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Promoting faculty, staff and alumni achievements

April 19, 2016

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology


The path to a collegial learning environment is recognition. The business world has documented this for decades, but higher education has been relatively slow to embrace the practice of employee affirmation throughout the ranks of departments, schools, colleges and institutions.

Yes, we give awards. Yes, we have our newsletters. Yes, we typically acknowledge grants, fellowships, patents, and academy appointments—or notify News Service when we learn about them.

But so much more can be done because administrators have access to email lists, websites, blogs and social media.

If you create a culture of contribution and a reliable system of distribution, you will shape a collegial environment that triggers dramatic rises in productivity.

Statistics verify this. The website Globoforce.com has listed “25 Great Statistics on Employee Recognition.” One such item stated: “When asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents replied ‘Give recognition.’”

Most of the statistics on the Globoforce.com site have to do with business outcomes. Some academicians resist any comparison of education with industry. There are differences, to be sure, but not when it comes to people and workplace climate.

Engagement is the goal. Tenured professors engage tenure-track assistants. Continuing professors engage adjuncts. Adjuncts engage industry partners. Researchers engage professionals and vice versa. Faculty members engage staff and alumni, and those stakeholders return the favor.

Climate improves because of all that activity.

Affirmation rules.

And the rules of affirmation are important, too. If the chair, director or dean decides what achievements to promote and what to overlook, the whole idea of acknowledgement can backfire. You can be accused of favoritism. That pits one employee against another, and the strategy crumples.

At the Greenlee School, faculty and staff are asked to send their contributions to the director one week before the next faculty meeting. If a professor or staffer is too busy to send any news, I pay a visit or send an email reminder.

Employees know their “Good News from Greenlee” is being sent to university officers, benefactors, alumni and stakeholders—all of whom are encouraged to contact the instructor or staffer in question and congratulate them. (By the way, I don’t have to be copied in that correspondence or informed later; the more engagement between professors and alumni, the better for everyone, including me. This is part of relationship building, and that plays a role in benefactor giving.)

Contributions each month are counted and compared to productivity levels of the previous year. Each month of Good News is posted on our website. Have a look by clicking here.

So today I am working on employee recognition in advance of our April 29, 2016 faculty meeting. I put out a call to the faculty and staff about 10 days before our monthly session. Employees share news about research, teaching and service, and I use their wording, not mine. That’s significant because my goal is not to gate-keep; mine is to distribute.

Oh, yes: We don’t use the faculty meeting to recite each contribution in an announcements section, as some departments do. That just takes time away from business and the agenda. So our Good News from Greenlee helps in that respect, too.

That’s not all we do. Our media specialist Matt Wettengel updates our website and social media with news about events and stories about student achievement and alumni recognition. He also does a monthly graduate student newsletter, which I distribute on my master email list.

Wettengel and I use routinely use Facebook to share good news and further distribute the accolades. Recently, our faculty and staff have begun to share those items on their friends’ lists, further distributing our news. Alumni friend us and comment. Better still, some of our students return the favor and blog about internships or the School.

Here’s one that posted a few days ago, titled “Five Reasons Why the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication is the Best.”

We sent that post to all our prospective students. We do that routinely with news items that relate to their potential choice of school. This plays a role in our enrollment, which has increased 32% in the past five years.

We also have an annual yearbook dedicated to faculty, staff and alumni. You can read that online by clicking here.

In the end, affirmation creates occasions for celebration, and celebration elevates climate to new levels of engagement. Before you know it, you as an administrator will have created an enduring and endearing culture.

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