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Called to Coach
The Future of Work at CalHR
Called to Coach

The Future of Work at CalHR

Webcast Details

  • How can organizations courageously pursue engagement even during times of change?
  • What role can conversations play in promoting engagement?
  • How can organizations support managers as they seek to foster good conversations and communication with employees?

Called to Coach Webcast Series -- Season 12, Episode 12

Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.


Measuring employees' engagement at a critical moment in their experience can be daunting for leaders. That's what Nicole Griffith and Michelle Blair-Medeiros and other CalHR leaders recently faced as they planned a return to hybrid work for the California state employees in their department. But instead of shrinking back from the challenge, they embraced it as part of their commitment to the work they do. And the lessons they learned and are continuing to learn are fueling a drive to keep engagement front and center, and to equip managers to engage their teams. Join us as we hear how engagement is beginning to take hold and make a difference at CalHR.


It's not about being perfect; it's about getting better, because ... the process is the goal.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros, 14:50

If we get our leaders on one page in consistency and aligned, the trickle-down effect will be positive, and you'll gain a lot of momentum with that.

Nicole Griffith, 21:09

Giving that space to have these authentic, meaningful state-of-the-team conversations and engage in dialogue ... has been transformative, for sure.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros, 16:39

Jim Collison 0:00
I am Jim Collison, and this is Gallup's Called to Coach, recorded on April 26, 2024.

Jim Collison 0:19
Called to Coach is a resource for those who want to help others discover and use their strengths. We have Gallup experts and independent strengths coaches share tactics, insights and strategies to help coaches maximize the talent of individuals, teams and organizations around the world. If you're listening live, we'd love to have your questions in chat. You can just see those on YouTube over to the left; on LinkedIn down below. You can drop those in at any time. If you have questions after the fact, you can send us an email: Don't forget to subscribe to Called to Coach on your favorite podcast app or right there on YouTube, so you never miss an episode. Justin Wiley is our host today. Justin is an Associate Principal for Gallup. His CliftonStrengths® Top 5 are Command®, Activator®, Maximizer®, Communication® and Achiever®, and Justin, always a great day to be with you. Welcome back to Called to Coach!

Justin Wiley 1:05
Yeah, thanks so much for having me, Jim. It's a pleasure to be here.

Jim Collison 1:08
Great to have you, and great -- we've got some fabulous guests today, and I'm excited to hear from them. Why don't you take a second, and we can get them introduced?

Meet Our Guests on This Episode

Justin Wiley 1:17
Yeah, that would be awesome. Well, we have an incredible client with us, the California Department of Human Resources, otherwise known as CalHR. Two great leaders we have us, we have here today. So Nicole, if you don't mind introducing yourself, telling, telling us a little bit about what you do, and then your Top 5 strengths.

Nicole Griffith 1:36
Sure. Thank you. Thank you, Justin, and just thank you for the opportunity to be here. I'm super excited. As Justin said, my name is Nicole Griffith, and my top strengths are Strategic®, Self-Assurance®, Individualization®, Futuristic® and Significance®. And, you know, I've just had the opportunity to embrace these, these strengths, and they really are me. You know, I've learned over the course of the last couple years, last year, as we've been working with you, Justin, and partnering with Gallup, that strengths really are a unique set of talents that really identify people. So this is me in a nutshell, top, my Top 5. In my day-to-day world, the things I get paid to do is I have the opportunity to lead the benefits for the state of California. We have about 20 programs in our office or our organization that we lead for about 225,000 state employees. So I get to do what I do best each day, and this is, this is me, and happy to be here.

Justin Wiley 2:39
Awesome. Thanks so much, Nicole. Michelle, the mic is all yours. Do you mind introducing yourself?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 2:44
Absolutely. Good morning to the West Coast. Good afternoon to the East Coast. Good afternoon to the middle of the country. So my name is Michelle, and I'm actually the Employee Engagement Program Manager in the Benefits Division at CalHR. My Top 5 strengths are Input®, Intellection®, Empathy®, Connectedness® and Learner®. And in this role, I can, I can authentically say I get to do what I do best every day, in terms of leading engagement, employee engagement throughout the state of California and within CalHR.

Employee Engagement and the CalHR-Gallup Partnership

Justin Wiley 3:18
Awesome. Thank you so much, Michelle. Nicole, I'm curious. We've done so much incredible work within your benefits division, with CalHR, and then, broadly, the state of California. Would you share a little bit about, you know, How do you, what does your focus look like? You serve so many different groups, right? You have your intact teams. You have the 230-some,000 employees you just mentioned. Can you help us understand what all it is that you do?

Nicole Griffith 3:45
Sure. So with the engagement, so I'm going to take us back and, back to the pandemic for a minute and just share, like, how this evolved and how our partnership came about. But as we can remember, back during the COVID pandemic, engagement was at an all-time low. For the U.S., it was at 20%. For public and government workers, it was at 41%. And although we in government tend to be a little higher than the U.S. average, it still was low -- over half of the government employees, engagement just was low.

Nicole Griffith 4:22
I had the opportunity to join CalHR back in July of 2020. I came in right in the middle of pandemic. I met people through this type of environment, and really what I noticed around me is people were in the roles of being caretaker, parent, you know, and trying to hold down a full-time job each day, and the focus was just on making it through that day. So here in CalHR, State of California, we have our benefits of EAP, our Employee Assistance Program. We have our wellness program. We have our merit award and recognition program. But what I really noticed is we were missing engagement. Engagement is a super important benefit that, you know, I wanted to see us embrace, and just, there was a need at that time.

Nicole Griffith 5:09
So I put a concept together, pitched it to our director, who is wonderful. And really, my focus was, let's focus on holistically supporting the overall wellbeing of the individual employee. It was approved, moved through some, some hurdles and jumps, and we were able to launch our program, officially launch in August of 2023. But in 2021, that's where we started to bring on employees and form the program, and that's where we were able to bring Michelle on, and I can't wait for you to hear from Michelle, because she really does bring theory to practice in her role. But just a quick summary is, why it was important. We were in the pandemic. We brought together statewide engagement, where we pulled our EAP wellness recognition and now engagement under one umbrella, and we thread the needle of engagement at the core through all of our programs.

Nicole Griffith 6:07
Through that, I'll just say, you asked, our role in CalHR is to support the state departments. We have about 153 of them, and so our role as the engagement program is to provide consultation and guidance to all these people to help them -- the organizations -- bring their employees to a place where they're able to thrive. So a lot of good work. And also think -- CalHR is a state department, so CalHR is our employee, and then I have my team, the Benefits Division. There's 50 of us, where we administer the programs, so they're our customer as well.

Justin Wiley 6:43
Awesome. Thanks, Nicole, that's, that's fantastic. Michelle, I'm curious, as the statewide Engagement Program Manager, I want to dive specifically into CalHR. Can you tell us about what problem were you looking to solve, or what were you hoping to accomplish at CalHR as a result of focusing on employee engagement?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 7:02
I mean, I think, they say, so I started with CalHR March of 2023, so about, a little over a year ago, and this program, as Nicole said, is brand new, you know, and it's never existed before. So I remember starting, starting this, you know, position, and we had the opportunity to reach out and partner with a vendor. And who better than what Nicole calls the Louis Vuitton of engagement, right? So that's how we ended up with Gallup. There's more to it than that, but, you know, Justin, you and I connected. I think you were in sunny San Diego, you were at a conference or something. You were like, Yeah, we can connect, and we can meet, and we can talk about this, and we partnered with you.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 7:44
And, you know, our organization is a little, I mean, I think you could say, too, like, it takes a little while to understand the nuances of how we operate, because the Benefits Division, which is what Nicole, you know, is the head of, and where I work, we exist within the Benefits Division. But as Nicole just said, we also serve the California Department of Human Resources, which is where our division is located. So we serve them as a customer. And then we also are pushing out these programs and supporting -- I don't want to say pushing out -- but supporting other departments at a statewide level, right?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 8:18
So when we started talking, Justin, I think if you reflect on it, we, we started, you know, we launched this statewide engagement program, statewide to all other departments. And then we were really focused on, I don't want to say really focused, but also focused on CalHR and serving CalHR. So, you know, we did strengths work in our division, and then we hosted Engagement Champions within CalHR. You were there for that, Rose, Rose was there for that. And every time you come to town, something happens. So we're in Engagement Champions. We're in the cohort. Our survey is going to launch, you know, the respondent file is built, the survey is ready to launch in a few days. And then we, you know, get an email that says, Hey, you have to return to the office. Do you remember that, Justin?

Justin Wiley 9:07
Of course! How could I not?

Measuring Employee Engagement in Less-Than-Perfect Times

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 9:08
You know, and, and we had an opportunity -- and I hope I'm answering your question -- but we had an opportunity in that moment. It was like, Hey, do we still want to launch this survey? It was our first one. It is our first one. And we had the opportunity that was like, you know, yeah, we still want to launch this survey, and we're going to receive authentic, meaningful feedback from, you know, those that we serve within this department. So I'm really, I'm really proud of that decision, looking back on it, that we, we still went ahead and did that.

Justin Wiley 9:39
Nicole, I'd love to get your thought process on that, because many leaders might consider not surveying, right. We're going through a time of serious change. This type of communication to returning to a hybrid or on-site working environment can be stressful, and you decided to survey your employees and get their feedback at a very critical moment in the, in their employee experience. Can you share a little bit about what went into making that decision, a courageous decision, to survey employees during that transition?

Nicole Griffith 10:12
Sure. You know, kind of what you said. We were at a place where we were so excited to launch our first Q12® survey with Gallup, and we had everything ready to go. And we even were engaging in our Engagement Champions course, and, you know, to be fair, so in CalHR, we had, some of us, some of the areas had been, been in the office sporadically. Some were in full-time, where they never got to go home during the pandemic, and others, moved to a full-time telework operation. The goal of bringing a return-to-office guidance or instructions that came out was really to bring some consistency through the organization. It was really important to our executive team that, you know, we had consistency. We were collaborating. We were taking advantage of that in-person time.

Nicole Griffith 11:04
So as we are having our launch date for our survey, October 16, the messaging comes out. The executive team huddles -- Should we go through with the survey? And we teeter-tottered. We kind of went with, No, let's pause. And then we said, No, let's go. What better time to hear and see how our employees are really feeling, and, you know, for us on our survey, Q -- oh, Michelle's going to know it, but I don't know it offhand -- we are really committed to the work that we do. So in CalHR, that's high for us. What is that, Michelle? Q --

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 11:44
Q09 -- My

Nicole Griffith 11:46
Q09. Yes.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 11:46
My teammates or colleagues are committed to doing quality work. That's where we ranked the highest -- something to be really proud of.

Nicole Griffith 11:52
Yes, yes. And where we really wanted to take advantage -- Q07, My opinions count. This is how you get to a thriving organization is hearing and letting your employees have a voice and then acting on it. And so we went through with the survey. We got feedback. We also took advantage of our partnership with Gallup and moved into the culture. Asked Gallup to help us with the return to office, how we were going to do this effectively and strategically, and had the opportunity to work with Andy and Ray, who were fabulous and helped us. And I think it all came together pretty well. And in January of 2024 -- this year -- CalHR returned to the office 2 days a, 2 days a week in person and up to 3 days of telework.

Jim Collison 12:38
Let me commend you for, you know, oftentimes when we think about an engagement survey, or any, or doing any of those kinds of things, that -- and you alluded to this just a second ago -- that you, the temptation is to wait till the situation is perfect. And that's not the intent, right? I mean, the intent is, and Nicole, you just said this, and maybe Michelle, you want to weigh in on this as well. The intent is to hear really how people are feeling right now, and you can't, you kind of can't wait. The goal is not to get perfect scores; the goal is to hear, right, hear from people. So Michelle, anything else that you would add, as you think about that time of releasing it maybe -- like, but was it, for you, did it, did you get the feedback that you were looking for? I mean, were you able to hear from, from folks? Talk a little bit about that, Michelle.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 13:26
Yeah, I mean, one of the things I've been saying recently to people -- we're in the action-planning stage right now. And with this survey, we can think about the quantitative aspect of, you know, 1 through 5, How would you rate this? How would you rate that? And this is one of the few times I really believe that feelings are facts, right? So when I meet with leaders around action planning, and they're looking at the questions, it's like, Hey, don't look at the mean index. You know, you're at a 3.43 or 4.25 -- I don't know, I'm just making that up. But this is how your team felt when they took this survey. And it was a snapshot in time. It was in October. Remember, you know, this return to office just went out. Think about how that may have impacted the way these questions were answered.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 14:13
But, you know, sit with your team and do this again in, in April or May and see what that looks like for them. And it's also an opportunity for leaders to know, and I know Nicole had this experience -- not to put you on the spot, Nicole -- but maybe the way you interpret a question isn't the way that, you know, one of your team members interprets a question. So for people leaders, I think it's an opportunity to get to know their teams, but also know that this is how they felt during that snapshot in time. And they may not, you know, that, that may have changed. But it was vulnerable, but it's something I think we should be really proud of. It's not about being perfect; it's about, you know, getting better, because engagement, for me, is, it's, it's, there's no there's, it's not really a goal that you meet and you stop working on it; the process is the goal. It's something that we're going to continue to do. And when we take this survey again, and we hope our results are better and we're more engaged, we have to continue to do what we do well, even better than we're doing it right now.

Encouraging Important Conversations

Nicole Griffith 15:16
Yeah, that's great. I think that, Michelle, one of the things I'd love to hear you talk about is you have really good input on how people want to have conversations and people want to talk about this. You want to say a little bit more about what we've experienced in CalHR?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 15:34
Yeah, you know, I think people reach out to me. We, we've held office hours. You know, that was an idea that we talked to Justin and Jenny about. We've held office hours to answer people's questions, and I think -- people leaders' questions -- and I think one thing to name here is that CalHR is really unique. So every single team is really unique. You know, what one division is doing isn't necessarily what another division is doing, because their needs may be different in the way that they serve Californians or other departments.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 16:05
So one of the things that I've realized, and Nicole and I talk about quite often, is when people reach out with their questions, it's like, OK, I got to go into here, and I need to, you know, I got, I got to do my action plan. And then they start to really look -- they dig a little bit deeper, and I think we've seen a lot of Aha! moments. And this work is meaningful to people. People want to have this conversation. I think even within our own division, when people start talking about it, you know, we'll set aside, you know, a half hour or an hour, and then 2 1/2 hours later, people are still talking about, about this. So giving, giving that space to have these authentic, meaningful state-of-the-team conversations and engage in dialogue, I think, has been transformative, for sure.

Nicole Griffith 16:51
And that, and that's just within our division. Last week or the week before, we hosted a state leader forum for the state of California, where we had almost 200 leaders come together around just hearing about engagement, some best practices that other departments have had on return to office, and Justin had the opportunity to be with us then. And just as Justin's with us and things happen, the night before, the governor's office released a memo that instructed the state of California departments to have a return-to-office hybrid operation come June, the middle of June. And so Justin was there live. And we, we huddled, and we're like, Do we need to change where we're going? Is the direction of what we're going to talk about with these leaders important? Is it still on track? And, you know, at the end, we said, No changes. Let's do this authentically and have a conversation of what's really going on about the hybrid operations, return to office, but at the core, how engagement can have a key role in this, and just bringing it and making it more front and center throughout the state of California.

Nicole Griffith 18:01
And through those leaders, as a result, afterwards, we stood up a webpage with resources. And we've just been getting a lot of questions about, How do I do this? Help me do this. What are some ideas? But them, too, that showing throughout the, threading the needle throughout the state of California, other departments want to be at the table and want to talk about this too. So we're doing meaningful, impactful work, and this partnership with Gallup has just been, you know, Louis Vuitton of engagement. But really, it's more authentic, it's meaningful and, and it, it, this is a journey that we're on. We're not going to get there overnight. We have so many things intact, but we just need to slow down and focus on what we, what we have. And my Strategic and Futuristic, that's really challenging for me, because I'm calling Justin daily, saying "I have this idea. I need Rose! I need Andy! How much will it cost to do this? But it's all for good intent.

Meeting the Back-to-the-Office Challenges

Justin Wiley 18:58
Yeah, absolutely. That forum was a great opportunity, Nicole, to get leaders together to learn best practices, like you mentioned, but also to provide some insights as it relates to what we're finding in the data around how to effectively transition to the office, right? Does on-site work? Does remote work? I'm curious, from both of your perspectives, now that you've gone through this transition at CalHR, right? I'm sure many departments within the state of California are looking to you for guidance. We also have clients all over the world, specifically, especially in the U.S., transitioning back to maybe a hybrid working environment. Would you share some challenges that you ran into, and maybe some advice for organizations who are going through this change now?

Nicole Griffith 19:45
Sure. I think one of the biggest challenges we had at first was just consistency, right, within our executive team. And when I say that, it's more of, you know, we are all individual employees of this organization, of the state of California, of CalHR. And bringing the executive team together and having conversations and letting the executive team go through their feelings of how this impacts them, I think that was a challenge for us, because everybody was different. We all do different work. We have different focus. So some really thought, you know, "I've been thriving in this workplace of telework. Why do I need to come back?" Where others were like, "Hey, I see this meaningful impact of being in person."

Nicole Griffith 20:32
So getting to a common place of consistency, that was a challenge that we had in the beginning. We held some focus groups; we had some feedback sessions; we huddled a lot and talked. And so what I, one best piece of advice that I have is, start at the top. Get your executive team or your senior management team, your top leaders aligned. Because -- and Justin, I know we'll jump into this, but -- the managers have a really high impact on how employees feel, how they thrive, how they produce, how they perform, all of that. And so if we get our leaders on one page in consistency and aligned, the trickle-down effect will be positive, and you'll gain a lot of momentum with that.

Justin Wiley 21:21
That's great. Michelle, from your perspective, talking to colleagues, being involved in some of these focus groups, maybe, What advice would you give -- maybe someone going through the transition themselves, right? We have leadership teams making these decisions. What was your perspective, or what was your experience transitioning back? Or had you always been operating in a hybrid work environment?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 21:43
No comment. No, I'm just kidding.

Justin Wiley 21:46
That's not allowed -- not in this interview.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 21:49
No, I think, I think that's a good question. You know, I, as an individual contributor that works closely with leaders, I think that my, my perspective might be a little bit different. For me, doing this work as the Employee Engagement Program Manager, you know, I believe in, you know, doing -- if I'm, if I'm, if I'm working with you, Justin, to talk about best practices, we need to incorporate best practices. And what I mean by that is, you know, I don't think people, it shouldn't be punitive -- coming back to the office. One of the biggest frustrations I think I see as an individual contributor with folks is you come into an office and you sit on, you know, Microsoft Teams all day. Like, you can do that at home. So how do you really leverage that collaboration piece, that engagement piece, when you are in the office? You know, why would you come in the office to sit on Teams all day? For me, that hurts my ears. That's like a lot of headphones. You know, that's, that's a lot.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 22:51
But also, you know, hearing, you know, hearing people and acknowledging that the world has changed. The world has changed since the pandemic. You know, as, as a person that has friends or colleagues with young children, childcare isn't the same. That there are real challenges and hurdles that people have to face as they navigate this transition and being able to, you know, Empathy is, what, my No. 3, so for me, being empathetic to understanding that, you know, navigating those challenges. But also, you know, Nicole mentioned, you know, our leaders and starting at the top. And I think one of the, one of the things that we, that we talk about over and over and over again with Gallup and other leaders is, communication is the key. Like, you need to overcommunicate this stuff when change happens. You know, communicate, communicate. And what is it? When you think you've communicated it enough, communicate again. And be flexible where you can. You know, I'm lucky to, I'm lucky enough to have a leader that is as flexible as she can be, where it's appropriate. So I know a lot of us are grateful for that.

Benefits of Returning to a Hybrid Environment

Justin Wiley 24:01
Yeah, absolutely. Michelle and Nicole, can you also speak to the benefits? So I worked remotely, fully remote, in Denver for 3 years. Now, I'm back in Omaha in a hybrid working environment, so maybe similar to you, I'm also experiencing, you know, the transition and the benefits and the challenges. What have you noticed, as far as the benefits or what you've been enjoying since returning to a hybrid working environment? And I ask that because I've met some of your Q10s, and they're great people. I'm sure it's fun, you know, just the hallway conversations and whatever it is. But please elaborate on what you've been enjoying since you've transitioned back.

Nicole Griffith 24:37
Sure. So I think one of the best key benefits that we've had, obviously, no pun intended, is the in-person collaboration. And I think, you know, I just want to acknowledge, Justin, as we were going through our return-to-office efforts, and I'm saying Help! Help! Guide us. What are best practices? You know, I was trying to be mindful and empathetic for, to you, because, yes, you were going through the same change in your personal life. And I wanted to make sure, you know, this is where my Strategic came in, we were doing it creatively, innovatively, and doing it in a way that was a benefit to people, to employees, to, you know, the organization, as well as just the community at whole.

Nicole Griffith 25:22
And so, you know, being able to collaborate, having people just walk over from another division that's across from us, or walking through my team and just stopping by to say, "Hi." Where over the course of the last couple years, I'd look at Teams. Is somebody green? Can I catch 15 minutes with you on a meeting invite? You know, we'd have group conversations where some of us would just huddle on Teams for an hour -- you know, Lunch and Learn sessions, and just talk. How's everybody doing? So the best thing for me, I think, being back in the office is my team is in Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and I have a role that, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I'm not on email. I maybe respond to maybe 5 a day at max, but I'm there to be front and center with my team, help with the organization where I need to, and get out in the community with our other state departments and collaborate.

Continuing to Measure Engagement Success

Justin Wiley 26:16
That is a best practice, Nicole. Being, being visible, if we're on site -- to your point, right -- I think you've nailed it in that if we're on Teams or Zoom all day, you're not experiencing the benefits. But for a leader like yourself to prioritize being present, having those meaningful conversations that aren't scripted or scheduled, right? But to float around and just meet people where they're at, I think is incredible, and it'll be interesting to see how that impacts engagement over time. I'm curious, going forward, how do we, how do we continue measuring success? Michelle, I know you're in the weeds with Gallup Access, and you know every Q12 question right off the tip of your memory. But I'm curious, How do we continue measuring success, going into maybe next, next October? We don't have to wait, right, for the next survey administration. What are you looking for in the coming months to get a sense of engagement within the, within the department?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 27:13
I mean, it's a good question, Justin. I'm trying to action plan right now. And one of the, one of the things that we decided as an organization is to build a, you know, a culture of alignment is we are focused on one question. So every single people leader is focused on Q06, which is about Development. And it's funny, because some folks have reached out and, you know, for help, and one of the questions they have are, you know, one of the questions is, Well, I got a really high score on development. Should I focus on something else? And it's like, yeah, you could focus on something else as well as Q06, Development. Because if you're doing this well, how do we continue to do it well.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 28:00
You know, you're focused on development, but how is that question -- See, I know 'em all, Justin -- How is that Question 11 of, you know, Someone has talked to me about my progress in the last 6 months, you know? Let's make sure both of those are high. You know, your Q06 is high about Development. Q11 is high. But let's look at Q09 -- My colleagues or team, teammates are committed to doing quality work. So really, you know, how do we -- development -- and Nicole did this yesterday, I think, in a meeting. You did this yesterday, where you can use, what did you use? Question -- some of the --

Nicole Griffith 28:36
I used Question 01, Question 01, knowing what's --

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 28:40
Gallup Access, yeah. And what did you do? You took some of the, the resources in Gallup Access to, like, do an activity in your managers meeting.

Nicole Griffith 28:49
Yes. There, there was an article that just came out the other day around sharing information with your team at the end of the week. It's like, wrap up, communicate what we've done well. What is our focus for next week? So I took that article, took the downloadable resource on Q01, Know what's expected of me, and I put my management team in breakout rooms. This took all of 10 minutes, maybe. I gave them 5 minutes: Tell me some best practices on how you have meaningful conversations and collaborate one-on-ones with your team members. Tell me some meaning, some best practices on how you facilitate team meetings. We have new people in CalHR on my leadership team, so it was an opportunity for them to come together in small groups, get best practices and then report out back in our team meeting. And it was so impactful to hear the person reporting out, saying, "And such-and-such said they did this, and somebody said they did this." And it was like a lot of Aha! moments, but we're, we're pulling it all together to make a resource document that they can refer to.

Nicole Griffith 29:52
But in that moment, it was so impactful to see, there's so many resources that Gallup has available that in a 5-, 10-minute, I have extra time in a meeting, that I can put something together. And just to add on a little bit to what Michelle said (this is my Self-Assurance; it comes out when I'm talking. I talk a lot, and I'm OK with that) is how we got to Q06 was as an executive team, we were really focused on consistency, really focused on alignment through the work we're doing around culture, is have something at our core that's meaningful and impactful to us in the organization.

Nicole Griffith 30:29
And we've heard, you know, people want to develop, they want to promote, they want mentorships, they want to grow and learn more cross-collaboration. And so we felt that Q06 was the right one for us to focus on. And so bringing that focus in and just building action plans, a lot of communication with the executive team, and then back in my team, it's making use of the time that you already have. So as we have all-staff meetings, giving them a space to come together as a team and just spend time talking, action planning, but not making it another meeting that you have to put on the books. So using the time that you already have scheduled. Yeah.

Supporting Managers, Encouraging Communication

Justin Wiley 31:10
That's great. One thing I'd love to touch on is the importance of the manager. And Nicole, you, you, you mentioned this a few minutes ago: 70% of the variance in team engagement is directly attributed to the manager, right? So I think, as leaders, it's important -- we have to acknowledge their importance, right, in the influence they have within our organizations. For a first-time employee engagement client, right? If I'm a leader that's focusing on, on this for the first time, is it easy to get managers on board? Is it difficult? What do we need to do to set them up for success? I'm curious from you both to learn a little bit about, if I know it's important, what should I do next? Do you mind elaborating on that?

Nicole Griffith 31:52
Sure. Thank you for bringing this front and center, because I do really think it's an important -- we know 70% of the variance is on managers, that impact that they have. One thing that we're doing in CalHR is we have a Leadership Now Forum. So this is a space where our supervisors, managers, executives, people leaders can come together monthly for an hour and a half and hear certain topics, have conversations, develop, hear what's going on in the organization. So we're really consistent with having people show up and having a topic of the month there.

Nicole Griffith 32:30
One of the other things, you asked, What is the first thing and the most important thing you can do? It's communicate. Communicate, and make sure that it's, you're communicating to everyone. You're communicating in different ways. We know people take things in differently -- email, verbal, I need to repeat it back. But having that broad communication and spending time with the people leaders and leaders in general is where the core is at. Setting them up for success, one of the things we recently did is we just ordered the It's the Manager book. It'll be here in 5 to 7 days. I can't wait. We're going to gift it out to all of our people leaders in CalHR. And then, you know, maybe from there, it'll spark some book clubs. It'll spark some, some thoughts and some outside cross-collaboration. We'll be looking to do strengths soon. So there's a lot of things that you can do, but the best thing to do, as Michelle says, is the worst thing you could do is do nothing. The best thing you can do is make it intentional and talk to your leaders. Leaders need to talk to your leaders.

Justin Wiley 33:37
I love that, Nicole -- progress over perfection, right? It doesn't have to be perfect right away, but we have to do something. Michelle, what would you add to that? How do you make sense of how to best support managers, especially in a year 1-type environment?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 33:52
Something that's coming up for me, just over the course of this conversation is, you know, you all have done a lot of research on this, so you're the experts here. But I think you know, there are so many meaningful conversations happening. When we talk about survey results, when we, you know, potentially host book clubs about It's the Manager -- I see it behind you, Nicole; the book, right? Having those meaningful conversations in an authentic, organic way, right? And for me, that's, that's one of the cool things about being back in the office is there, there are people that I would never talk to because the work that I do doesn't have anything to do with, you know, the Affordable Care Act, right? But I see them in the office when I walk by and say, you know, "Good morning," and know each of their names.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 34:37
So it's, it's, it's one of those things where being able to connect with folks and have meaningful conversations across, you know, across difference, across the different work that we do, and being able to connect. So really incorporating those meaningful conversation, conversations. And it sounds like that's, you know, that's sort of what happened yesterday in your meeting, Nicole, of like, with your management, with your leaders, of, you were, you pulled some stuff around Q01, but what really happened is you had a really meaningful conversation about the way people do things and the way they do them differently and those Aha! moments.

Nicole Griffith 35:15
Yeah. I'm always looking for opportunity to how we can better support our leaders.

Weaving Strengths Into Conversations

Justin Wiley 35:20
Meaningful conversations are so important, right? We've found that to be a manager's most important habit, right? Just having one meaningful conversation with each employee every week. And I'm curious, Nicole, you're a Certified Strengths Coach. One of the characteristics we've found of meaningful conversations is for them to be strengths-based. I'm wondering whether you're on the receiving end of a meaningful conversation, or you're the leader, maybe, facilitating and guiding that meaningful conversation? How are you weaving in this strengths-based approach to those conversations?

Nicole Griffith 35:56
Yeah, good question. I think that it's interesting, because some of the leaders here, or some of the people just within CalHR, have their strengths. So those that have, we share. And those that don't, you know, it's always, I, as I'm approaching conversations, I'm like, I wonder what your Top 5 are. And I'm like, if I knew, this would be a whole different conversation. But, you know, really, it's, it's, I use my strengths to kind of guide conversations is, you know, Individualization is really important to me when I'm having conversations. I'm always looking to learn more about someone, whether, whether I'm in a meeting or whether I'm just having that water-cooler or down-the-hall conversation, it's, I'm intrigued by people. It's like, what makes you happy, what what's you know, what's going well for you? Where are your challenges?

Nicole Griffith 36:51
And so I'm the one that gets in the elevator and it's dead quiet, and I'm like, "Good morning! How's everybody's Friday?" You know, always looking to learn more. But then taking that Individualization, and as I'm giving things out or asking, "Hey, can you help me with this?" Or "Hey, do you want to be part of this team?" It's looking to give people projects or tasks or collaboration to the things that they do well. So if I identify so, you know, engagement: Michelle really does Have the opportunity to do her best work every day. I would never take this away from her. I give her more that I know she's interested in, and that helps, you know, her feel her Opinions count, that she's respected and that she's valued of as an employee. And Michelle has a couple counterparts that lead our EAP program, our merit program, and then Michelle has a leader of the team, and they all collaborate very well around statewide engagement and supporting our departments. And I always tell them, "The work you do allows me to be in settings like this, even today, to talk about it," because they do the best work. And they're, they're, they're really thriving at what they do.

Justin Wiley 38:00
Michelle, have you noticed any differences in the conversation folks in the Benefits Division have had since participating in strengths-based learning? What's felt different or what's looked different since maybe introducing strengths?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 38:17
Yeah, I've noticed. I've noticed a bit. I think one of the other important conversations to have when we talk about strengths, and you all say it best, is like the Balconies and Basements piece, right, when we over, when we overutilize certain strengths. I know for, I'm going to speak for myself, but like, for me when the return to office happened, when that came out in October, and we engaged with you all in terms of the culture study, Empathy is really high for me, right? So hearing challenges that people might be having, I absorb that. That's just, you know, I absorbed a lot of it. But Relator® is also my Top 10. So to think about having those, for me, those one-to-one interactions, and to connect with folks, that sort of, you know, I had to lean into that, because I wasn't using it as much to, you know, I want to make sure I wasn't overutilizing that Empathy piece.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 39:13
But even the way that we talk to each other, I think about my team, you know, particularly, the way that we talk to one another and knowing each other's strengths, I think -- well, not I think; I know -- helps us collaborate in a more meaningful way. And How do we, you know, how do we pull what's best out of one another and knowing our strengths?

Justin Wiley 39:35
What would you add, Nicole? I see you smiling. I know you're an expert Certified Coach.

Nicole Griffith 39:42
You know, what's -- the reason I'm smiling, it's because Empathy is really high for Michelle; it's really low for me. And prior to doing my strengths, I think that's an area that was challenging for me, is how to connect with people who have high Empathy. And really, that's where, you know, I, I get to use the Individualization and learn more, but it's, it's helped me to recognize that that was a challenge for me in a space that I needed to grow in a little bit more. And so doing some research on what does Empathy look like? Where do I see it in practice? How to conversate with people who have high Empathy.

Nicole Griffith 40:19
You know, Michelle and I do great collaboration together. And really why I partner with Michelle is because, in an organization, statewide or regardless of who you're talking to, people want to hear from people that are like them, right? I'm a leader. Sometimes when I talk to people, there is a notion of, Oh, we're doing this because we have to, or because the manager's telling me. But bringing Michelle along with me and letting her bring theory to practice and talk about the impact from an employee standpoint, that has really been key and beneficial to all of the work that we are doing across CalHR, across the state of California and in our division. It's having that opportunity to hear from somebody that you can relate to is very impactful as well.

Making an Impact on CalHR, California State Employees

Justin Wiley 41:04
Absolutely. The CalHR, the Department of Human Resources, is that, like, advising thought partner within the state of California, right, for all things just workplace. And what I love about the intentional effort you've made up to this point is you're taking care of us so that we can go take care of everyone else, and to create a workplace that is strengths-based, that's engagement-focused, right? I think you're, you will set, you are and you will set a best-practice example for what agencies throughout California can aspire to, which is great. I know you also have big ideas, right? You have big goals, as it relates to where we're going to take this. What should we look forward to in the future? Right? What's the impact you want to make on CalHR? What's the broader impact you'd like to make on the state of California and your hundreds of thousands of employees?

Nicole Griffith 41:58
Oh, that is the great, that is a great question! So for the state of California, I want to see engagement be a natural, more forefront employee benefit, right? It's making the impact, making the intent, bringing it front and center. How do we weave it into the day-to-day things that we do? And really not say, Oh, and I have to do engagement? But making it, as you say, meaningful conversations, making it part of our daily practice.

Nicole Griffith 42:28
And so, you know, things that we're looking to do in the future -- and when I say future, we work on a fiscal year. So we're winding down our fiscal year now. In the next fiscal year that'll start in July, you know, we have Boss to Coach coming. That, I think, is going to bring so much value to the state of California, to help our leaders just know how to transform in this new hybrid operation from being a manager to being more of a coach. What does that mean? You know, I think that, as Michelle defined what engagement means to her, everybody has a different scenario of what a meaning is. And so Boss to Coach is going to help the state of California bring some consistency, some best practice, and just support. Support our leaders, because we know they have 70% of the impact variance, right? And so you have to engage them -- leaders -- so that they can go and do their best work. So that's future for state of California.

Nicole Griffith 43:23
Future for CalHR, you know, it's continuing the conversations and making CalHR a great place to work. We used our first Q12 survey as a benchmark. So it was, How are people feeling right now? CalHR had done some surveys in the past, prior to the pandemic, and so we had a gap in where we were collecting data and input from our employees. And so partnering with Gallup, we were able to say, Let's reset. Let's collect some information. Let's analyze it. Let's action-plan and set some goals. And then, when we take our next survey in the fall, then we'll be able to see, OK, now here's what the culture is like at CalHR.

Nicole Griffith 44:08
We're also working on updating our strategic plan. So how do we bring in the mission and the values of, of what we are doing best in our survey, or where we need to focus and streamline and set some goals? How do we bring that into our strategic plan here in CalHR, so that it's consistent moving forward? Leverage our Engagement Champions. I want to promote them more. I want to spend more time with them. Because alongside the executive team, they are the true partners that can help coach our different areas. We have about 15 different divisions that do 15 different things, or 100 different things. But how do we just have support for the leaders? And I know I keep saying, focus on the leaders, but really that's what we need to do is focus on the leaders.

Nicole Griffith 44:53
In our division here within CalHR Benefits, my goal is to have my team cross-collaborate a little bit more. We do 28 different programs. Some of them are siloed. You know, I want to be, bring people to a space where we're doing strengths-based, we're having those water-cooler conversations, as we are. We're sitting together and just saying, "How is your day? How are you doing?" One of the things we did is, within the statewide engagement program, our core approach is around the 5 elements of wellbeing. So how are we supporting your career, your social? How are we giving you back time? And how are we bringing in the work that we do to serve Californians -- how is that impacting the community? Right?

Nicole Griffith 45:38
And so physical wellbeing, social wellbeing. One of the things I learned through all this is our EAP program has financial support. One of our partners next door is Savings Plus division, where invests in our 401(k) for the state of California. We have things at our fingertips that we can share broadly, and so messaging that through the 5 elements of wellbeing has started, and it's going well. And I want Michelle, if you wouldn't mind, talk about Public Service Recognition Week that's coming.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 46:09
Oh, no pressure. Public Service Recognition Week, I think, we've been celebrating for quite some time. But it's, it's, we don't set the dates. This is something that happens at a federal level, where I think this year, it's May 5 through May 11. And what we did is, is we, we're gonna, we, we push, we push out ideas. They're not mandatory for departments to use, but, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, each of those days is focused on the 5 elements of wellbeing. So career, we have career, social, physical, financial and then community wellbeing. And we have reflection questions for each of those days for departments to maybe utilize. We didn't put this out there, but each of those reflection questions is actually tied to Gallup's Q12 that we want our, hopefully, departments and leaders to use.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 47:07
We also, you know, we have ideas for more community-building activities for departments to utilize throughout those 5 days, as well as, you know, focusing on wellbeing. There's an Employee Assistance Program webinar that we're, that we've advertised for each of those 5 days, because, you know, wellbeing and mental health are critical and super important. But we know that our, our analytics around engagement, like, for me, as an Employee Engagement Program Manager, I'm not the expert when it comes to mental health, right? So we want to make sure that our employees are getting access to those resources. So although, you know, wellbeing and mental, and mental health and engagement are critically intertwined, we want to make sure that folks have the resources they need to take charge and control over their mental health. You know, we know, and we know they're different, but they're, they're critically intertwined, which is why the needle of engagement is threaded throughout those programs. So --

Nicole Griffith 48:06
Yes, yeah, yeah.

Fostering Wellbeing at CalHR

Justin Wiley 48:08
Do you find that folks are having open conversations around these 5 elements of wellbeing, like they might a Q12 conversation? Or what does that, you know, what does that look like at CalHR?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 48:21
I would say, Yes.

Nicole Griffith 48:22
Yeah, definitely. No, go ahead.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 48:25
I mean, I would say yes. It's like, Hey, we're in a meeting. We're talking about physical wellbeing. You're on a treadmill; it looks like you're in the forest. You can't breathe. Well, good thing you're not leading this meeting, because, you know, shout-out to the, to folks on treadmills in meetings! No, but I think that we are, you know, we're having conversations. And I've even seen on, you know, within teams in our division, like, accountability buddies, for, you know, about certain elements of, of wellbeing. Like, did I do this thing that I said I was going to do? It, it's not necessarily going to the gym, but even, like, Hey, I said I was going to, you know, volunteer or do this community thing. And I want to share it with, with the people around me.

Nicole Griffith 49:06
Yeah, definitely, definitely.

Justin Wiley 49:08
Yeah, that's something -- yeah, Nicole, I'm curious if you have anything to add there.

Nicole Griffith 49:14
I do. I think that there's a lot of meaningful conversations going on, and what's, what's impactful, or what's insightful with that is, you know, as we've been partnering with you, we've learned all these best practices, but a lot of things were happening organically -- meaningful conversations -- and they just didn't have a title. You know, it's just bringing it all together, and having that, that, that core guidance has been helpful, but seeing people in, whether it's our Leadership Now or our staff meetings or just in the hallways, you see people talking and collaborating. So definitely I see, I see this in full flight, in action.

Justin Wiley 49:54
Yeah, I noticed that myself. You're going to hear some Competition®, Achiever coming out here, but me and one of my Q10s at Gallup, we have a punishment if we do not do our physical wellbeing agreement of the week. So it's three workouts in a week. If we don't do it, we have to pay $20. If I eat candy, I have to pay $5, You know, but I think, really, at the end of the day, that's speaking to kind of this new experience folks are having in the workplace with much deeper relationships -- right, fully understanding someone's professional life, but also kind of weaving in the personal, which is very unique. I'm curious, Nicole, we're getting close here. What's top of mind for you as leaders, in supporting the broader state of California? You'd both joked about me coming to Sacramento, and both times we're mandating return to office. Is that the No. 1 priority across the state right now? Or what else are you thinking about?

Nicole Griffith 50:50
You know, I will say the state is large, right? We have a lot of priorities from different areas. You know, we, in CalHR, we work under the direction of our government operations team and the governor's office. And so our priorities may be a little bit different than the California Department of Technology or DMV or our partners at CalPERS, but really for us, when it comes to the work around engagement and statewide engagement program, we're going to, what comes top to mind is doing some road shows. We talked about doing a summit in the future, where we have breakout sessions, where we're bringing some best practices from Gallup's and some key facilitators. You know, we really like Rose. We really like Andy.

Nicole Griffith 51:33
And not to, not to segue, but Justin and Jim, I really want to just say something that's done really well through this partnership is that everybody at Gallup is great Justin, everybody you've connected us with has, has done meaningful work with us and is impactful, but they're genuine in their approach. They have a commitment to helping CalHR. And I think that's top of mind for me, because the customer service is great, but we're not just another vendor, right? We're not just another account that you have, but the people that we've worked with have really helped us be able to be strategic and say, Where do you all want to go in the future? This is now. This is the moment in time. But what's coming up?

Nicole Griffith 52:19
And just being available, I can call anybody, even if they were out for a summit or a facilitation, I have those networks, and I can say, "Hey, Rose, do you have a minute?" "Hey Andy, can I send you a chat?" And they're very insightful and meaningful and just great to partner with. So thank you so much for that, Justin and Jim. And, you know Jim, I have to say, it's, I have a bucket list of things that I want to do in my life, and being on a podcast with Gallup is one of them. So thank you so much!

Embedding Engagement in the Workplace

Jim Collison 52:48
Well, you're very welcome. Listen, you, you came and shared on behalf of CalHR, when, during one of our, you know, sessions, our award sessions internally. And I was like, All right, we got to have them on. So thank you for being so willing to, to -- especially so early in the process. It's great to hear these, these, these stories from you, and yet these ideas that are yet to come. Michelle, I think, as we were talking, you're, you're in a spot to be able to influence, and we do this at Gallup all the time. We refer to these questions almost daily as we're working with each other, to say, you know, and maybe not, you know, Q10 gets the Best friend. We say that "You're my Q10," right, kind of thing. But Praise and recognition is a phrase that pops up all the time in our culture, because we focus on it. You have to inspect what you expect. And I think sometimes we need to embed those, those phrases into the culture. Michelle, do you feel like that's a mission of yours to get these phrases embedded and people talk about them as a part of a regular conversation, as opposed to, Oh, it's Q12 time. I don't know, Michelle, what do you think? Yeah.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 54:05
Yes, absolutely. I think that all of these questions can become a huge part of culture, our culture. And, you know, I think, for me right now, in terms of action planning -- I feel like there's a glare in my glasses, sorry -- in terms of action planning and meeting with leaders is this is an opportunity right now to hear what each question means to each team member. Like, I think about, you know, the Q10 question. And I know that there's a lot of research that went into that, and I, you know, it, sometimes you look at the results and a bunch of people, all of a sudden didn't answer it, because historically, maybe it hasn't been appropriate to have a Best friend at work. But that Best friend for me at work is, Who do you call when you're really excited to share something? Who do you trust when you're having a bad, you know, when you're having a day, and you just need to vent? Who, who is that person? Who, who do you go to? Who do you love having meetings with because you love working with them, because you really do great work together?

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 55:09
And, and it's funny -- I was meeting with someone recently, and I explained, Q10 is, it's, you know, it's not necessarily just the person you want to hang out with every Saturday, and you can't get enough of them, you know, Monday through Friday; it's that person that you can trust and you can go to, and you know, you know, what's said in that space is going to stay in that space. And, you know, I think embedding these questions, we've seen recognition recently of, of somebody, you know, one of our people leaders looked at the, looked at the survey again and asked their team a question, and then emailed another division, thanking them for the hard work that they've done and how they've made a difference. And that's how you build a culture of engagement. So embedding those questions, absolutely.

Jim Collison 55:52
Yeah. Nicole, you're smiling a lot. You want to add anything to that?

Nicole Griffith 55:56
Yes, I do! You know, it's interesting. We were talking about Best friend and at work. And Michelle, you know, we, knows this, that we've had a little bit of resistance around this question. Some of our leaders believe you don't need a Best friend at work to -- it's not important. And so one of the things we did is focusing on it is, OK, think of it not as a best friend, but who is that confidant? When something happens, who's that person that -- everybody has a person when something happens, they reach out to. You know. Michelle and I recently listened to a little snippet from Simon Sinek around 8 seconds -- or 8 minutes. And it's, "Do you have 8 minutes?" And when you send that message to somebody, it's saying, "I need you. I need to talk." And so if you look at it and summarize it, that really is your Q, your Q10.

Jim Collison 56:52
Justin, we are short on time. Why don't we take a second, final thoughts from you, Justin, and then thank our guests for coming today.

Justin Wiley 56:59
Yeah. Well, I think this has been an incredible conversation. And Jim, you pointed this out perfectly: We're still early in the process, but you're doing it with excellence, and I love that we've truly taken this progress-over-perfection approach, because the timing of things, you know, transitioning back to an office hasn't been perfect, but you have remained just as dedicated to the work and, more importantly, the people that the work affects, right? So I just want to commend you both for your dedication to your people and the difference you're making, not only in their professional lives, but what that means for them in the personal, right? Because they get to go home, and we know that career wellbeing has just a huge effect on your overall wellbeing, and you're helping support that. So I just wanted to say thank you. You two are incredible. You know, you pointed this out. You aren't another client, right? We have great relationship, and I really am looking forward to what's to come. And Jim, thanks for having us. It's, it's been a lot of fun to spend this hour with you today.

Jim Collison 57:57
Oh, it's always, it's always great. Nicole, Michelle, thank you on my behalf. I'm glad that we could make this happen. Appreciate it. While I live in Nebraska, I was born and raised in San Jose, California. So super excited that, that this is going on in the state of California, and, and we get opportunities to see this in happening. I get questions about state governments all the time, and so thank you for taking the time to be a part of this so we can share this with them and say, Hear a little bit about what the state of California -- because I think sometimes there's this, this wrong idea that you can't have engagement in state government or in government at all. No, it's too hard. And what I hear you guys saying is, yeah, it's hard, but we're going to get this done. And so, so excited. So for both of you, thanks for coming on as well. Appreciate it.

Nicole Griffith 58:48
Thank you.

Michelle Blair-Medeiros 58:48
Thank you for having us. It's been a pleasure.

Jim Collison 58:50
You're welcome. With that, we'll remind everyone to take full advantage of all the resources we do have available inside Gallup Access -- that got mentioned during this. You can log in there -- -- and check out those resources that are available. For coaching, master coaching, or if you want to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach like Nicole is, you can send us an email: We can talk to you about that as well. Again, that email address: Stay up to date on all our future webcasts and all the things that we do. You can follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn. Just search "CliftonStrengths" on any social platform, and you'll find us there. For those who came out and joined us live, thank you for doing that, and you're getting some really great comments out there in the chat room as well. Monica, thanks for checking in. And we will see you back here for the next one. Thanks to everybody who came out live. If you're listening to the recording, thanks for doing that as well. With that, we'll say, Goodbye, everybody.

Nicole Griffith's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Strategic, Self-Assurance, Individualization, Futuristic and Significance.

Michell Blair-Medeiros' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Input, Intellection, Empathy, Connectedness and Learner.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

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