A couple of years ago, leadership within the Division of Student Affairs identified core themes as part of its strategic planning process. Theme identification was part of the division’s ongoing effort to better define its scope in support of the university’s goals as an institution. The four areas that resulted were health, safety and wellness, student learning, inclusive excellence and staff experience.
This past week, colleagues from Student Affairs concluded the first year of a new series known as Experience: IMPACT. The interactive series, typically held in Hendrix Student Center, took place over Zoom videoconferencing technology. The series featured some of the great work being done across the division in support of Clemson students. The final session focused on staff experience.
“We heard some really great feedback throughout our first three sessions,” said Kristin Walker-Donnelly, director of assessment in Student Affairs. “Some of the comments we heard were, ‘Wow, I gained a great appreciation for a lot of the programs out there that I had no idea about.’ Our hope through this series is that staff have heard ideas or innovations they may want to incorporate in future meetings or within their respective department.”
After a brief welcome, the platform was turned over to five successive speakers, who were allotted seven minutes to present on a recent project or concept, focusing on challenges, action items and outcomes. Then, each speaker answered questions for three minutes before making way for the next topic.
In 2019, Gary Wiser instituted a new coaching model within the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) aimed at better quantifying and evaluating the impact his team had through its engagement efforts with various council and chapter leaders.
He cited a generational shift within today’s college student as a challenge, as well as too much reliance on anecdotal evidence as a measure of impact.
The FSL team logged meetings through Campus Labs, a web-based assessment software program utilized by Clemson faculty and staff. In the first year of the model — despite the presence of online instruction since spring break — 845 meetings were held. FSL implemented the “Dean Cox” model, an intentional and direct interaction methodology made famous at Clemson by former Vice President for Student Affairs Walter Cox.
“We found that we’ve seen better focus in chapter meetings,” Wiser noted. “We want to ensure we’re constantly sharing impact and priorities with stakeholders, so we’re starting to share this model with other FSL departments across the country.”
FSL saw 100-percent participation from chapters as a result of the new coaching model. In turn, one of the emerging trends was a higher number of touch points, record-breaking grades in Fall 2019 and an overall decrease in conduct violations.
“This model showed us where we needed to redirect our energy,” Wiser said. “We saw a huge increase in applications for chapter excellence awards, including a jump in the number of different chapters we recognized. These are positive trends that we want to see.”
A few years ago, Josh Barnes placed emphasis on continual development for his staff, both personally and professionally. He wanted to tie the work into the staff experience portion of the division’s strategic plan.
Each year, his team in what is now known as the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement is charged with earning at least seven professional development credits through the TigerQuest web portal. The program is customized and staff can choose from a variety of credit options within the categories of intercultural competencies, professional development and continuing education.
“We developed three domains that align with our idea of professional development,” he said. “Staff members use TigerQuest to log and track their progress. The platform not only gives you a variety of options, but it also allows for an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned.”
When a staff member completes a training, it creates a professional development transcript and allows employees to prepare for future employment opportunities. In fact, Barnes has incorporated the professional development portion into the planning and performance review stages of a staff member’s position description.
“We often don’t take time to pause and properly evaluate what we’ve learned,” Barnes said. “Once our employees do that, our hope is for them to incorporate it into their work practices.”
Within the past year, Student Affairs Business Operations (SABO) has set out to identify and define guiding principles for the division. The idea is to complement framework already in place, such as the university’s core values and the division’s mission statement and core themes.
Lisa Bona and Kristin Walker-Donnelly provided last week’s virtual turnout of about 65 staff members with an update on SABO’s progress. A couple of challenges set the stage for guiding principles. First, the division went through a significant reorganization in October 2019. Secondly, SABO assessed gaps identified through a recent staff experience survey.
“We held a lot of brainstorming conversations and benchmarked what organizations do inside and outside of higher education,” Walker-Donnelly said. “The principles we’re developing are things that are identifiable in the work we do collectively. It allows us to better relate and articulate what drives our decisions as an organization. It gives credence to our process.”
The guiding principles are a work in progress. Over the next few months, Bona and Walker-Donnelly will be soliciting feedback from division leaders and making tweaks. Once they’re set in stone, the principles will be aligned to the staff experience survey and shared outwardly through the division’s website, onboarding presentation for new employees and annual reporting documents.
“We want to ensure that sense of belonging to our division,” Bona said. “How can we make our employees feel valued? A lot of times, if guiding principles are not in writing, people don’t feel connected.”
Leigh Belmont served as a graduate student intern with SABO this spring. Along with Bona and Walker-Donnelly, she was charged with reimagining the onboarding experience for new employees.
Previously, Student Affairs held new employee orientation a few times each year. With it came significant challenges. Prior to October, the division was made up of more than 500 employees, making it difficult from a timing standpoint to properly orient new staff into the division culture. In some cases, Bona explained, employees may have already been in place for three or four months before an orientation session.
“We set out with the goal of providing people with connection and affinity; people want to feel like they’re part of a family and a team,” Belmont said. “Each part of this process is designed to enhance the Clemson experience for new staff.”
The new onboarding being developed is a robust, 30-minute virtual presentation in Tiger Training, another web platform used by Clemson staff. The presentation will include Student Affairs performance drivers, mission and vision statements, core themes, guiding principles, an overview of division leadership and concise introductions to each department.
In the future, when a new employee joins the division, they will receive the onboarding experience almost instantaneously.
“This will enhance an employee’s knowledge of the division and create a sense of belonging, cementing it from the very beginning,” Belmont said.
Each session of Experience: IMPACT in 2019-20 included a guest speaker. Sierra Holland from the Office of Human Resources joined last week’s session to speak about a concept known as stay interview training. She serves as an engagement and retention analyst for Human Resources.
“My focus is what brings people to Clemson, what keeps them here and also why they may choose to leave,” she said.
Holland shared data showing the majority of separating employees leave after one to four years. The cost of turnover is an expensive process, she noted. Enter the concept of stay interview training, or determining what keeps an employee at Clemson.
The training is typically offered four times each year through Human Resources. It’s all part of Clemson’s efforts to update strategies for engaging and retaining employees.
“It’s not as widely practiced as other types of employee interactions,” she said. “We train supervisors on how to conduct stay interviews, how to prepare better for one-on-one interviews with employees.”
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