying to set that tone and continue to build a strong workplace culture. And I think the couple of things I would point to is one, for example, last fall, we were smack in the middle of the pandemic. We said, you know, let's do that Gallup Q 12 employee engagement survey again. It had been a few years. 

And I thought, you know, this is going to be really interesting because there's a lot of conversation about burnout. We haven't been face-to-face in a room at this point -- it had been maybe seven months or eight months. So we did the Gallup engagement survey, and I will tell you, first of all, we had a 92% response rate, which I think meant everybody except one or two employees completed it. Shocking and incredible. And then our engagement scores were phenomenally high. 

And I, that tells me something's working because here we were -- those kinds of surveys are always a snapshot in time. And we were at a pretty low time for a lot of people. There are people with children at home, and they're trying to manage schooling. There's a lot of fear around personal health and safety and the pandemic. Everyone's working remotely in our situation, nearly everybody was working remotely. We have a few people who are working on the campus. Meanwhile, you know, here's all these workplace studies that we're all reading in the Times and business magazines, you know weekly, about burnout and low morale. And yet, here we were amid the shelter in place with really high engagement survey. So that was, that led us to have some really interesting conversations late in the fall about, you know, first of all, let's kind of celebrate that we've built this place to the point where people still feel really connected. 

I would say a couple of other things have come up, and James touched on this earlier, about the leaders in the organization and all of the managers communicating as transparently and authentically as possible. And I think something about COVID has been that the being in connection with each other, working from often from our homes, we can choose virtual backgrounds, and I often do. And then other times, you've got the kids, or you've got the pet, or you're looking behind somebody and you can see, you know, the art that I've got on the walls or the books I have on my shelf or whatever. And it has been humanizing for people. 

And I will say that that has been really important to me as an individual and as a person that cares a lot about inclusion and equity issues. This year has been really hard there. You know, we had the insurrection at the Capitol in January. We had an incredible kind of raising of awareness nationwide about national and global phenomenon of anti-black violence and racism and systemic discrimination.

And, we were all remote and not able to gather and have kind of face-to-face conversations about what was happening around us in this world that the university is very much a microcosm of its larger world. And so, one of the things that I felt compelled to do with my organization as a leader was reach out to people. It had to be via email, you know, to start a conversation and just say, you know, these things are happening, and they're scary, and they're really upsetting. And, they're distressing to see some of these images in the news or whatever. It's distressing. And to recognize that also these different incidents land differently on different employees, depending on their own personal lives and experiences. 

And that just, I think my reaching out to the organization and just putting that little spark out there enabled people to feel like we were, you know, being reminded that first and foremost, we're human beings, and that your humanity comes first. And, of course I care that we meet the project deadline, and of course I care that we are working efficiently and all of that. But, some of the feedback I received from folks was like, thank you for remembering that we are people, or we are parents, or we are African-Americans, or we are, you know, whatever. We're impacted in whatever way. 

And, and that's something that I think I will always do because that's who I am. But I think it's also an important lesson for us all, when we're in these stressful times to also remember that people are looking to us and what tone are we setting? And if we're ignoring what's happening in the world and what's happening in people's lives, and just focusing on the work, that's almost as traumatic as, you know, some of the things that are happening in the world. 

So, for me, it's about being authentic, being a human being, being real, focusing on people. And in doing that, you're enabling people to know that they're supported and then they can continue to do their work and continue to, to participate. And that has, that for me has been, I think, a really central way that I've been continuing to try to think about how we build culture, even in these times when we're not in the same room.

Liz Ramey (46:13):

Right.

James Dudek (46:15):

I think that, yeah, I mean, that's exactly the kind of work that Anne Marie is doing and in her organization and just being mindful of the humanity of the organization, which is something we've been saying in the last 45 minutes that we've been talking or so. And I think that, you know, when we're getting the leadership role, we sometimes forget that we're human or cause there's so much pressure. And I was reading this interview years ago of a CEO who was, someone said, you're so good with people. How did you get to be so good with people? And he said, ‘I used to be one.’ There's that aspect of leadership of you'll always feel like you're an automatron. And to Anne Marie's credit and others, just remembering that I too am a person, and these days have been hard, you know. And I have to take care of myself. I have to actually take care of the people, too. And I have to, and I have to show my own humanity to say, you know, some days I'm not doing well. And you know, it doesn't show weakness. It shows strength to say to the organization, this is not a great day for me, and to invite them to that conversation, as well. And again, we still get the work done, and you can do both.

Liz Ramey (47:25):

That's wonderful. Yeah. It's like, you know, being a parent. Your child doesn't quite know you're a person yet. I'm waiting for that day. It'll come soon. I actually even said, to that point though, that I was talking to a colleague the other day and said, you know, 2020 for my employees and my group, that I have, I feel like we're going to have a forever relationship, no matter where we are, because 2020 was like that the people that were in your life during that time were almost like the people that were in your life when you were a freshman in the dorms, you know? You just, there were so many, you know, that diversity of experience and thought and stuff that you brought with you to the dorm, or with you into 2020. We put it aside because we needed to work together. And it was a wonderful thing. And within humanity and our understanding of people.

James Dudek (48:25):

Yeah. I will always be able to say, I know Liz, I met her during the plague, you know?

Liz Ramey (48:31):

Exactly. I know her I've actually virtually been in her house.

James Dudek (48:37):

She borrowed some of my books.

Liz Ramey (48:40):

Exactly. Exactly. Well, thank you both so much for joining us and telling us your story and being so open and honest about this really kind of hard story, but just really valuable and compelling story, as well. So, thank you both for being our guests.

Anne Marie Richard (48:59):

Thanks for having us.

James Dudek (49:00):

Thank you so much.

Liz Ramey (49:02):

Thank you, again, for listening to The Next Big Question. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. Rate and review the show, so that we can continue to grow and improve. You can also visit Evanta.com to explore more content and learn about how your peers are tackling questions and challenges every day. Connect, learn, and grow with Evanta, a Gartner Company.


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