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Great Manager Profile: Giselle Martin

By Aja Couchois Duncan

Editor's Note: This is the first in an occasional series to highlight UCSF's great managers as determined by the scores in a recent employee engagement survey.

Great managers come in all shapes and sizes. “Everyone has a different style,” says UCSF’s Giselle Martin, “the key is to embrace your style and build on your strengths.”

Giselle Martin

Giselle Martin

In a recent UCSF employee engagement survey, Martin, management services officer and chief administrator of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in the UCSF School of Dentistry, received one of the highest overall engagement scores by her staff.  

It is not hard to imagine why Martin’s team members posted high engagements scores in the employee survey. An enthusiastic manager, Martin talks about her staff as if they were family. “I truly care about the people I work with,” she says. “I care about their feelings; I care that they do a good job.”

Her recipe for success comes from her own experience. “Since I started my career in entry level positions and, at times, performing similar roles, I know what it takes for them to get something accomplished. I’m a bit more sensitive to their needs. My staff knows that I recognize how hard they work. They know I appreciate all that they do. This is key.”

Martin spent the first five years of her life living in a small town in Mexico called Juchitlan in the State of Jalisco. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she watched her parents work two, sometimes three, jobs. As the oldest daughter of five children, Martin was managing her siblings at an early age. “I made sure that when my mother came home from work, the house was in order.”

When she began her career at UCSF in July 1995, Martin worked as a temporary employee in the Buchanan Dental Center. Eventually she worked her way into a position as an administrative assistant II. She decided she needed a greater professional challenge, but felt she didn’t have the education to back it up. So she went back to school. She worked full-time, took evening and weekend classes, all the while parenting her two young children, ages six and two. It took many years, but by the time she graduated with her bachelors degree from the University of San Francisco, she was class representative, on the Dean’s honor roll, and asked to give the graduation commencement address for which she spoke in front of approximately 2,000 people.

“People ask me how I did it,” she says, “I simply made it work. There were times I had to take my kids to class. Sometimes the teacher would kick us out, but I always went back. Plus,” she laughs, “my family had evening homework hours for years.”

Through it all, Martin maintained a goal sheet, outlining key steps and celebrating the small successes. “I still have those,” she says. “I use them to remind me of where I was, where I am and where I am going.”

Creating a Roadmap for Success

Knowing where to go and creating a plan to get there is a fundamental practice for every successful manager. For her final graduate research project — Martin just completed her Master of Public Administration in Health Services Administration for which she was a merits scholarship award recipient — she wrote a paper on “UCSF Successful Managers Career Track, Effective Management Styles and Leadership Dynamics.” [PDF]

In the course of conducting that research, Martin read widely in the fields of management and leadership and interviewed 15 effective managers at UCSF. What she found was this: successful individuals defined their goals and created a roadmap for getting there.

Setting goals is an area where Martin excels. This skill is also important to the success of her team. The area where her staff scored Martin the highest was regarding setting expectations, specifically in ensuring her staff knows what is expected of them at work.

“I have really great staff,” Martin says. “They know their work and are passionate about their jobs. I don’t need to micromanage them.”

To put together such an excellent team, Martin makes sure she hires the best staff and puts them in positions in which they can be successful. To lay this foundation, she sets high performance expectations at the time people are hired. She uses regular staff meetings as an opportunity to check in with her team regarding expectations and to ensure everyone has what they need to succeed. A resource guide for managers on setting expectations is available here. [PDF]

Martin also has an open door policy. She is flexible with her staff, enabling them to deal with life’s emergencies so they can return to work able to give 110 percent. She uses available campus resources to bring in experts whenever possible to ensure her team is knowledgeable, skilled, engaged and successful.

“My staff knows that I recognize how hard they work. They know I appreciate all that they do. This is key.”

Martin’s strengths is her ability to get the group working together, says Lee Rogers, an academic personnel analyst in the department. “There are lots of things beyond our specific jobs that need to get done,” Lee says. “She [Martin] creates an informal atmosphere where people come together as a team to help each other out.” 

When asked what is the most important thing for supervisors and managers to do, Martin has a fairly simple prescription, ““Listen, listen, listen. Listen to their concerns, their ideas.” Beyond listening, she lets her staff know that their jobs are important. “We expect a lot of them,” Martin says. “I really feel that everyone wants to do a good job. All we need to do is let them and acknowledge them when they do. A thank you goes a long way.”

Tony Pogrel, DDS, MD, William Ware Endowed Chair in Orthognathic and Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the UCSF School of Dentistry Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, has witnessed Martin’s growth as a manager. When she came into the position more than three years ago, she had some areas that needed development. He notes that her persistence and commitment have made a big difference. One area where her effort has really paid off, Pogrel says, is in the monthly staff meetings, which Martin leads. The meetings provide a great opportunity to communicate with clinical and non-clinical staff.

Susan Schultz, associate dean of Administration and Finance for the School of Dentistry, recognizes Martin’s excellent people skills. “She genuinely cares about her staff,” Schultz says, “and supports their development. She wants them to move forward.”

Understanding the Big Picture

Schultz says that it can be difficult to balance driving for results while genuinely valuing the needs of people who are being directed. For Schultz, the solution lies in understanding the big picture. “It is important,” she says, “to not get mired in the details. We need to be able to step back and see what is important, where we should be investing our time.” It is from this place that expectations, in alignment with the broader organizational needs, can best be set.

It is essential that managers connect individual staff members’ roles with the needs of the department and the overarching goals of the organization.  Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, in her State of the University Address this October, indicated that the University’s three-year plan provides a guide to UCSF employees, outlining a clear set of things they can act on every day. And this, according to the chancellor, is where great managers come in. “We have to have great management. It’s not just nice to have; it’s essential to have because great-minded people with passion and talent who want to be committed to the institution need to know what exactly the institution needs from them.”

Across the University managers are rising to the challenge.  In the words of Martin, “even though I am not a researcher, educator or clinician, I have always felt my role supports the mission of UCSF. I love UCSF and am a strong believer in what it stands for.” 

Photo by Susan Merrell