Compass Conversations Q&A - August 2022

August 31, 2022

Q. Given these are multi-year goals, what is the plan to carve out what is being done in FY23 versus other years? 

A. Great question!  You are right – these goals have been the same, or at the very least very similar, for the last few years. Why is that? Because they are multi-year, high-level goals. As an SLT, we discussed that perhaps having such high-level goals feels daunting or creates a feeling that we haven’t made much progress against them.  First let us say – we absolutely are making progress against these goals, and you will see that in the accomplishments section of this newsletter. Second, we acknowledge that we need to do a better job of carving out what we want to achieve in a given fiscal year towards these multi-year goals and ensure it is attainable (we have the time, tools, and resources to accomplish the goal). As you can imagine, there are multiple individual goals and projects that need to be delivered against each of these goals. Therefore we are currently meeting weekly as an SLT to review the goals and carve out specific deliverables against those goals for this fiscal year, as well as what might overlap or fall into future fiscal years.  

Q. Within our individual portfolios, what is the best way to break down the high-level goals into actionable goals for us as individuals? 

A. There are likely a few ways to think about how to carve out actionable goals from high-level goals. As discussed in the first question, as an SLT we are defining deliverables against each goal, prioritizing them, and providing scope, timing, resources, etc. to determine if we can meet that goal for FY23. As you look at your individual portfolio, you should think about what the specific milestones or smaller bodies of work are that, in total, will indicate that the goal is achieved (or are contributing to achieving that goal). From there, determine the priority order of those individual actionable goals, and finally what can reasonably be achieved in this fiscal year. Talk to your manager and/or meet as a team to agree on these actionable goals and then track against them throughout the fiscal year.  

Q. How do we control the what and how of KFD and DIEB? 

A. (Note: It is possible that we don’t have the proper context to answer this question as intended, but we will try to answer it based on how we are interpreting it.) The culture work (aka KFD) and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIEB) are overseen by finance and university leadership. However, that doesn’t mean that you (or we) don’t have any control over them, it just means we have to think about these important initiatives at the team and individual level and contribute to them in ways that we can control. What we do, how we do it, how we show up to work, and how we treat each other are within our control daily.  

Q. How does our work in finance align to the academic mission? 

A. Yale University’s mission: Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice.

Finance’s mission: We provide high-quality services, stewardship, and leadership to enable Yale’s mission of changing the world.

Our work in Finance directly impacts the university’s ability to complete its research and education. We contract and pay suppliers to procure goods and services so that faculty have what they need to teach and have the lab supplies they need to complete their research. We steward the university’s financial resources so they support the operations of each business unit in accordance with the donor’s intentions. For example, we make sure that all financial aid endowments are properly recorded and used so those eligible students are supported in their studies. All our work whether it is transactional, answering questions, reporting, analysis, etc., translates our academic success into a financial picture that can be shared with donors, alumni and credit rating agencies.

Q. The very broad questions raised were what is the meaning or definition of a positive work environment? How will we know if we achieved it? Is it based on our work vs. life balance? Does it refer to the way we relate and are treated by our co-workers? What other factors come into play from the SLT point of view? On building a positive work environment, should it be “continue” since we have already built it? 

A.  A positive work environment is one where employees feel respected, valued, appreciated, and free to develop themselves and others. In Finance, we feel we have made great progress in creating a positive work environment.  We believe this because of the informal feedback we receive from across Finance in passing, at meetings, and at our events (online and on zoom), as well as the formal measurements and feedback we receive (KFD Surveys, online focus groups, onboarding, offboarding, exit interviews, breakfasts with Steve, feedback from both internal and external customers, etc.). However, as tempting as it sounds to say, “pencils down, we are done!” a positive work environment is something that constantly needs attention, measurement, and work. As the world changes and the workplace changes with it, there will always be areas where we need to continue to build and get better. Still, hopefully, there are also areas where we can change the mindset to ‘sustain or continue a positive work environment’ rather than build.  

A positive work environment can and will have different meanings for different staff members.  For some, work/life balance (flexibility, remote work opportunity, child & elder care benefits, ability to take PTO, etc.) is the most important aspect, but for others it could be positive interactions with co-workers and clients, professional development, career opportunities, feeling appreciated, being rewarded and/or recognized for their contributions, managing conflict, giving and receiving feedback, having a visible and accessible leader, and many other potential things. As an SLT, we understand that all these things can and do matter to the staff in Finance. We encourage you to think about what a positive work environment means for you, and then actively engage in improving those aspects of our culture. If we all contribute in our own ways, just imagine the positive impact on the work environment!

Q. In building a positive work environment, how do we work with other groups outside of Finance where they may have a different culture?  

A. Yale is a diverse, complicated, and decentralized environment where you will encounter different subcultures along the way. Many will be like ours in Finance, some will not.  As a Finance staff member, we expect you to work with other members of the Yale community in a positive way, as we strive to do every day in Finance. Should you encounter a situation that needs further discussion or feedback, please talk to your manager about how to handle this situation and next steps. If necessary, consult with Human Resources. 

Q. Are the after-action reviews for every incident or issue and to what degree of incident do we focus on?  

A. After-action reviews should be used after all major incidents but are encouraged to be used for minor incidents as well. There is always an opportunity to learn and/or make changes to our workflows or processes to be more effective, efficient, and compliant. After-actions are also strongly encouraged after projects, deliverables or deadlines, milestones, or initiatives are completed, to see if what we intended to happen happened, and what we could do different or better in the future. Sometimes, the after-action highlights a process that went very well and can be used as an example for others to learn from or replicate in the future. Finally, openly discussing successes and areas for improvement contributes to and is a hallmark of a positive work environment. There is no downside to regularly conducting after-action reviews! If you would like more information on how to conduct After Action Reviews, please contact Lauren Giaimo

Q. Are we considering more ways to be flexible?  Are there other ways to schedule staff beyond the four categories laid out by leadership? 

A. The University recently launched Work Models at Yale. Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” work model to define when, where, and how Yale staff members perform their work to support its missions, the university has adopted an approach of “excellence with flexibility” to shape the way we perform our various roles. At Yale, work models are based on operational needs and fall under two main types: FlexPlace, the location where work is performed, and FlexTime, which provides alternatives to a traditional work schedule. 

FlexPlace:  Based on department operational needs and responsibilities, FlexPlace work arrangements fall into four general categories. These four general categories are 1) Fully on-campus, 2) Hybrid (steady schedule), 3) Hybrid (tailored/seasonal), and 4) Largely Remote. For more information on these four categories, please review the information on the FlexPlace Work Arrangements page

FlexTime:  An employee may request a FlexTime work schedule to plan work around personal obligations while keeping a core number of hours. For more information, see the FlexTime Work Schedules page

In Finance, we will follow the university’s guidance around flexibility and the four general categories, as well as any contractual language in the appropriate union contract. While there are no current plans to create new or different categories beyond the university’s, we believe there is still a lot of flexibility within those categories to meet the needs of the staff in Finance. 

Flexibility can mean different things to different people, and we encourage you to have an open dialogue with your manager about what flexible options might work for you, while also keeping operational needs, university guidelines, and contractual requirements in mind. 

Q. How do we turn a university that is based on relationships and knowing who to call into one based on workflow and processes and strong operations?

A.  Building professional relationships are a key component of a successful and positive work environment. Working together and finding opportunities to collaborate with others is important and almost always leads to a better outcome. Having said that, we acknowledge that we need to make processes simpler, more consistent, and easier to understand, and to provide appropriate training, guidance, and tools to get our jobs done. This is one of the main goals of the multi-year Operations strategy that was recently announced by Jack Callahan. There is recognition within Operations leadership that we need to be able to perform our roles without having to find the “person who knows how to get it done.” Once we have the infrastructure and support in place, staff will need to take ownership and responsibility to learn the workflows and processes to slowly change the culture to one that relies on strong processes and collaboration, rather than personal heroics and favors.

Q. How can we have better collaboration across Finance teams?  

A. There are likely more answers to this question than the ones provided, but we can have better collaboration in several ways:

  1. Understanding each other’s goals and priorities. This is important not only so we can collaborate on the outcome, but also so we aren’t duplicating work which leads to unnecessary waste of time and resources.
  2. Creating and/or seeking out opportunities for networking. When we network, we can learn about each other’s interests, skill sets, and experiences, which can in turn lead to opportunities to work together.
  3. Sharing information around projects or committees. This can lead to opportunities to get involved in projects outside of your current team, as well as the ability to be exposed to staff in other areas and find places where you can collaborate.
  4. Take Initiative (a Finance core competency!).  If everyone spent even a small portion of their time on #1 – 3 above, imagine what it could do to foster greater collaboration (also a core competency).

As mentioned above, there are likely even more ways to approach greater collaboration. What ideas do you have that aren’t included above? We would love to hear them!

Q. Is there a way to streamline the performance review process? It is administratively burdensome and comes during year-end.  

A. The performance review process is a very important piece of the annual performance management cycle. As a manager, it is a critical piece of your job and should be a priority where you plan for the process and deliverables accordingly. We are following the university’s timeline and process which we cannot deviate from in order to meet the deadlines. However, we will continue to think about ways to streamline our internal process within the university guidelines. 

Like the previous question, if you have any suggestions or ideas on how to streamline the process while still ensuring that it is given the proper attention and due diligence the staff receiving the reviews deserve, please let us know.  

Q. Is there an appetite for moving away from anonymous and more to focus group discussions? 

A. In Finance, we seek to find multiple ways for staff to speak up and be heard. While we encourage staff to feel confident in doing so, we understand some staff prefer anonymity. The downside to that is it can be difficult to gather and clarify information for follow up, but we will continue with this option in our surveys and other feedback forums.  As we continue to utilize group discussions and listening posts as part of our processes for gathering feedback, it is possible that some discussions can remove anonymous option. We will discuss this further as a leadership team.