by: Darby Dickerson
The most important resource any law school has
is its people. Most times, you hear about the faculty, students, and top
administrators. But rarely do we talk about and praise our other staff —
the hourly employees.
Without hourly employees, most law schools would
cease to function. The facilities would be ramshackle, trash would not get
collected, library books would not be updated, our paychecks and benefits would
not get processed, mail would not be sent or received, and the list goes on and
on. Our staff members are the people who make the law school run. Displaying
leadership and appreciation in these ranks as just as important as it is with
the faculty, students, senior administrators, and external constituencies.
As the Interim Dean, one of my goals is to increase
the recognition given to hourly workers and, hopefully, to also increase
employee morale. High employee morale leads to better customer service, which
means happy students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and donors.
At a recent conference of the Association of Legal
Writing Directors, Dr. Susan Baile, a senior consultant with Franklin Covey,
explained that, across professions,
Gallup research has identified 12 factors that are highly correlated with
a strong, vibrant work force. Organizations in which employees strongly
agreed that these factors characterized their immediate work environment
reported greater productivity and profitability as well as higher levels of
employee retention and satisfaction.
. . .
Of the 12, six are even more significant in terms of their ability to
discriminate between strong and average work environments.
The six top factors, in descending order, are:
I know what is
expected of me at work.
I have the
materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
At work, I have
the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
In the last 7
days, I have received praise or recognition for doing good work.
My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a
There is someone at work who encourages my development.
These findings support what most of us know
instinctively — that communication and recognition are important to building
and maintaining a strong work environment.
Stetson started to consciously improve its system of
employee communication and recognition about two years ago. This essay
explains those initial efforts and some newer initiatives that are in their
infancy. The programs are divided into two categories — communication and
events, and awards and recognition. After discussing these two categories, this
essay will then explain how one department in particular excels because of
outstanding communication and regular staff recognition.
Communication and Events
On the communication front, we established a
newsletter called The Advocate. Although we have a weekly newsletter that
publicizes on-campus events and student organization news, we did not have an
employee newsletter. The Advocate filled that gap. Published monthly, The
Advocate contains short articles about major events at the College. The
newsletter also contains a "kudos" section in which supervisors,
faculty, or employees can write about their own achievements or can submit
information about others’ achievements. That section also can be used to say
"thank you" to employees who have done an outstanding job during the
past month. A birthday list is a fixed feature, as is a section that contains a
picture and some introductory information about new employees. Each month, one
department head writes a short article about his or her department and its
members. Employees have found this feature to be particularly useful; they learn
about the functions of the featured department and about employees in that
department. Some months we include a crossword puzzle, and other months we
have special features. For example, last Father’s Day, employees could send in
pictures of and memories about their fathers. We distribute the newsletter with
employees’ paychecks at the beginning of each month, so they know exactly when
they will receive it and how they will receive it. The Advocate costs
very little to produce, but it lets all employees know what is going on, and has
helped increase both communication and morale.
Another way we have improved communications is
through special programs for all staff. One program addressed diversity issues
in the workplace with a speaker from our Employee Assistance Program. Another
was designed to teach more people about the school and to allow them to interact
with each other. We ran this session twice so that departments would not lose
all employees at one time. We based the program loosely on the television show
"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," but worked in teams. Those planning
the program prepared more than 100 questions about the law school and its
history, faculty, employees, facility, and miscellaneous matters. During each
preliminary round, two teams went head-to-head and "buzzed in" to
answer questions that we projected through a power point presentation. The two
teams with the most points advanced to a final round; each team in the final
received a small prize. The employees learned a lot and had a wonderful time. We
still receive requests to repeat this particular program.
This summer, on a day when our school cafeteria was
closed, we provided a pasta lunch for all employees, and I prepared a power
point presentation that included highlights from the 2002–2003 academic year.
The employees appreciated being fed and being informed. They were also excited
to see their departments being mentioned or pictured and had a nice time
interacting with others on campus.
Our goal is to continue general staff meetings twice
a year. The next idea is called "Law School 101"; we plan to use a
panel of law students to talk about classes and student life. So many people who
work at the law school do not have an opportunity to learn what it is our
students do on a day-to-day basis. All of our employees support the school’s
academic mission and are anxious to learn even more about it.
When I was appointed Interim Dean this summer —
following the tragic death of Dean Gary Vause — I wanted a way to meet
with all employees and to thank them for their hard work and dedication. My
schedule was already packed, but I did notice openings in the early mornings.
So, we had breakfasts. Over a six-week period, we invited groups of departments
to have "Breakfast with the Dean." We ate, we talked informally, and I
spoke briefly with each group about how important their work for the school
really is. Again, the feedback was great. For a series of forty-minute events, I
was able to generate a lot of goodwill around campus.
We also plan off-campus gatherings. Each year we
have a faculty-staff picnic at a local park. The school provides the basics, and
then each person brings a covered dish. We have contests and children’s
activities. The picnic allows us to enjoy good food and fellowship, and to
interact in a less formal environment.
Like many schools, we also have a faculty-staff
holiday party in December for all to attend and enjoy. These are wonderful
awards to present, because the faculty and staff can see the large number of
people who have worked at the school for a substantial amount of time.
Recently, we realized that while most departments
work well together, we do not always communicate as effectively as we should. We
occasionally book multiple events on the same date, or fail to take advantage of
opportunities to partner. After a mini-retreat with several members of the
senior staff and some department heads, we have started developing a plan to
further improve inter-departmental communications. One part of the solution was
to start monthly Office Managers Meetings. We have twenty-four different
departments at the law school; our departments are spread over a fifteen-acre
campus, and some soon will be working at our new campus in downtown Tampa, which
is thirty minutes away. We need the people who are primarily responsible for
scheduling events and activities in each office — usually mid-level staff
workers — to meet and talk about what events are being planned. We need to
know what events are in the early planning stages; for events already scheduled,
we need to disseminate information about which departments are needed to help.
Also, if these twenty-four people get to know each other better as individuals,
we firmly believe that they can help resolve misunderstandings before they
develop into true problems.
Frequent and clear communication with staff is an
important and ongoing job. Our programs, ranging from the employee newsletter,
to staff training sessions, to our new Office Managers Meetings, have allowed us
to improve communications, and, at the same time improve employee morale. The
employees feel more connected to the school and appreciate the efforts the
school has made to include them in more activities. Although implementing these
programs does take time and effort, we have found them to be very valuable for
Awards and Recognition
Recognizing personal achievement also is a way to
attract and retain a motivated and talented staff. Using a staff development
fund created through our Office of College Relations and funded through our
Cornerstone Campaign, we will be awarding up to three "Employee of the
Year" awards to hourly employees. Each employee of the year will
receive a plaque, a $500 check, and a designated parking space for the entire
year. Employees will be selected by the Dean with the assistance of an
advisory committee; starting next year, the advisory committee will be comprised
of the prior year’s award winners. Any person on campus can nominate any
hourly employee using a standard nomination form. If the nomination comes from
someone other than the nominee’s supervisor, we will check with the supervisor
and our personnel office to ensure that the employee has a stellar record. The
awards will be presented at our annual holiday party in December.
At this same holiday party, we present service
awards. Those who have served the school for ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five,
and even forty-five years, receive an appreciation gift, which is presented
by the Dean after dinner.
We recognize employees on their birthdays by sending them
an individualized birthday card from the Dean. During the month of their
birthday, hourly employees are invited to breakfast with our Executive Director
of Business Services, who chats with them as a group. We have about two years’
experience with the program, and feel that it generates tremendous goodwill.
A separate recognition program is called the Wow! Card
Program. This program is designed to reward outstanding performance and to
provide positive reinforcement for good work. Funds also come from the staff
Because we run the program on a fiscal year, each
department head is given a packet of forty-eight Wow! cards shortly before June
1. A department head may give a Wow! card to any deserving hourly employee
in any department at any time. Each month, they provide the Dean’s Office with
a report of employees to whom they gave Wow! cards. We then include a cumulative
tally of Wow! cards awarded in our newsletter, The Advocate, which is
Once every three months — on or about September 1,
December 1, February 1, April 1, and June 1 — the Dean’s Office presents
awards to employees who hit the benchmarks listed below:
3 Wow! Cards = $15 gift certificate, plus letter from the Dean
5 Wow! Cards = $25 gift certificate, plus letter from the Dean
7 Wow! Cards = $35 gift certificate, plus Wow! lapel pin, plus letter from
10 Wow! Cards = $50 gift certificate, plus framed certificate of excellence
25 or more Wow! Cards = dinner at the Dean’s house
The awards are cumulative; thus, during a fiscal
year, and employee may earn all of the prizes listed above. We will then wipe
the slate clean on May 31 and start the count over.
The Wow! Card Program has been very successful in
motivating hourly employees to go "above and beyond." They feel valued
because they receive feedback on a more regular basis and they feel as if their
good work is seen, not just by their supervisor, but also by the Dean and
the campus at large.
One employee who is particularly enthusiastic about the program wrote the
The implementation of the WOW program was a superb idea. It is not only a
motivating factor to go above and beyond the call of duty, but it is also a
lot of fun. Since its inception, we have good-natured competition, and the
incentives push us even harder to "out-WOW" each other.
We make it fun and verbally express "WOWs" to compliment each
other. I personally feel that the WOW program offers a real positive force
in making each and every one of us continue to strive for excellence.
We all look forward to our monthly WOW recognition meetings where our
supervisor personally recognizes those individuals who deserved a WOW card
for the month. What a morale booster!
Dale Carnegie, one of my favorite authors, said that one of the most
important things in a person's life is for them to feel like what they say
and do matters. Well, this certainly is the case with the WOW program, and I
think it is W-O-Wonderful!
The program also has encouraged people to praise
each other’s work more, and to recognize good work that was virtually ignored
in the past. It’s easy to recognize those who help with high-profile events,
and it’s easy to forget those who very quietly do an outstanding job day in
and day out. Our new program has shone a light on those good performers across
campus and has given them an increased sense of self-worth.
Because we distribute only a limited number of Wow!
cards each month, I make an effort to write short thank-you notes to people for
the various tasks they perform on campus. In late July, for example, we held a
picnic for our charter class of part-time students and their families. About a
dozen employees helped plan and implement this wonderful event. I dropped each a
short note letting them know how much I appreciated their help on a Saturday,
and how much everyone enjoyed the event.
I typically devote some time each weekend to writing
these notes. Because time is often at a premium, I typically write these notes
on cards called "pocket praise." The cards measure two by
three-and-a-half inches and allow me to write two or three sentences. Given
their small size, the cards are very easy to prepare. And, the employees love
them. I see them tacked up on bulletin boards and taped to computer screens
across campus, which shows just how much employees crave and value recognition.
A Successful Department
We also encourage department heads to communicate and
recognize their staffs in other ways. One department that has been particularly
successful at both communication and recognition is our Faculty Support Services
department. Led by experienced manager Connie Evans, the department has very
little turnover and very high morale, despite having one of the heaviest
workloads on campus. This ten-member department works for our forty-six
full-time faculty members and also assists many adjunct professors. In addition,
the department serves as a liaison between faculty and students and handles many
other special projects.
Although Ms. Evans does many things to communicate
and motivate her staff, three examples are illustrative. First, she holds
regular staff meetings during which she makes important announcements, discusses
policies, and makes sure that her staff is fully informed about general school
matters and matters that particularly will impact the Faculty Support Services
Second, she holds an annual staff appreciation
breakfast. One part of that breakfast involves each staff member saying
something nice about another staff member. This way, the positive reinforcement
comes not only from the top down, but also from peers.
Third, she holds an annual, full-day retreat. At the
retreat, she shares the annual report that she submits to her direct supervisor,
the Associate Dean. She also discusses whether the prior year’s goals were
met, and works with her staff to set new goals. She discusses policies and
allows her staff to put other items on the agenda. She brings in an outside
motivational speaker, and gives each person a small gift as a token of her
appreciation. She also speaks with people with whom she works, such as office
supply vendors, to see whether they might have a small giveaway item for each
person. She displays all of the books, papers, and articles that professors have
produced during the year with the office’s help, and highlights any
dedications to the members of the office that professors include in those works.
She spends a great deal of time focusing on each
person and talking about how each person contributes to the office. She also
invites others to chime in with words of praise. After discussing each
individual, she spends time explaining to her staff how the department helps the
school to function and meet its goals. Her staff members always leave these
meetings feeling greatly appreciated, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle another
school year with great enthusiasm.
Simply put, this department is a wonderful example
of how treating staff members with respect, how valuing their performance, and
how communicating clearly and regularly will lead to topnotch results.
Staff matter. Be sure, as Dean, to show them just
how much they matter to the well being of the law school. Communicate clearly
and frequently, and through outlets that will actually reach the hourly staff.
Recognize the staff for their achievements, and for their every day good work.
Without an experienced, motivated staff, your job will be more difficult, and
the student’s academic experience will not be nearly as positive.
example, one definition of “college” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is
“the faculty, students, or administration of a college.”
Merriam-Webster Online, The Language Center, http://www.m-w.com/home.htm;
select Merriam-Webster Dictionary; search college.
D. Syverud, The Caste System and Best Practices in Legal Education, 1 J.
ALWD 12, 13 (2001) (observing that “[t]here are seven castes in most American
law schools, ranging from the elite Brahmins to the dalits, or untouchables,”
and that castes “include: tenured and tenure track faculty, deans, clinical
faculty, law library directors, legal writing directors and faculty, and adjunct
faculty. The untouchables, who are
barely mentioned when we talk about what our institutions teach students, are,
of course, the professional staff of law schools.”).
background information, Stetson University College of Law has its main campus in
is adjacent to
A satellite campus in downtown
open in January 2004. The
separated from its parent institution,
, by more
than 150 miles. Thus, the
duplicates virtually every service that would be available on the main
University campus. Specifically, the
College has twenty-four administrative departments — not including faculty —
and about 135 employees — again, not including faculty.
Baile, Leading within Our Programs: Creating and Sustaining a High
Performance Culture 1 (unpublished conference paper, ALWD Biennial Conf., U.
of Windsor July 18, 2003) (copy on file with Author).
The other six factors, in no particular order, are:
work, my opinions seem to count.
last year, I have had opportunities to grown and learn.
co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
have a best friend at work.
mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
this time, Dean Gary Vause appointed an ad hoc committee of faculty,
administrators, and staff to discuss and implement several of the projects
discussed the order in which the departments would write and opted for the
The power point presentation, titled, “What Every Employee Needs to Know About
Stetson,” is posted on Stetson College of Law’s Web site at http://www.law.stetson.edu/bo/default.htm.
are some of the e-mail comments I received after this luncheon and presentation:
Lunch was great and I really enjoyed
the Power Point. . . . Thanks again for thinking of and including the hourly
staff. So much of the time we are
thought of as part of the office, not people. Stuff gets done and people forget
who does it.
I would like to thank you for the
wonderful lunch and presentation today. I
really enjoyed hearing about all the school’s current events and seeing all
the staff from other departments.
Thank you very much for the staff lunch
and your slide presentation. It was
very informative. It contained some information I had not seen or heard before.
Thank you for the lovely staff luncheon
. . . and for including the picture of my office in the power point — my staff
went nuts over it. They got the
biggest charge and I can hear them still talking about it in the outer office.
W. Gary Vause served Stetson University College of Law for more than 28 years;
he served the last four as University Vice President and Dean.
He died of colon cancer on
, one day
before our Spring 2003 commencement. Stetson
U. College of L., News, Gary Vause,
Law Dean, Dies,
Cornerstone Campaign is an endowment campaign that will span 2002–2005. “The
campaign's primary purpose is to strengthen and expand the intellectual life of
enhancements to the curriculum, academic programs, faculty, students and
staff.” Stetson U. College of Law,
The Cornerstone Campaign, http://www.law.stetson.edu/cornerstone/
of the sheer number of administrative departments we have at Stetson, and
because of their varying duties and functions, we decided to give three employee
of the year awards. Giving three
awards will allow us to recognize different types of extraordinary performance.
In addition, each year, one or two administrative-level employees will
receive the Dean’s Award. These
awards are presented in December and May at our Honors and Awards Ceremony,
which is held the day before graduation. Each
Dean’s Award for an administrator carries a $1,000 honorarium.
Faculty and students also are eligible to receive the Dean’s Award.
we have free parking, hourly employees do not have assigned parking spots.
Therefore, good parking spaces that are available after lunch are highly
2002–2003, Dorothy Bishop, the Executive Assistant in the Dean’s Office,
celebrated her forty-fifth year working for the
program actually originated on our campus through the Stetson Law Review.
The Editor in Chief for 2002–2003, Bridget E. Remington, implemented
the program on the Law Review after having participated in a similar
program at a former job.
ad hoc faculty-staff committee met and voted to use funds for these purposes.
cards are available from Baudville, www.baudville.com; they are sold in
seventy-five card packets. Baudville’s
company theme is “Putting Applause on Paper.”
forty-eight-card supply is meant to last the entire year, and department heads
will not receive a supplemental supply. Although
department heads may distribute the cards as they wish in terms of time, we
suggest that they award an average of four cards per month.
Some administrators have an “awards ceremony” at the end of each
month; others give out of the cards as someone does an outstanding job on a
particular project. Department heads
may provide some of their forty-eight cards to other administrators in their
departments for distribution.
list in The Advocate not only gives additional recognition to employees,
but also allows them to correct any inaccuracies in our records.
To correct our tally, the employee presents all of his or her Wow! cards
to the Dean’s Office for verification. Therefore,
it is important to let employees know to keep the Wow! cards in a safe place.
are discussing adding another benchmark between the last two categories.
from Sharon Gisclair, Faculty Support Services, to Darby Dickerson, Interim Dean
on file with Author).
the Wow! cards, pocket praise sets are available from Baudville,
hold administrator meetings twice a month. At
these meetings, people make announcements about upcoming events and issues,
discuss upcoming events, and share thoughts on various issues.
Administrators are urged to share the non-confidential announcements from
these meetings with their staff.