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reVOICE:  The Inaugural VOICES of the Staff Alumni Event

The Inaugural VOICES of the Staff Alumni Event

On February 24, 2011, approximately 75 Voices of the Staff Alumni gathered for a half-day of reconnection, networking, and idea sharing in Think Tank sessions on selected topics. Highlights of the event were an introduction by Associate Vice President Laurita Thomas focusing on innovation and creativity and a keynote presentation by U-M president emeritus James Duderstadt describing the history and future of the university and plans for the upcoming U-M bicentennial year.

Summaries of the ideas generated from each of the five Think Tank sessions are described below.
Many of the alumni, along with their families, attended a pregame pizza party later on that evening, followed by the last U-M women’s basketball game of the year, courtesy of AVP Thomas and the U-M Athletic Department.

Associate vice president for human resources Laurita Thomas introduced former U-M president James Duderstadt (right) who delivered a keynote on the university’s upcoming bicentennial and the vital roles that staff members play in making the university a great place to learn, work and discover.


VOICES Evolution Think Tank:
How can VOICES evolve to the next level?

Participants in this breakout session explored how alumni members can stay connected to the mission of VOICES and continue to contribute their talents and interests to special projects. Participants shared suggestions about what a VOICES alumni association might look like and the various roles that alumni could play in making that vision a reality. The group expressed enthusiasm for a proposed model that would allow matching of alumni interests, experience, talents and availability to special projects, based on the idea of Match.com.

Key Ideas:

  • Explore opportunities for alumni to stay broadly connected to VOICES and to the long-range outcomes of work begun as network team members.
  • Tapping alumni members’ energy, experience, and commitment for special projects is a smart use of resources.


I would really like to see VOICES Alumni Association and the Match.com ideas come to fruition
 to keep the momentum of this event going.”

“Here is a willing and trained volunteer pool of staff that can easily be tapped for committees and projects.  Use us!”


Bicentennial Think Tank:
How can VOICES help recognize and celebrate staff contributions to the history of the university for the upcoming bicentennial year?

The Bicentennial breakout session considered ways to recognize and celebrate staff contributions to the university over the course of its 200-year history. The conversation was lively and productive, resulting in dozens of topics and concepts for possible future development. The two concepts highlighted below especially resonated with the group.

Key Ideas:

  • Develop an interactive Block M that would be a repository of staff stories and contributions.  Picture the Block M as a puzzle made up of hundreds of pieces.  Site visitors would be able to select a puzzle piece, and that piece would then pop-out and display a short video clip, interview, pictures, or stories about a specific staff member or event.  
  • Participants also discussed developing a staff endowment.  Creating a staff endowment would enable all staff members to create a lasting legacy for those who are to come.  While anyone would be able to contribute to this endowment fund, distributions would specifically be for staff. If the 30,000 staff members each contributed $20/year for the next five years, that would be an endowment of $3 Million.



VOICES Participation Think Tank:
How can VOICES maintain, sustain and increase network team participation?

Alumni from three current and former VOICES teams were represented in the Voices Participation Think Tank.  Team participation was characterized as ranging from good to high during their tenure as team members.  Participants brainstormed barriers and other factors for low participation, also validating Voices of the Staff Clinical Areas Survey (which was shared with group).  Group then brainstormed contributions to high team participation.

Key Ideas:

Seed all VOICES teams with highly skilled facilitator(s), subject matter expert(s), decision maker(s) in the room, and direct line of communication to Executive Officers whenever possible.



Retention Think Tank:
What factors influence the decision to stay or leave U-M?

Alumni from several VOICES team with years of service ranging from 4-37 years were engaged and energized in our discussions on influencing factors to make you stay or leave the university.  Participants reported that the main reasons they stay within the university are our generous benefits, great opportunities for growth and development, feeling wanted and enjoying their job.  Staff members start to look for new opportunities when they aren’t respected, need additional pay or want to try new skills and need a challenge.

Key Idea:

Improve onboarding processes through mentorship, reduced redundancy in orientation, and follow-ups with new hires.



Hot Topics Think Tank:

Participants in the “Hot Topics” think tank brainstormed their responses to the title question and then sorted their responses into themes.  Most of the themes fell into the areas associated with the six current Network teams. The three most crucial themes were: job stress and work-life balance, individual career development counseling, and upper management and staff relations/engagement.

Key Ideas:

  • Better access to campus rec facilities, classes and financial discounts
  • Paid/release time for health programs
  • Individual career development counseling and classes for career development
  • Develop strategies to stimulate environmental stewardship
  • Encourage leadership at all levels



Testimonials from participants:

“This event was ideal.  Great group synergy and fantastic brainstorming—the “crazy idea” was a great inspiration for our group.  We went all out, no holds barred, with our ideas.  I loved this event.”

“This event was really wonderful!  I had no idea what to expect but it was just perfect. What a great idea to bring in a presenter and talk about Michigan’s past and future.  Thanks for a wonderful and useful gathering. It really did re-connect and re-inspire me and my commitment to the university.”

I was astonished at how far we got in an hour with the Think Tank.”

“One of the best VOICES events I have attended.”