A culture of value, appreciation: UNT success stories

It’s been a year since UNT faculty and staff first took the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey. From those responses, UNT has learned a lot about what makes the university and its community great. Areas that have room for improvement were identified and tactics to better those areas have started to be developed and implemented.  

With the second year of the survey in progress, it’s important to highlight UNT’s stories of success in areas that are beginning to work toward improving their culture and the successes they already are seeing. It’s also important to highlight areas that already had tactics embedded in their culture. With these profiles, other areas at UNT may benefit from ideas that help bolster feelings of teamwork and camaraderie.

This is the first of a two-part series about these success stories. Areas around UNT that would like to share their success stories can do so by sending an email to engagement@unt.edu.

Caring for one another

A common theme among divisions that have a strong culture of engagement is that they genuinely care for one another – professionally and beyond.

Ashley Olsberg, director of systems integration with Classroom Support Services, shared that one easy way her team shows that they care for one another is by sharing food. Potluck lunches are a mainstay in Classroom Support Services as they celebrate birthdays, holidays and successes.

“I manage the phones and email so my employees can enjoy lunch together,” Olsberg says. “For our holiday festivus jam, we have a silly competition – last time it was an ugly sweater competition. I also bring cupcakes or a main entrée for employee celebrations. At the end of our classroom upgrade project season, we made our post project appreciation party a Game of Thrones theme since so many of my staff like the show.”

Joanne Woodard, vice president for Institutional Equity and Diversity, and Eileen Moran, associate vice president for Development who oversees the Division of University Advancement, both shared that celebrating birthdays and milestones is an important part of their culture.  Institutional Equity and Diversity celebrates birthdays quarterly at full staff meetings and University Advancement gives birthday cards signed by each member of the team to each employee.

“I also make a point to send personal birthday cards and texts/emails on birthdays and employees' UNT anniversary,” Moran says.

Open, two-way communication

Open, frequent communication is also paramount for employees to feel heard and valued.

Ed Reynolds, chief of the UNT Police Department, says they are putting a greater effort on getting employees’ perspectives.

“We rely on employees to review and make recommendations related to training and recruiting decisions,” Reynolds says. “They help us ensure that we are successful as a department.”

Olsberg reiterates Reynold’s sentiment that employee input is of greatest importance.

“Instead of top down ideation, we work together to filter our customer demands and come up with solutions,” she says. “Then, we meet daily (for 15 minutes) and discuss what we are doing to build and deploy these solutions. The meetings are always in the same format. What did you do yesterday to aid the team in this mission, what are you doing today to aid the team in this mission, what roadblocks do you have. The key in terms of these meetings is they are frequent, short and you train employees to speak to each other. This is basically setting the employees up to practice teamwork and to start to see the cause and effect they have on everyone else.”

Melissa McGuire, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, says regular meetings with the staff as a whole are instrumental to their success.

“We meet regularly with our staff (biweekly as a whole staff and individually) in hopes that everyone feels informed and understands the direction we are heading,” she says. 

While large group meetings are important, Woodard says the Equity and Diversity Administrative and Leadership team meets every two weeks to collaborate on improvement processes and quarterly meetings are held for the entire staff to keep them informed of progress and expectations – written messages are also an important way to keep the lines of communication open.

“We send regular email updates to our department to keep employees informed and involved in our priorities,” Reynolds says. “In these, I always include an invitation to employees to stop by my office for further discussion, if they desire.”

Even office configuration can lead to improved communication.

Olsberg says their office’s open floorplan encourages conversations and instant input and feedback. “I work in the same area with my team so they can see that I am engaged with them and the mission and thus set the tone,” she says.

Moran says her division’s open door policy also leads to greater opportunity for conversation. “We encourage our team members to pop in at any time,” she says. “If we are busy and can’t talk to them right at that moment we make sure to connect later in the day.”

Olsberg also has found that encouraging her employees to hold walking meetings throughout the day accomplishes two goals – it gets her staff up and moving around and provides them with an opportunity to check in with each other and with her.

Frequent recognition and praise

In order for faculty and staff to feel valued and engaged, they need to hear often that they are doing a good job. Creative ways to show appreciation for a job well done is a bonus.

“Our department provides Challenge Coins for outstanding achievement within the department,” Reynolds says. “A Challenge Coin is presented to the employee as immediately as possible as positive feedback and is a token of employees committed to doing quality work.”  

Moran says her area has implemented regular employee recognition events to make sure the staff knows they are appreciated.

“A couple of ways we do that is with a Thanksgiving luncheon where we express appreciation to our team and we celebrated 100 percent of the team’s participation in We Care We Count Faculty/Staff Giving Campaign with a bowling outing to thank them,” she says.

Finding ways to express recognition and praise in a way that really resonates with employees is important, so McGuire’s division has completed Gallup’s Strengths Finder assessment that provides employees with insight into what “really makes each other tick.”

“We use the findings to help us better understand ourselves and each other,” McGuire says. “One of my personal goals is to understand the strengths of the staff who work with me and use this information to inform how they are motivated. I recognize that everyone is motivated differently – some need verbal ‘thank yous,’ others a note of thanks, others want you to simply ask for their help on a project because it’s a reflection of their past work. Knowing this can go a long way with staff.”

As UNT works to create a stronger, more inclusive culture, the university must put an emphasis on collaboration and working together to reach these goals. One way faculty and staff can help is by taking the Gallup survey sent in email Jan. 29. Survey answers are the measuring stick that indicate how close UNT is to reaching its goals. The survey has 13 questions and should take roughly five minutes to complete. Please complete the survey by Feb. 16. Since there is no option for comments in the survey, those may be sent to engagement@unt.edu