When Jeffrey Yergler became chair of the undergraduate management department at Golden Gate University, one of his priorities was to establish a values-driven department that emphasized improving faculty members’ well-being, performance, and sense of community within the management discipline.
In this model, policies, procedures, and protocols play an important but lesser role as the driver of the department because, as Yergler has found through his consulting work with a variety of organizations, focusing solely on process, structure, and deliverables without addressing relationships, value, and support, “can create a certain level of acrimony, distrust, and disharmony.”
“I brought with me a belief that if you want employees to deliver a great product to the end user, they’ve got to be engaged. If you’re going to engage employees you need to ensure that they are aligned—that they’re using their expertise and spending most of their time doing what they love to do, that they understand how their individual contribution is advancing the larger mission of the organization, and, most importantly, that they know that they’re valued,” Yergler says.
This values-driven approach manifested itself in things such as
- Proper vetting of faculty The majority of faculty in the department are adjuncts with master’s degrees and/or PhDs who have had managerial responsibilities in medium-to-large businesses. Yergler calls these men and women academic-practitioners who are asked to bring their expertise into the classroom.
- Adequate preparation of faculty Each faculty member participates in an onboarding process that includes meeting other faculty members, learning the university’s cyber education platform; shadowing another, more experienced instructor; and becoming grounded in the university and department’s processes and culture.
- Communicating support “I try to reach out to each instructor and extend my gratitude. I realize that our adjuncts’ capacity to deliver quality to a student is based on their expertise and proficiency with the curriculum and in the classroom. I also know that their ability to deliver is related in part to their connection to the mission of the larger institution that, more often than not, takes place through my relationship with the instructor. I try to communicate to them that they matter, their experience matters, and their impact on the student experience is of critical importance. “We may say these grown men and women are professionals, that they should be able to deliver their services simply because they are under contract, but I don’t buy that. At least in this context, community, communication, and relationships make a tremendous difference. It is my strategy to ensure that they know they have my support and that they have what they need to be successful. I try to connect to each faculty member and communicate to them that they are an important part of the team, that they bring expertise and insights to our students, and that, I have the expectations that they deliver a high-quality product to our student,” Yergler says.
- Honest feedback Yergler makes it a point to follow up with instructors on the evaluations they receive from the students. He reviews the evaluations in detail with instructors, and, in some cases, those conversations are difficult when the evaluations do not meet the department’s expectations. “We talk openly and honestly. I’m open about how my instructors are doing, what they are doing well, where they may need to close some instructional gaps, and if they’re struggling, why? If they need additional support, and I feel that support is called for and fits in with what we can actually provide for them, then I make sure they receive it,” Yergler says. “This is really not about making faculty feel better, but rather to help them deliver instruction at a higher, more effective and dynamic level. Part of making sure that we’re delivering quality to our students and supporting our faculty and building a department that is a values-driven organization ‘writ small’ not only involves acknowledging and encouraging great work but also telling an adjunct that their performance is not meeting department standards and that we will not be continuing to work together in the future.”
Yergler, who is in his fourth year as chair, never met his predecessor, and the evidence of the state of the department before he started does not indicate major problems. Nevertheless, the reactions from the faculty members in his discipline indicated there was room for improvement. “When I arrived I began to intentionally reach out to the faculty to make connections and I began to immediately receive emails and have conversations with faculty members who appreciated the affirmation, support, and encouragement over a job that was done well or a job not done well but which could be improved. This is not complex stuff, but it really was an intentional focus on making sure that the department was and continues to mature and become more efficient and more affirming, that efforts were validated, and that people were recognized, resourced, and valued.
How are his efforts measured? “One small indicator may be that, overall, in undergraduate programs, student satisfaction is showing a significant increase. I believe that one of the reasons for this is that all of the chairs in undergraduate programs are working very hard with our faculty to make sure they have what they need and that that they feel supported. Additionally, our advising team and administrative staff are deeply concerned about and involved in the success of our students,” Yergler says.
The shift from a policy-driven to values-driven orientation can come from anywhere within an institution. “Anyone who cares about the institution and has responsibility for how the university delivers its services to students can begin the conversation,” Yergler says. “But it’s not going to happen without some pretty broad-based institutional support and some pockets within the institution where it is fully supported. My dean is a visionary in this regard. Additionally, we have that broader-based support in the university and it certainly helps create a powerful organizational environment of our adult students.”
Reprinted from “How to Create a Values-Driven Department” in Academic Leader 30.11(2014)5,8 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.