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Officials host leadership trainings following culture work team recommendations

Hatchet File Photo
University President Thomas LeBlanc has focused on improving GW’s “transactional” culture since he arrived in 2017.

A service ambassador team will host leadership training sessions this fall for faculty and staff as part of a push to improve institutional culture.

Officials said the Culture Leadership Team – a group of faculty and administrators working to improve staff morale and interactions – developed an aspirational statement and values, oversaw four work teams and created an ambassador team to lead in-person training sessions this fall. Faculty leading the initiative said officials have invested significant resources into the initiative, but the culture will only improve if every faculty and staff member is on board.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Mark Diaz, who chairs the Culture Leadership Team, said the group used feedback from the Disney Institute’s culture assessment of the University last fall to guide its work. The survey identified four main areas of dissatisfaction: inconsistent leadership, inefficient communication, poor service culture and lack of employee appreciation.

“Faculty and staff agreed that we need to change our culture,” he said in an email. “This will not happen overnight and will require a long-term, multi-faceted deliberate effort by faculty and staff.”

University President Thomas LeBlanc has drawn attention to the lack of a service-driven culture at GW – a move that received widespread faculty support – since he arrived two years ago. He formalized the initiative to improve culture as one of his five strategic initiatives.

Culture work team recommendations
Officials created four cross-functional work teams focused on leadership behaviors, recognition, orientation and care this spring. The teams, consisting of 40 faculty and staff, developed recommendations for administrators to improve the University’s institutional culture.

Diaz said the work teams’ recommendations were “wide-ranging” and included immediate changes – like free summer access for faculty and staff to the Lerner Health and Wellness Center – and longer-term efforts like creating an internal portal for faculty and staff.

“Implementation of work team recommendations will continue, and updates will be provided to faculty and staff as changes and enhancements are introduced,” Diaz said.

John Philbeck, the vice dean of faculty affairs for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said that during the faculty and staff recognition working group’s meetings, participants primarily discussed the distinction between “recognition” and “care.” Faculty, staff and administrators suggested different ways officials could show care to faculty and staff but declined to elaborate on specific suggestions.

“People suggested possible forms of recognizing faculty and staff, and we discussed the pros and cons,” he said in an email.

Service ambassadors and new trainings
LeBlanc announced in an email to faculty and staff earlier this month that officials will brand the initiative to change GW’s culture as “Our GW.” Officials had appointed 25 new faculty and staff service ambassadors to lead on-campus trainings for employees this fall, he said.

The trainings – open to all “regular full-time and part-time faculty and staff” at the Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon and Virginia Science and Technology campuses – will provide employees with “guidance” on the University’s new “framework” for the initiative.

“We have all agreed that we need to change our culture,” he said in the email. “This training will provide guidance on how to do it.”

Diaz, the executive vice president, said officials asked each faculty and staff member who manages at least one other person to sign up for the on-campus training to “prepare them to support their organizations in implementing the service priorities.”

He said non-managerial faculty and staff were invited to sign up for a training in October.

“Our GW expresses the belief that we will only be successful if we all do our part to strengthen our culture,” Diaz said. “We are all in this together.”

Linda McCullough, one of the service ambassadors and the assistant director of the clinical program at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, said she received an email asking her if she was interested in attending a training in Florida at the Disney Institute’s headquarters this past spring.

McCullough said that during the training, participants were encouraged to evaluate the University’s common values – integrity, courage, collaboration, respect, excellence, diversity and openness – and three service behaviors – safety, care and efficiency.

“It’s nice that efficiency is third,” she said. “I can take care of someone and stop and listen rather than dash off an email or just give them a piece of paper. No, I’m going to walk over to your desk, find out what the problem is, solve it.”

She said she became a service ambassador because she believes that focusing on the three “service behaviors” will improve employee satisfaction and attitude.

McCullough said she has noticed changes in her attitude and behavior as a result of the training. She tacks sticky notes in her shared office space to help people access information, and she walked a visiting student to a hard-to-find exit this month, she said.

“It’s a way of thinking about how we do our work as employees,” she said. “It’s subtle – the campus is not a different place because I decided to put little posters up with critical information, but if I just keep doing stuff like that and if everyone does, I think it’s going to be a different experience for students and a different experience for people who work here.”

Candice Chen, a service ambassador and an associate professor of health policy and management, said the trainings this fall will help faculty and staff learn what administrators consider to be the University’s “true north” in terms of guiding principles. The sessions will help people get behind the idea of changing the culture, she said.

“What are we all trying to do together? And can we all get behind that together?” she said. “I think it’s really just an introduction to this idea of knowing where we’re going and finding ways to all work together to get there.”

Chen said she understands that employees could be skeptical of the idea of a sweeping culture change at a large institution like GW. But she said the administrators leading the effort have proven the initiative’s worth by organizing the fall trainings and spending money for the Disney Institute’s efforts.

“I think my first feeling having gone to Disney was sometimes when those things happen, it’s one hour in a conference room, somewhere on campus, and you get that feeling of, ‘If they were serious, the leadership would make a commitment of resources to this effort,’” she said. “One of the things I really appreciated was that sense of commitment of resources to this effort.”

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